Author's notes: I've been a big BTTF fan since I was five. When I was five, it was the flying cars, the lightning storms, and the perils of time travel. But it was the acting and the character dynamics that held me fast even when the kitsch and glitter and goofy sci-fi trappings had faded. Character development - and characters that care about each other in a way that is both idealized and convincingly real - are a rarity in the modern movie industry, and the friendship between Marty and Doc to me is nothing short of genius and worth its weight in plutonium.

Also: I tend to write Marty as a little more intelligent and perceptive than most people do. I don't really think Doc would have befriended, confided in, and shared his experiments with an idiot. Just my opinion.

BTTF and all characters (c) the BTTF people, 1985.

4 am, this letter

November 6th, 1955
12:37 AM

Sleep was impossible.

1:42 AM

He stood in the space by the doorframe. It seemed a natural thing to rest a hand on the beveled wood, but he didn't, as if interacting with this house, this time, acknowledging the past for what it is, would only confirm the future. One day would flow seamlessly into another, and then months, and then years - thirty of them. And then what?

Doc had explained to him all about chaos theory, and not just the usual weather-related butterfly blather - but temporal chaos, the effect of one small event upon others and others and others, until the content of history no longer even resembles the theoretical path. It had been on one of those comfortable days of tinkering in the lab, thirty years and a lifetime away. Marty had grinned and nodded, and reached for a different screwdriver, and understood far more of it than he'd let on. When he'd caught on to what had happened earlier this day, he'd had a surge of hope - if history was so easily altered, then he could prevent the Bad Thing - but now the doubts were starting to creep in. What if he was here, now, because it happened that way, and was always meant to? If that was the case, then any warnings he might give had already been given, thirteen years before he was ever born, and the present-past-future remained. Why even bother trying?

He watched the rise and fall of breath of the figure sprawled on the bed, taking small, temporary comfort in the sight of his friend alive and whole. The puppy was curled up at the foot of the bed, nested in the quilt, and he lifted his head for a moment to look steadily at Marty. Something of the boy's sense of loss must have been communicated by the eye contact, been interpreted as danger, because Copernicus gave a low whine, whimpering anxiously in the darkness.

Marty looked away, dropping his eyes to the floor, and took a breath. Let it out, slowly. And turned to walk back down the hallway towards the room where he should have been sleeping. But he didn't stop at the door, still ajar from when he left the room nearly an hour ago. Without really understanding why, Marty found himself going out the side door, treading through the grass and the cool evening air on autopilot, across the yard and into the garage. He took a distracted moment to run his hand along the lines of the DeLorean, then stopped before the television and camera. And before his mind could come up with why he shouldn't, he'd already hit the play button on the camera, starting the tape up from where he'd tactfully stopped it earlier in the night.

"-is it, Einy?" asked the ghost on the screen, black and white and flickering, warm smile directed off-camera. The casual affection drained away in an instant; Marty felt a dangerous chill as he watched the fear creep in to replace it. He had never seen real fear on that face. It looked out of place. "...oh my god, they found-"

The hand smacking down on the stop button had moved without thought, and Marty sat there for a moment, perched on his heels, hand on the camera, static playing across the screen. His eyes were pinched shut tightly as the scene that followed those words played out in his head.

You can never go home again. You can never go back.

Marty hit rewind after a moment, the whining sound of the tape spooling abnormally loud in the quiet, empty house.

2:23 AM

It was somewhere around the fourth viewing of the tape that it got to be too much.

There were four stages of grief, Marty knew - or was it five? They'd been taught about it in health class last year, when they were old enough that it was assumed they'd all lost at least one loved one in their sixteen years. Marty hadn't, and hadn't paid much attention, either. He remembered a few of the stages - denial, acceptance, bargaining - but not all of them, and he certainly couldn't remember the order they were supposed to go in. But wasn't 'order' blasted all to hell anyway, when you could watch someone die and, less than 24 hours later, be a guest in their home?

The tape played on, scientific precision and childlike exuberance, sonic booms and fire on the blacktop. English, Doc. The ghost moved around the screen with the kind of boundless energy and enthusiasm that had always made him seem so much younger than the frizz of white hair would indicate, so much more enamored with life than any person, outcast and harassed and jeered at by an entire city, had any right to be. He'd been so alive, right up until those last thirty seconds.

"Doc, you disintegrated Einstein!"

"Calm down Marty, I didn't disintegrate anything!"

The certainty. The excitement. The explanation.

"Did you rip that off?!"

"Of course!"

Why? Tell me why.

Was it that important, to take that kind of risk?

"It's taken me nearly thirty years and my entire family fortune to realize the vision of that day..."

That day. This day. The present-past-future remained. It was too much.

The tape continued on. There was no hand to stop it this time, as it rolled on past danger and into static. Marty was oblivious, rocked back onto his heels, head tilted back to stare at the ceiling. His mouth moved soundlessly, forming nonsense words in the dark, as the first quiet, burning tears slid down the planes of his face. The full reality of the future he was returning to hit him in that instant, and he crumpled forward onto himself and slid ungracefully to the floor, shaking with choking, silent grief.

Static - must be what it's like, when your life runs out of tape.

3:08 AM

Leave the garage and the car and the tape with its rolling, endless snowfield static behind. Disacknowledge them, if only for a moment.

Marty wandered silently through the Brown mansion, touching nothing, ghosting through hallways and rooms used and unused both. It wasn't as quiet as it'd first seemed. The inevitable swarm of clocks ticked on, buzzing in the night and reminding him at every turn whose chair this was, who read these books, who hung this photograph. Who built these machines. It wasn't as thick or concentrated a sound as Marty was used to, but this house allowed the collection to be more spread out. It was a large place, extravagant, full to overflowing with cripcrap and machinery - and somehow, more empty.

A lonely place to live.

Marty was standing in the third consecutive completely unused guest room when the thought hit him: This younger version of his friend, younger even than his parents as he knew them, seemed more jaded than the Doc Brown that Marty knew. Cynical, even. In 1985, Doc would never have said 'It can't be done.' The words weren't in his vocabulary. Was there truth to the idea that, as time goes on and you're given more and more reasons to give up, you have to circle around to the other side, give up on the suspicion and paranoia and distrust, engage in everything with your whole heart, just to stay sane?

Or maybe it's just that, here in 1955, he doesn't have a friend in the world...

Marty grimaced in the dark, reaching down to trace a trail through the thick layer of dust clinging to the empty dresser. It was an egotistical thought, that he was somehow responsible for that change, but the evidence was here. These extra rooms had barely seen life in years. This was the Brown family house; what had happened to the family? He'd never asked, never known anything about Doc's history. He may have lost the chance.

How could he have never asked?

Riverside Drive. John F. Kennedy Drive. Who the hell is John F. Kennedy? Copernicus, Einstein, a mansion, a garage. Suspicion. Acceptance. Save the past, save the future, stop the future. You can never go home.

He couldn't stay here; he understood that. It was too much of a risk. He'd have to stay locked in this house, and later the garage, for the next thirty years. How would he explain, on the morning of October 26th, how he'd snuck out the night before a teenager, and come back 47? It was ludicrous. It wasn't even an option.

But it was a temptation.

Sabotage the DeLorean somehow. A tragic missed opportunity, once in a lifetime. Stay here with his friend thirty years younger, far from the threat of gunfire and radiation and a crazed VW Microbus. Give up on the life in 1985. One life to save another. Wasn't it worth it? Wouldn't his friend thank him in the end?

...except that this wasn't really his friend, here. The scientist sleeping down the hall hadn't really known him when they had called it a night, and that wouldn't have miraculously changed by morning, or by next week. This Doc didn't seem capable, yet, of connecting with a teenager as an equal. He was helping Marty, he seemed to feel responsible for his ending up here, he'd taken him in and put a roof over his head for the week - but those were parental actions, not the actions of a friend to a friend. It had taken growing on both their parts, in the original timeline, to get to the point of friends and equals. How long would that take in this time, so premature? How long would the friendship be strained and artificial?

What would he do when his younger self inevitably arrived on the scene?

No, it was crazy. He couldn't stay here. All he could do - try to do - was make his own time into something worth returning to. And there was only one way to do that.

Marty stood silently in the dark, empty room for a few seconds more, then took a deep, harsh breath. He turned and walked out the door.

3:36 AM

There was a clatter from the kitchen, the rattle of drawers being opened and closed roughly, frantically. Copernicus lifted his head in the dark, turned mournful eyes toward the door hanging ajar, and whimpered quietly. Emmett Brown slept on. It had been a long day.

4:03 AM

Damn it.

The sheet was crumpled up in one hand, discarded, added to the growing pile beside where Marty sat on the living room floor. All he'd been able to find to write with was the stub of a pencil, and after six attempts, it was going dull. He'd pulled a book off of the shelf, completely at random, and he put another sheet of stationary across its flat, firm surface. Started again. Dear Doctor Brown...

The words weren't coming. The right words weren't coming, or were coming too fast, too raw and unfiltered, filling the page with barely legible chickenscratch and emotional vomit. He'd tried every imaginable angle and it all just degenerated into desperation and pleading. And presentation, in this case, was everything, was life and death. It would take a lot to get the younger Brown to trust the judgement of a random teenager, untrained in any hard science, where temporal implications were concerned. Would take a lot to get him to trust his own future judgement, in choosing to keep Marty's company and trust him with his secret.

The pencil moved across the sheet. It was a strong start, but he felt the misstep when it happened and immediately balled the paper up and threw himself back against the foot of the cushioned armchair in frustration. A small, desperate noise escaped from his throat, and Marty clenched his hand hard around the ball of paper.

I have a week. Less than a week. I have a week to fix my parents, to figure out how I'm going to get home. To fix home. To fix everything.

The clocks kept ticking, all in perfect synchronization. Seconds dropping away before he could ever hope to get a grasp on them.

I'm not stupid. Doc was always telling me that. So why can't I...

No. Not past tense. Please, not that.

Dammit, Doc, what were you thinking...

A breath.

I can fix this, I can...

Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Marty counted them off in a faraway, detached part of his mind. That was three out of five. That was too close to the end. He wasn't going to let himself get to the end, not without a fight.

The stack of fresh paper, blank and intimidating, sat on the floor next to him. The corner of the stack was lined up square with the pattern in the carpet; Marty hadn't noticed himself doing that.

The pencil stub bit into his fingers, closed white-knuckled around it.

...I have a week to find the words.

(c) ricebol 2004.