In the days following the adventure in the second dimension, it seemed like everyone at OWCA twitched at the faintest disruption. Thwarting schedules resumed, but for Perry at least, there was a sense of paranoid urgency in the calls that came through from headquarters. They’d send him over for the usual warning signs of low level mayhem, but they’d also send him over later the same day to check up on some noise complaint that they knew very well came from a lower floor, or to double check that the inator was fully demolished—Perry knew what they were really worried about. Just how strong was the memory wipe? Would it hold? He was wary of it himself. This was the first time that an agent had stayed with their nemesis after a mind wipe.
Normally there would be a transfer, to avoid triggering any sensitive memories, but he'd ignored Monogram's hints with a straight face and at the end of the day he was still their best agent. Without some bigger threat to point him at, the hints had fizzled out fast.
That was how Perry found himself slipping into a furniture store, wincing at the jangle of the bells over the door. He found Heinz in the sofa section, furtively testing swabs of something chartreuse on a leather cushion. He coughed, politely, and tugged on Heinz’s coat.
“Wha—” Heinz started, and fell back into the plush embrace of the over-stuffed sofa. “Oh,” he said, half buried in leather upholstery, “Perry the Platypus. What are you doing here? You just thwarted me a couple hours ago.”
Perry looked down sheepishly.
“Man,” Heinz said, “they’re really working you hard this week. You oughta talk to a union. Is there a union for crime fighting secret agents? Or, I guess the real question is, would Monobrow let you?” He wriggled against the sofa’s enveloping grip in vain, leather squeaking as he tried to pry himself free. “A little help here, Perry the Platypus?”
Obliging, Perry planted his feet against the bottom of the sofa and pulled Heinz’s arm until he popped free. The scientist hit the ground spine-first, like he’d been judo flipped, which—Perry realized belatedly—he more or less had been.
“I’m not doing anything evil,” Heinz wheezed, flat on the floor. “Sorry, but you gotta give a guy some recovery time between thwartings.”
Perry paused, at his side, and took a look around the store.
“I’m buying a new couch,” Heinz said, pushing himself up onto his elbow. His expression screwed up, puzzled at something. “I don’t know why, but I’ve got this feeling that I just really need a new one. It’s like, nagging. I can’t seem to find one of the cushions anyways.”
Perry quickly found somewhere else to fix his attention.
Heinz made a creaky winded noise as he pulled himself to his feet. “You wanna help me pick out the new one?” he asked Perry. “I mean, you’re over even more often than Vanessa, you should get a say in it.”
Well. They did hang out after work sometimes, and Perry had been sent here to keep an eye on the scientist. What could it hurt? Besides, being around the boys the last couple of days had been pinging him periodically with delayed guilt, and he loved them but it was going to be hard to live with them for a while longer. There was so much to unpack still, so much pride and fear and guilt that Perry hadn't had time to feel when it was all fresh.
He kept thinking of Phineas’s expression when he had thrown away the pamphlet. He never wanted to do that again. And still, if the memories resurfaced—if they resurfaced in the wrong order…
Perry pointed to a calico loveseat across the floor.
“That one?” Heinz said. “I dunno, it’s kind of kitschy.”
An hour later, Perry held the door to the penthouse open while Heinz directed the movers around the hall. It was getting late, and the wind had picked up hard enough outside that Perry was dreading taking the glider home.
“No!” Heinz called after the movers, “The left side! The left side! What, am I talking to myself here?”
The penthouse was exactly as Perry had left it this morning, minus some of the mechanical rubble. If he looked carefully he could still make out some of the hastily patched damage from the giant robot fight days ago, but he supposed that with the way this building was constantly exploding or catching fire, a couple new patches should fly right under the doctor’s radar.
“Finally,” Heinz was saying, as Perry turned back to him, “yes, leave it there. No, you’re not getting a tip. If you want a tip, next time try not dropping a couch on my foot. I think you broke something.”
Perry shut the door behind the grumbling movers. There was thunder purring in the distance now, like a cat curled up in the wires underneath somebody else’s desk. Perry gave the window an uneasy look.
“Huh,” Heinz said, following his gaze. “Looks like it’s about to come down. You sure you wanna go out in that? Summer thunderstorms, they’re just, well you don’t wanna leave any Chinese paper art projects outside in them, I can tell you that from experience. I flunked that term project, no buts about it.”
In the mounds of junk on the far end of the floor, Norm was shuffling around, stacking and ordering the remains of the day’s scheme. The organization couldn’t exactly zap Norm, but Carl had gotten up to his elbows in the robot’s mainframe and subsequently assured them all that there wouldn’t be any surprise reminiscence. It made Perry feel kind of uneasy. A flash of light was one thing, but something about Carl digging around in the literal head of a witness raised all sorts of complicated feelings about his organization and their protocols.
“Say, why don’t you stick around for a while,” Heinz said, “until the storm blows through? Vanessa left a bunch of her movies here, we could put something in.”
The night beyond the window was flashing like picture day, bright with rapid heat lightning. The walk back home—or the scooter ride, even—was unappealing, dark, and dreary. And Heinz looked so hopeful, the way he always did. At Perry’s uncertain silence, he rushed off to the wings and dragged back a flat screen tv, scraping the plastic stand of it across the floor.
“New couch,” he said, panting a little bit, “we should break it in! Popcorn, sodas, the whole nine yards. It’s not really your couch until you’ve lost some popcorn in the springs.”
It was times like these that Perry felt his heart beat strangely with some very peculiar cocktail of emotions—the first time he felt it he had thought it was a kind of pity, but now he was certain it was something else. It pulled and twisted like nostalgia for something you couldn’t remember. It was times like these that Perry always, somehow, ended up thinking of the disaster with Peter the Panda, that first time. Somehow the two emotions were attached.
“We’ve got—”Heinz wandered over to a shelf and flipped through a stack DVD cases, “some french film about a woman who really likes sticking her hands in barrels of seeds at the farmer’s market—yeesh lady, you ever heard of a health code violation—and, this one looks like one of those horror movies where the real villain is human arrogance, let’s see—oh, she has Evil Twin II. I haven’t seen that one.”
“You know I’ve never gotten the concept of evil twins,” Heinz babbled on, oblivious, “like, you share your whole genome right? And they’re never fraternal twins either, they’re always identical. So if one of you is evil, the other one is just as likely to be evil too, right? They should be teaming up, not fighting each other. You gotta—twin solidarity, man, you gotta stick with your genome. But that’s movie logic for you, am I right Perry the Playtpus?”
It took a monumental effort not to look as sick as Perry felt. He shook his head, slowly, and hoped that it was a normal response. He did not need to sit through two hours of watching identical faces trying to tear each other’s eyes out while Heinz provided his sarcastic commentary. He was still thinking of the Other Doofenshmirtz, even now, and his smug ruthlessness.
How much of that Doofenshmirtz was in his own Heinz? How much would it take to see that unfamiliar smug cruelty again on his familiar face?
Heinz frowned, like he’d noticed something was wrong and it worried him. “Not that one? Alright, how about the weird French one. It looks like it’s got a romance and I know you like those.”
Perry nodded gratefully. While Heinz was feeding the disc into the tv, Perry took his usual seat on one end of the couch. Or he tried to. He couldn’t quite find the Perry-shaped depression in the cushion where he usually—
Oh. New couch.
Perry felt his heart unfairly and unreasonably sinking. It was a silly thing, but the loss of the Perry-shaped depression was like the loss of years of nemesis-ship, like the loss of his hat or his photos. There weren’t that many things that were Perry’s. The thing that had been his, in Heinz’s house, had meant something. He wasn’t sure exactly what it meant, but it mattered. He remembered thinking: at least Peter the Panda doesn’t have this.
Why didn’t he get a new nemesis, after the second dimension and the amnesia treatment? Most agents would have. And he guessed it was something to do with the Perry-shaped depression in the couch. Not that they were cause and effect, but that they both were the products of whatever weird twisting emotional cocktail connected him to Heinz now. They’d always taken their nemesiship more seriously than other agent-scientist pairs, but lately Perry was noticing other differences too.
Heinz fell back onto the couch as well, causing the whole thing to bounce slightly. He scrunched up his face. “Yeah,” he said, “I’m not really feeling it either. I guess we’ll get used to it though.”
Because there was no usual spot for Perry to slide into, the two of them had come to a rest closer together than usual. It was strange how a little shift in proximity could change the whole mood of a moment. Perry glanced down at Heinz’s hand, only an inch from his own.
Perched on the still puffed and springy cushions, sitting higher than usual, Perry swallowed against a sensation of exposure. It seemed that if Heinz were to look over right now, he would be able to read things that even Perry couldn’t quite grasp.
“We’ll break it in no problem, between the two of us,” Heinz said, stretching his arms above his head.
Well. To Perry that sounded almost like a promise. Going out on a bit of a limb, he leaned closer and settled against Heinz’s side. The scientist gave him a little startled look, and then a pleased one.
Sweet spots in cushions weren’t really the important thing, Perry decided. The important thing was the reason why he had spent all that time wearing himself a place to fit, and he could do it again just as easily.
“Thanks for staying,” Heinz said, sounding nothing more than comfortably satisfied. For once he was neither bitter nor wheedling, and it was a nice change. Then he let out something that sounded like a German swear and slumped against the back of the couch. “I still haven’t got the snacks,” he groaned. “Hold on, Perry the Platypus. I be—I’ll be right back.”
Perry watched him go with a smile, and then hopped off the couch as well. Heinz was terrible about burning popcorn. Better not to let him get his hands on it.