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Candace’s running late. Twenty-seven minutes late, to be exact.

The late thing isn’t all that unusual. Sure, some days, she’s extremely early and extremely insistent on getting home, right that second. Usually so she can run off and get started on grabbing her mum, or busting the boys, or finding Jeremy, or whatever else it is she’s fixated on at the moment. Other days, though, she’ll get distracted by something or another, forgets to check her phone, and it’ll be end up being a while before she remembers he’s out here waiting on her. Which is fine. Not ideal, course, but he’s got time, and it’s not like she’s trying to do it. And he gets that.

Almost half an hour, though? That’s odd. Worrying.

Not that he’s worried. Because he knows for a fact Candace can take care of herself. She’s almost scarily capable when she puts her mind to doing something, so nothing would’ve happened to her, right? She’s fine. It’s fine.

Just… she is taking a lot longer than she usually does. And even though she’s skilled and smart and strong and all that, she does also kinda have this nasty habit of landing herself in trouble all the time, and yeah, okay, maybe he is worried.

Scrubbing a hand over his face, Perry sighs and glances down at the boys. Ferb’s staring out the window, tapping repeatedly on his leg—Morse code, he thinks, based on the rhythm and the feel of it, but he doesn’t have time to try and interpret it—and he really doesn’t like the way Phineas’s eyeing the dashboard of the car. It’d be difficult, explaining to Lawrence just why his car stopped needing gas outta nowhere, and also got a new panel full of mysterious buttons installed that he definitely shouldn’t push, ever, under any circumstances, and don’t ask why either. That was hard enough doing last time the boys got bored in the car.

Well, what’s the worst thing that could happen if he goes looking for her, anyway? Someone sees him walking in and stops him to ask what he’s doing? Or someone recognizes him, someone who was there that day when Perry had to step in to help Heinz, which would be… significantly worse, yeah. But not the worst thing in the world. Might make Ferb more suspicious, but he could play it off pretty easily, make whoever’s recognized him second-guess themselves. Honestly, it’s surprising just how well acting like you’ve no idea who someone is works. People get all embarrassed about it, feel awkward, start making excuses—especially when they’ve only recognized him because of the hair color. Which is most the time. Not a lot of people in Danville with teal hair.

Besides, if he makes this quick, ducks in and out fast, the odds of anyone seeing him long enough to put the pieces together’s pretty low. So he’ll make this quick. Finding Candace isn’t usually all that hard, anyway. So long as he’s careful, and quiet, and he stays on task, it’ll be fine. Going to find her, Perry abruptly tells them, watching Ferb’s fingers fall still, Phineas leap guiltily away from the air conditioning. You two coming with?

“Sure!” Phineas agrees a little too eagerly, subtly tucking a tool back into his pocket. Yeah, nice try. “Hey, that means we’ll finally get to see what Candace’s high school looks like! From the inside, I mean. W—we’ve seen it before from the outside. Obviously, since…” Ferb blinks. “Yeah, you’re right, I’m overexplaining this. Still, I wonder how different high school is from elementary.” And then he turns and looks up at Perry with big eyes. “What was it like for you, Uncle Perry?”

Um. Yeah, wow, he really doesn’t have a good way to answer this one, does he? Busy, he signs, and abruptly changes the subject. Not to rush you, but I’m worried about Candace.

It takes a second, but eventually it clicks. “Oh, right!” he exclaims and lunges for the door handle, quickly scurrying outta the car. “Sorry, you’re right, we should probably go.” And based off the looks of things, he’s already forgotten what they were talking about a second ago, so that worked.

Danville High School looks about the same as he remembers, minus all the panic and running from last time. Also, there’s a lot less people in the hallways. Which makes sense: school let out half an hour ago, and most kids tend to take off as soon as they get the chance. At this point, there’s probably just a few club meetings still going on in the building, and probably some of the teachers’ll be…

Wait a second. Heinz teaches at this school. Which means he might still be in the building.

And Perry Flynn-Fletcher’s walking through the hallways, no fedora, plainclothes, with both his nephews in tow.

Great.

Okay. Well. On the bright side, the odds of him actually still being here are pretty low, yeah? There’s a chance, sure, but a slim one. Looking at things logically, Doofenshmirtz has repeatedly proven himself to be distractible, extraverted, often impulsive, typically preferring stimulation and social interaction over stagnation and isolation. Given this information, choosing to stay and work in a quiet, deserted school building would be highly uncharacteristic of him. On a similar note, he’s highly attached to his daughter, Vanessa, who attends this school, and she’d likely want to go home as soon as possible. He’d follow her.

Besides, even if he were to have decided to stay longer today for whatever reason, he’d almost certainly still be in his classroom. And if he wasn’t, if he was in the hallways, it’s not like the agent wouldn’t hear him coming. Doofenshmirtz is loud. Phineas and Ferb aren’t familiar with the layout of this building: if he hears the scientist coming, Agent P can easily redirect them, perhaps by pretending to have heard Candace’s voice coming from a different direction. So long as he stays focused, doesn’t let himself distracted, it’ll be fine.  It’s fine. He isn’t going to run into Doofenshmirtz.

Which, of course, is when he turns a corner and feels a pointy chin collide with his forehead, a sharp jolt that rattles his skull and makes his teeth audibly clack together. “Scheisse!” a familiar voice yelps in his ear, Doofenshmirtz, that’s his voice, this is Doofenshmirtz, Heinz is right in front of him he’s gonna see him what does he do this wasn’t part of the plan—

And then all of a sudden, he’s sprawled out on the floor, and Perry’s left standing over him, swaying slightly, bewildered. When he glances over, his nephews’re staring up at him with wide eyes. And his knuckles are stinging, why are his…

Oh. Huh. Yeah, well this definitely wasn’t part of the plan.

“And again, ow,” Heinz complains, sitting up, gingerly prodding at his stomach and grimacing. “That’s gonna leave a mark. Sheesh.” Irritably, he stabs a finger up in Perry’s general direction, eyes narrowed. “Hey, just for the record, you’re the one who ran into me. No need to get all, y’know. Punchy. And I don’t even mean that in the funny way, I mean it in, like, the literal punching-me-in-the-gut kinda way.” Based on past experience, the look on his face, he’s probably about half a minute away from swearing petty vengeance if Perry doesn’t say something to calm him down.

But he can’t say anything. This is his nemesis. For some inexplicable reason, evil scientists can’t recognize agents without their fedora—selectively poor facial recognition skills—but the same isn’t true of their voices. Speaking provides another link between agent and their cover story, an unnecessary vulnerability. A security risk. Because of this, OWCA agents are to stay silent at all times while on duty. It minimizes the chances of getting your cover blown, draws a clearer line between agent and their cover story, and helps prevent nemeses from getting overly attached to one another. Not to mention, it’s also a significant part of the organization’s branding.

Except. Heinz isn’t his nemesis anymore.

Also, possibly more relevant, Perry's mute now. And he can't believe he keeps forgetting that. In his defense, it's a pretty recent development.

Plus, he isn’t on duty, which means he’s not meant to be being Agent P. Right now, he’s Perry Flynn-Fletcher—way too casual, kind of an underachiever, prone to getting distracted and wandering off, but pretty goodnatured and easygoing and generally a decent guy—and he’s in front of his nephews, who’re expecting him to be all those things. He probably shouldn’t deck someone on accident in front of Phineas and Ferb and then not even so much as acknowledge he’s done it. Not only would that be extremely out of character, something Ferb’d pick up on, it’s also not exactly a good example to be setting.

He swallows, hastily uncurling his fingers, the half-formed fist, and dropping it from his chest back down to rest at his side. If he’s gonna fix this, keep there from being a serious problem, he’s got to do something. Right now.

At a loss for words, he hesitates: OWCA training and years of experience of being Agent P around Heinz keeping his hands heavy, numb, dead at his sides. But he needs to be able to do this. C’mon, it’s not like he hasn’t had to talk in front of Heinz before, right? Radically different situation, sure—god, he hopes—but if he managed to do this last time, he can do it again now. Sorry, Perry finally manages to sign a few seconds too late, stiffly, hackles up. You okay?

And, of course, he gets a blank look in return. Right. Probably shouldn’t’ve assumed that Heinz’d know ASL. Well, writing out conversations is a hassle, but it doesn’t look like he’s got much of a choice. Fishing into his pocket for a notepad, he scribbles out a hasty explanation, making sure to change up his handwriting and his writing style into something informal—something befitting his lazy, relaxed, painfully casual cover story—and shoves it into his hands.

Hi, I’m mute, SORRY for punching u!!! Didn’t mean to, was startled + instincts kicked in.

Heinz stares blankly down at the page for a long moment. “Your first instinct upon seeing me was to immediately punch me in the pancreas?” And, well. Yeah. Pretty much. But when he puts it like that, it sounds so rude.

He elects to just shrug a little, hands splaying out helplessly in midair, then nod sheepishly.

“Huh. I guess Charlene was right.” Definitely shouldn’t openly react to that. Perry keeps his face politely uncomprehending, a carefully constructed mask, and watches closely as the scientist’s expression goes from distracted back to annoyed as he passes the notepad back to him. “Anyway, you know you really shouldn’t go around punching people, right? It’s kinda rude. Not to mention, you hit hard. Like, really hard. Seriously, I—I think my bruises are gonna have bruises.”

By the looks of it, he’s calmed down some, more resentful than angry. The apology’d worked. At this point, he’s mainly just complaining for the sake of complaining. Really sorry! Pls don’t take it personally!! Instantly, Heinz’s expression shifts: like he’s gonna say something like don’t tell me what to take personally, I’ll take it personally if I want to! I’ll show you how personally I can take it! And yep, rookie mistake. You’d think Perry’d remember how Heinz reacts to stuff by now, know how to work with him, but yet apparently not. Well, time to backtrack. idk u can alwys hold a petty grudge if youre into that? but wasnt @u, accident

“An accident?” Heinz questions, voice spiraling upwards. “Okay, seriously, how do you accidentally punch someone?” Which… well, okay, that’s a fair question. “Like, I don’t know about you, but every time I’ve ever punched anyone, it’s been very intentional. Well, I guess I do know about you, since you’re saying that this was an accident, and that would… answer that. But still—yeah, accidentally punching someone still seems highly improbable!”

The way you end up accidentally punching someone, of course, is you’re that person’s nemesis for years, and you kinda make a living off punching them for a while, and then you literally run into them out of nowhere and panic and go with what your gut’s telling you to do. But, y’know, maybe he shouldn’t say that. Hastily, Perry snatches the notepad out of Heinz’s hands. ???? honestly idk, Just panicked. Which, technically speaking, isn’t even a lie.

Wait a second. He shouldn’t be being this friendly, this open. Just because he can communicate with Heinz right now doesn’t mean he should write a year’s worth of words at once, joke around with him, act like he’s friends with someone who thinks he’s a stranger. He’s gotta distance himself from all this.

Plus, even off-duty, Perry isn’t exactly known as an outgoing guy. He’s always been pretty laconic around strangers—anyone who isn’t family, really—and that’s only gotten more true since communicating got harder. Probably a good idea to stay in-character best as he can.

“Can we help?” he hears Phineas ask. Right, the boys. For a second, Perry’d almost forgotten they were there. He should probably let ‘em take over the conversation. When he glances over, Phineas’s holding something that looks vaguely like it could theoretically be a first aid kit. “We made this a while ago in case of emergencies. First, it scans your whole body and compares it to a reference model. Once it’s done, it uses nanobots to stimulate and direct cell growth, while removing any foreign bodies and substances, in order to heal injuries. If you want, we can fix up that pancreas in a jiffy!”

“It’s the Swiss army knife of medical care,” Ferb says. His eyes are boring into Perry.

Heinz waves them off. “No, it’s okay,” he grumbles. “I have a surprisingly resilient torso.” Wait, he’s still on the floor. Why’s he still on the floor? “Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, I have a surprisingly resilient, well. Everything, really.” Odds are he’s just forgotten, got too caught up in rambling to remember he’s still sat down. Softly snapping his fingers in order to get his attention, Perry wordlessly offers him a hand up, raising his eyebrows slightly. The man stares blankly up at his hand for a minute, blinking. After an uncomfortably long pause, he shrugs, takes it, and uses it to pull himself up: long, spindly fingers easily wrapping around Perry’s whole hand. “Except my arms, you don’t know how many times I’ve had to repair these things, it’s—”

Suddenly, there’s a loud chattering sound. He has to fight to keep a straight face. “What was that?” Phineas asks, frowning slightly, glancing around for the source of the noise. “It sounded kind of like a platypus.” And then he turns and stares up at Perry.

“Oh, that’s my text tone!” Heinz brightly informs, because of course it is. Fishing his phone out of his pocket, he squints down at it. “Yeah, I gotta go bring my daughter home. Apparently she’s done talking to her little friends, so. You know.” He narrows his eyes at Perry. “Try not to punch anyone else who just so happens to turn a corner in front of you, I guess.”

His tone’s still a little bitter, but more wry than anything else. Okay, that means he isn’t gonna have to worry about Heinz coming after him later—which wouldn’t have happened anyway, seeing as he’s not evil anymore, but still. He’ll probably just brush this off as a minor thing, forget this ever happened.

Forget seeing Perry.

Which is… a good thing. Obviously.  Preserving the integrity of his cover story will be far easier if the two halves of his life don’t interact with one another. There’s no reason he’d want Doofenshmirtz to remember seeing him undercover. It’s better this way. Hands dropping down to his sides, Agent P persona slamming back into place, he shrugs. The gesture’s deliberately nonchalant, and he twists up his face slightly in order to make it more convincing: sarcastic and apathetic enough to fit his cover.

Doofenshmirtz leaves. Now he just needs to locate Candace before anyone else sees him. Based on the room numbers nearby and the one she had her last class in, they should theoretically be close to her.

“You were awfully chatty back there,” Phineas brightly comments, although he’s clearly struggling to keep up with Agent P’s brisk pace. Ferb’s keeping up. Moving more slowly would be risky. Maintaining his current pace, he scoops Phineas into his arms—“whoa!”—and lifts him up, smoothly setting him down so he can sit on the agent’s shoulders. The boy squirms slightly in place, but settles down after a moment.

Ferb’s still watching him, clearly suspicious. The agent’s behavior had been extremely out of character. Too violent, too friendly. Too active. But the boy shouldn’t have directly connected Doofenshmirtz to that. After all, he shouldn’t know about the scientist’s inability to recognize the agent without his OWCA-issued fedora, meaning that—in his eyes—Doofenshmirtz would have recognized him if they’d met before. The punch, then, should be the only real problem. He needs an excuse for that.

“I still can’t believe you punched that pharmacist,” Phineas says, unknowingly proving his point. “I mean, it was obviously an accident, and it wasn’t a good thing. But it was still kind of cool! Although extremely out of character.” A pause. “It seemed like you liked him, though. Once you got past the whole punching thing, I mean.”

Agent P keeps his posture relaxed, indifferent. Betrays no emotion. Glancing up as if to look at the boy perched on his shoulders, then down at the one walking by his side, he raises his eyebrows slightly, lips curling up a fraction—express amusement, incredulousness—and shakes his head.

Because it’s the truth. It has to be. He isn’t emotionally compromised. He has rules, routine, a system: he knows which lines he can’t cross. There’s a very long list of them, and “Doofenshmirtz” is at the top of it.

It’s just hard to remember that sometimes, when Heinz’s being so… Heinz.

By the time Perry’s gotten to the classroom he’s been looking for, he can sign again. And sure enough, Candace is in there, chatting away with Stacy and Jeremy, completely oblivious to how late it’s gotten. Looks to be in her own little world. Figures. Loudly rapping his knuckles up against the doorframe, Perry watches as she starts, glances suspiciously around. “Hey, Candace!” Phineas greets.

Instantly, her gaze locks onto the boys, eyes narrowing: going into busting mode right off, looks like. “What are you two doing in my school?” she demands, half-horrified, angrily flailing her arms. “You’re not supposed to be in here! You’re supposed to be in the elementary building with all the other babies! If you’re planning on doing any weirdness in my school, I—”

Loudly, he snaps his fingers to cut her off, watching her snap to attention. Face blank. Based off the looks of things, she’d forgotten he was there, then. Which is impressive, seeing how Phin’s literally on his shoulders right now. Checked the time recently? he asks, eyebrows raised.

She stares at him for a long moment, uncomprehending, and then turns and looks at the clock. And screams. “Oh my gosh, it’s so late!” she shrieks at the top of her lungs. “I can’t believe it. I’m so sorry, Uncle Perry! Just, Vanessa was in here earlier, and she’s really cool and I guess I just got distracted, not that I got distracted by the coolness, but, I mean, well, basically what I’m saying is I, no, ugh this isn’t coming out right—”

Sharply, Perry snaps his fingers again: this time, under her nose. Still works like a charm, though. Her head instantly pops up, new panic overriding the old panic. Don’t panic, he soothes. I’m not cross. Just got worried.

“But I’m supposed to be the responsible one! I’m the buster, not the bustee!” Her eyes are wide, still panicked. “If I—” A third finger snap. Perry taps his wrist. “Right, you’re right. I can keep panicking once we’re in the car.” That’s not even remotely what he meant. “Alright, let’s go so I can get back to having an identity crisis. Bye Jeremy, bye Stacy!”

“Bye, Candace. See you later!”

Flinching, Stacy looks everywhere but at Perry. “Yeah, uh. Bye, Candace, and Candace’s brothers, and Candace’s uncle who I’ve probably never seen before in my life and definitely don’t know anything incriminating about, what’s your name again? I don’t even know your name. And it doesn’t matter what your name is, because I don’t know who you are or anything about you, and I also don’t care. About either of those things.”

Smooth.

Honestly, it’s kinda a miracle that she hasn’t managed to blow his cover yet, seeing how bad a liar she turned out being. But somehow, no one seems to’ve caught on yet? And he’s good at playing off her slip-ups, too, so it works alright. Although he’ll probably need to be more careful now. Keeping his eyes blank, he tosses Stacy a quick, distracted wave—distant, uncaring, and it’s not because he’s trying to come off as rude: he just doesn’t want to seem too interested—before visibly focusing back on the kids. Let’s go.

“By the way,” Candace says as they’re walking out, substantially calmer, “Uncle Perry, why is there a big red mark on your forehead?” Wait, what? Sure enough, when he brushes a hand against his face, probing curiously at his forehead, something’s stinging painfully above his right eyebrow. Huh. That’s odd. He hadn’t even noticed it ‘till now.

Phineas shifts in place where he’s sitting on Perry’s shoulders. “Oh, someone ran into him in the hallway.” Ah, so it was Heinz’s chin that did this, then. Yeah, he’s not surprised. That thing’s dangerously pointy: it’s not the first time it’s whacked him. “And then he punched them! It would’ve been cool, if it wasn’t so unexpected.”

“Wait, Uncle Perry punched someone?” Eyes narrowing slightly, Candace stares up at him—hastily, he slaps on a sheepish, what-can-you-do kinda expression—and then looks down at Ferb. Like he can’t see the look she’s giving her little brother. Like he wouldn’t’ve picked up on the way she’s acting, the suspicion she’s got on her face, even if he hadn’t already known they were onto him before now. Honestly, he’s almost offended, if they really think he’s that unobservant. “Really,” she drawls, stretching the word out. “That seems extremely out of character.”

“Yeah, that’s what I said!” Phineas agrees, not a hint of suspicion or irony in his voice.

Purposefully exaggerating the awkward, embarrassed look he’s got on his face into outright mortification, Perry clicks his tongue, sucks a breath in through his teeth, shaking his head and staring up like he’s looking for answers written somewhere on the drop ceiling. Accident, he signs.

Chapter Text

Perry isn’t expecting to see Heinz again.

Not off the clock, that is. On the clock… well, who knows? Nowadays, when he’s got the fedora on, it’s honestly a mystery what’s gonna end up happening. Sure, he’s only seen Heinz once since they stopped being nemeses, and that was a while back now, but. He’s gonna have to run back into him eventually, right? Maybe he’ll end up going evil again and Perry’ll get reassigned to him, or maybe there’ll end up being more problems at the school OWCA’ll want him to fix, or something.

Something’ll happen, something’ll bring ‘em back together soon. He’s sure of it. They’ll fall back into a pattern, they always do, they’re not… it can’t just be over. It isn’t.

Anyway. Beside the point. If and when Perry’s seeing him next, it’ll be when he’s Agent P. There’s not gonna be any more mishaps like what happened at the school, when he’d literally run into him while he was with the boys. When Heinz sees him next, he’s gonna see Agent P, not that guy with the teal hair and the notepad who sucker-punched him on accident. He shouldn’t ever see Perry Flynn-Fletcher. Perry’s two lives are separate for a reason, split neatly down the middle: the halves aren’t meant to touch. Nothing good ever happens when they do. He’s just got to keep his family and OWCA separate, make sure the line between Agent P and Perry Flynn-Fletcher doesn’t blur any more than it already has.

So, when he answers the door to the Flynn-Fletcher home and sees Heinz standing there, he’s understandably a bit upset.

This time, at least, he manages to keep himself from doing anything dumb, like punching him or slamming the door in his face. Although he very seriously considers it. Instead, he just raises his eyebrows, letting his confusion show plain on his face (although he hides the jolt of panic, because that’s less justifiable), and waves. Dr. D, how unexpected, he signs, knowing full well that he isn’t gonna understand him.

“Wait a minute,” Heinz says slowly, eyes narrowed, and then—all of a sudden—gasps and points at him. “You’re that, that guy with the teal hair and the notepad who sucker-punched me on accident! What the heck are you doing here? Are you following me or something?”

Funny how those’re pretty much the exact same things he was just thinking. I live here, he thoughtlessly signs, and then winces. Right. Course not. And of course he’d left his notepad in the jacket that’s currently still draped over the sofa, because why would he’ve had to carry it around with him in a house where everyone can understand ASL. That’s just the kind of day he’s having, apparently.

Well, better just do this the old fashioned way. Sighing, Perry points at him and raises his eyebrows. Heinz’s pretty good at interpreting his body language and expressions when he’s being Agent P. With any luck, that’ll apply while he’s undercover, too.

“What am I doing here?” he correctly guesses. “Well, I wanted to come talk to—hey, wait another minute. Is this your house? Do you live here?” He’s looking almost scandalized over it. That’s a bit weird. Why’s that, then?

Wait. What if he’s worked out that this is where Agent P lives? Maybe he’s hacked into OWCA, or tracked his hoverjet come from, flight patterns or routes or tunnels or something. There’s nothing he’d want with Phin and Candace and Ferb, at least there shouldn’t be. Lawrence’d won that LOVEMUFFIN pageant a while back, but it’s not like he’d actually stayed on to be leader, and Heinz and Linda’d only had that one disaster of a date ages ago before Perry had even met her, so that wouldn’t be it.

Which just leaves him. And Heinz hadn’t come here looking for Perry Flynn-Fletcher.

Letting his spine stiffen, going from friendly and worried and sentimental to cold, analytical, the agent just shrugs. Noncommittal. Lying would be a poor strategy in the long run.

“Hm.” Abruptly, Doofenshmirtz pulls a device out of his pocket—Agent P stiffens—and squints down at it. “Well, the coordinates say it should be a little more thataway…” He’d put a tracker on him? When? How? “Heheh, well, this is a little awkward, but do you mind if I come in? There’s this thing I need to check out, you see, and—yeah, you’re okay with that?” He had not, in any way, done anything to even slightly indicate that he’s okay with that. “Thanks, you’re a mensch.”

And with that, he breezes in past him like he owns the place, leaving the agent standing in the doorway, jaw clenched.

Okay. Sure.

He’d referred to what he’s looking for as an it, not a him. Indicates he’s not looking for Agent P directly. Could be a tracking device, another bug, or he could be searching for lair entrances. Watch him, determine why he’s here, remove him from the house by any means necessary.

“Let me see,” he’s saying, eyes glued to the screen, walking blindly, “it should be near here.” Quickly, the agent hooks two fingers through Doofenshmirtz’s shirt collar, dragging him back before he can accidentally walk into a wall. “Oh.” The man blinks. “Huh. Thanks, I guess. Wait, does this make up for the punching thing? I mean, I dunno, it was a really bad punch. Not to mention my chin really hurt for—”

He doesn’t have time for Doofenshmirtz’s petty grudges, the banter and back-and-forth. It’s pointless. Inefficient. Keeping his face neutral, Agent P stabs a finger at the device, watching his reaction.

“You want to know what this ominous, menacing-looking machine does and why I’m carrying it into your house?” the scientist checks, barely waiting for his nod. “Well, I suppose I haven’t gotten the chance to monologue in a while anyway, so…” Dramatically, he lifts the device up into the air. “Behold, the tracker-in—whoa, wait a second, no. Not that. Whoops-a-daisy. Jeez, you say the same line over and over again every day for, like, years, and it just kinda—it sticks with you, you know? But, um, definitely no beholding, because that’s… probably inherently evil. And this isn’t even an inator! I wanted it to be, but knowing Monobrow he’s probably put out some kind of inator alert on me, and I don’t wanna accidentally trip it and cause a big panic at OWCA and, and they’d probably end up calling in Perry the Platypus away from whatever he’s doing, and you have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”

Feigning confusion, he shakes his head. Doofenshmirtz’d said the word track when referring to the machine: it’d sounded like he was going to say “tracker-inator.” A tracking device. The OWCA lair locations haven’t been leaked, then. Good. This is an isolated incident, something only affecting him. Something he can control.

“Yeah, you can just go ahead and forget, like. Ninety percent of that. And the other ten percent’s just the conjunctions and stuff, so.” Looking significantly more awkward, he taps the top of the machine. “Uh. Look… at this tracking device. Man, that does not have the same oomph to it.” If it’s a tracking device, why hasn’t it already led him to Agent P?

A squeaking noise. Quickly, the agent glances up. Doofenshmirtz is leaving the house, heading into the backyard.

And it’s Saturday. Which means the kids’re out there.

Of course.

Adrenaline instantly hitting his system, Perry lunges forwards after him, hoping to drag him back inside before anyone out there spots him, but—wouldn’t you know it—Phin and Candace’re already looking right at the pair of them. So, instead, he has to fumble and make it look like he’s tripped over something and that’s why he was moving at top speed a second ago. “Oh, there you are, Perry,” Phineas greets, enthusiastic, waving at them as Perry fakes a wince and rubs at his knee. Instantly, Ferb’s head pops up.  “Hey, is that a friend of yours?”

Well. Guess this is happening now. From Candace’s school, Perry signs. He was just leaving. Who knows? Maybe if he says it, it’ll end up being true. Worth a shot. That’d be a nice change of pace, something actually going right for once. Phin doesn’t remember him, Heinz leaves right off, everything goes back to normal straightaway without any unexpected consequences… yeah, that’d be nice. Hope springs eternal, yeah?

“Oh, yeah, the pharmacist you punched! Sorry, I remember now.” Or not. That works too.

“Hey, I am not a pharmacist,” Heinz indignantly says, shoulders hunching self-consciously, sticking his hands in his pockets. “Seriously, why does everyone think that? Lab coats aren’t just for pharmacists, you know. Plenty of other people wear lab coats, like rocket scientists, or veterinarians—or evil scientists! Or, um, also teachers. Which is what I am. A, a teacher.” He coughs awkwardly, glances back down at his tracker. “Anyway, like I was saying, it should be right…” A few steps forward. “Right here!”

Huh. He isn’t standing over the OWCA lair, or close by one of the entrances, or anything. He’s just stood in the middle of the backyard, near the tree. Around where the kids usually end up building stuff, actually. That’s odd.

Heinz looks up. Blinks. “Well. Hm. In—in theory.” Squatting down, he tears up a fistful of grass—rude—and rolls it around in his hands, glances up at the sky like he’s looking for something hidden up in the clouds, then squints curiously at the tree. “You know, this place doesn’t look anywhere near as, um. As explode-y as I was expecting.”

What, Perry signs flatly, despite the fact that he knows Heinz won’t understand him.

Lucky for him, everyone else seems to be thinking the exact same thing. “Wait, what are you talking about?” Candace asks, suddenly interested, eyes narrowing. “And what’s that weird thingamabob you’re carrying?” She looks to be about ten seconds from going into full busting mode. Y’know, Perry’s honestly not sure how Linda’d react if her daughter started trying to bust complete strangers. That’d be a new one.

“Well, I mean, it’s less of a thingamabob, and more of a highly sophisticated device designed to, uh… you know, that doesn’t really have as good of an oomph to it either.” A beat. “Aw, what the heck. I’m gonna behold.” Oh no. “Behold,” and he dramatically lifts the device back into the air: voice resonating in a familiar way that scrapes at the agent’s nerves, sets off honed, bone-deep instincts developed over years of fighting, “the tracker-inator!

And—wouldn’t you know it—his OWCA-standard watch starts going off. Huh. You know, he’d figured that Heinz was wrong about that inator alert, but apparently not. That might end up being a problem. Keeping a straight face, not letting his eyes wander away from what’s going on, Perry subtly hits the snooze button. Don’t like having strangers around the place. Can one of you ask him to leave?

No one notices him signing. “Wow, what’s it do?” Phineas asks, peering curiously up at it.

“It can track anything in the Tri-State area!”

One of you, ask him to leave, he repeats, half-frantic, loudly snapping his fingers. Unfortunately, Heinz’s seconds away from starting up a monologue, which means he’s off caught in a flashback and isn’t gonna be noticing anything anytime soon, and the kids’re all caught up in watching him with varying degrees of fascination and skepticism. None of ‘em even notice Perry except Ferb, who just stares suspiciously up at him and doesn’t actually do anything about it. Which—needless to say—is not what he wanted to happen. Kinda the opposite, actually.

This is a problem. This could be a big problem, he’s almost certainly tracked Perry here and he could tell the kids as much any second now and ruin everything, but no he can’t just fall back on his old tried-and-true method for shutting Heinz up because decking him for no reason again would be just as harmful to his secret identity as just letting him talk. Maybe worse. But he can’t just stand here and let it happen, he’s still gotta—

“You see, it all started last night,” Heinz says, and oh, god, he’s already in full backstory mode. “I was grading papers, which is—well, not to say that it’s boring, but let’s just say that watching paint dry sounded thrilling. You know, by comparison. So I was sitting there, trying to think of something I could do that wasn’t evil. Since dealing with Monobrow’d be a pain, and my old nemesis’d probably have to come in and thwart me, and I might end up in jail, and… eh, the OWCA work release program probably doesn’t need that kind of scandal, you know?”

Phineas blinks. “Okay?”

It’s not convincing-sounding in the least, but apparently it’s still enough for Heinz. “And then I remembered something peculiar. Back in the day, every time one of my old inators got destroyed, they’d often end up firing randomly at the Tristate Area, and I never knew what they hit! Who knows what ended up happening because of that? I mean, seriously. I actually can’t believe I never thought of it before.” Huh. Well, this doesn’t sound like it’s got to do with Agent P? “So I built this, and I used it to track, you know, where they went. What they ended up hitting. And it turns out that virtually every single one of them has hit, like.” Vaguely, he waves his arms in the general direction of the backyard. “Right here. I mean, come on, how is that even po—”

“Wait a second,” Candace interrupts, eyes narrowing suspiciously, realization dawning on her face. “I mean, I still don’t have context for literally any of that, so I only understood, like, ten percent of what you said. Including the conjunctions. But I think I got enough to know that… you’re the Mysterious Force?” Oh boy.

Blankly, the scientist stares at her, clearly uncomprehending: somehow missing the sudden tension in the air, the way she’s glaring at him. “Um. I don’t know what that means, is… that some kind of hip new slang, or something? Hmm, I don’t think I’ve heard Va—”

Voice spiraling dangerously upwards, she cuts him off again. “Why are you keeping me from busting my brothers?” (Ferb winces.) “What could you possibly have to gain from that? How do you always know the exact worst time to hide their stuff? Why can Dad see their stuff but not Mom? Why did the flamingo explode?”

She’s advancing on him fast, holding her phone like she’s planning on using it as a blunt instrument. Even from a distance, it’s menacing-looking. “What the heck does that even mean?” Heinz yelps, scrambling away from Candace as quick as he can, hands in the air. “Back!” Wildly, he flails his hands at her: trying to scare her, run her off. “Back, I say!” Based on the looks of things, Candace’s about five seconds from going for his jugular, and Heinz’s six seconds from making a run for it.

Given the situation, the threat Heinz’s presence here is currently posing to Perry’s cover, it’s probably for the best if he lets this play out to its natural conclusion. Sure, Heinz’s not evil anymore, and he apparently didn’t come here following Perry, but that doesn’t mean him being here’s a good idea. All it’s gonna take is him mentioning “Perry the Platypus” in front of any of the kids so much as once, and his cover’s blown. That’s the sort of thing Ferb and Candace’d both pick up on, the sort of thing they’re probably actively looking out for—and even Phineas, who doesn’t already suspect him, who tends to assume the best of people until proven wrong, would still put the pieces together pretty quick if he heard.

So. He’s just got to let this happen. It’s better this way. Don’t interfere, don’t help him.

Oh, who is he kidding? This is Heinz he’s talking about. Perry sighs, and then claps his hands together so loudly it makes his hands sting. But hey, it works: everyone’s instantly staring at him. Please don’t, he tells her. He didn’t know, and he’s not doing it anymore.

Her jaw drops. “But, but, but—”

Don’t like having strangers around the place, he repeats for the third time this afternoon, doing his best to tune out Candace’s stammering so he can keep things moving. He’ll talk to her about it some more once Heinz’s out of here. Can one of you ask him to leave?

“Wait,” Phineas says, brow furrowing, picking the exact wrong moment to read too deeply into what Perry’s saying, “you don’t like having strangers in the backyard? Does that mean we shouldn’t have contractors come in? And people come in all the time to test out our projects, too. Is that a bad thing? You’ve never said anything before, and Mom and Dad hadn’t mentioned it, either, so we just assumed it was fine, but… huh. You know, I guess we never really asked. We could always try to build stuff somewhere else!”

“But, but—wait, hang on a second. Did you just bust the boys?” Her eyes go wide.

 Heinz blinks. “Purely hypothetically, just for kicks, let’s say I have no idea what’s going on. Because I’m only understanding, like, half of this conversation at a maximum, since I—I don’t know any signs, and my knowledge of teenage slang apparently leaves something to be desired. I really need to go brush up on my lingo.” A cough. “Anyway. What’s happening?”

Yeah, okay, this is not the way he wanted this conversation to go. Things are spiraling out of control, fast. No, there’s a difference, he rapidly signs at Phineas, improvising. He just wandered in carrying that thing under his arm. Uninvited. Makes me nervous. For good measure, he throws a little tense, jittery concern on his face, all darting eyes and strained smiles.

“Oh, I see! Uh, okay.” Looking a little awkward, wide-eyed and uncomfortable, Phineas turns and stares up at the scientist. Ferb follows suit. Both the boys’re clearly having a hard time with the thought of kicking someone outta the backyard: they’re so open, trusting, accepting. If not for the circumstances, he’d probably be proud of ‘em for that, but… yeah, as is, he mainly just wants Heinz out of here before he ends up ruining Perry’s life on accident. “I—I don’t know how to say this, but…” His voice trails off.

“For crying out loud,” Candace mutters, and then raises her voice to a moderate bellow. “Hey! Our uncle says he’s nervous because you barged in and carried that weird thingamabob all through the house and into the yard without asking, and he wants you to go because he’s still nervous!”

“Again, it’s not a thingamabob,” Heinz grumbles under his breath, “it’s the tracker-inator.” Right on cue, Perry’s watch goes off again.  He scrambles to silence it. “Huh. You know, I honestly could have sworn you said you were okay with me coming in! Well, obviously not said, but you know what I mean, right? Yeah, you get me.”

Awkwardly, Perry shrugs a little, wincing, giving him an apologetic grin and pointedly jerking his head towards the kids. Playing up the worried uncle angle, because that’s a good approach to take with Heinz.

“No, it’s okay, I totally get it,” the scientist quickly says, waving his hands. “I’m a father, I completely understand, I mean I know I’d get a little antsy if some guy wandered into my penthouse with an inator and started talking to my daughter. Man, seriously, I hate it when that happens. Ugh.” His hands twitch a little, flexing awkwardly before he stuffs them into his pocket: like he was about to pat Perry’s shoulder, and then thought better of it. “So, er, I guess I should probably go.” Abruptly, Heinz’s expression brightens. “But hey, who knows, maybe I’ll see you around! I mean, it’s a small Tri-State area, and, y’know. A lot can happen. I’m just saying.” A beat. His smile deflates a little. “Anyway. Hasta la virevolte, or however that saying goes.”

Okay, good. He’s finally going. Heaving a quiet sigh, Perry finally lets himself relax, shoulders slumping slightly.

“Oh, by the way, what’s your name?” Dammit.

And of course, Heinz’s just close enough to hear Phin asking. Because that’s just the kind of luck Perry’s having today, apparently. “I’m Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz!” he brightly informs, stopping dead in his tracks and leaning, too-casually, up against the fence. “But my friends call me…” A pause. “I just got in such a funk. Hmm. Well, bye again, I guess!” Waving awkwardly, gaze lingering on Perry for an uncomfortably long moment, he heads off.

There’s a blissful second of silence.

It doesn’t last long. “Whoa,” Ferb murmurs. “Déjà vu-ish.”

“Wait a second, Doofenshmirtz? Was that Vanessa’s dad?”

“Have we seen him before? I didn’t realize it earlier, but in hindsight, he looks really familiar. I mean, not just because of that time Perry punched him.”

“I think maybe I saw him on the last day of summer or something. Although I still have no idea what happened that day.”

“Actually, wasn’t he the guy who made those zombie pharmacists?”

Perry pinches the bridge of his nose and sighs. “Hey, guys!” Isabella greets, peppy as always, poking her head into the backyard. “Whatcha—” And then she notices how loudly Phineas and Candace are talking, how intensely Ferb’s watching their conversation, the way Perry’s got his shoulders hunched. “Oh. Is… this a bad time?”