*kicks in door*
BET YOU THOUGHT YOU'D SEEN THE LAST OF ME
The Boy Beyond Time
May 17, 1977
Doctor Rector's office was almost as tiny inside as it was on the outside. The clinic was solely a psychiatric practice, with only one doctor at that, so it had little need for the advanced equipment Rory was used to seeing at a twenty-first century hospital. Beyond the still, quiet waiting room, a short hallway snaked around the building leading to the rest of the facilities. It was clean and simple, with comfortable chairs and a touch of an "old west" flair; There was stylistic use of old ranch equipment and black-and-white photos dotting the walls. Rory would have almost called it "retro" if, well, he wasn't currently walking in that retro time period.
Rector himself was the very picture of a stereotypical psychiatrist. He was a slender man, smartly dressed and well-groomed with his dark hair and beard cut close to his face. He had a quiet and confident air about him as he spoke. His eyes were intense and alert, like may psychiatrists Rory had met, quietly taking in details and diagnosing the world around them. Rory had gotten more than enough of that from Amy's doctors growing up.
Still, overall, he was surprisingly welcoming and friendly to the "inspector" who had come to call.
"I'm afraid I wasn't prepared for a surprise visit," Dr. Rector admitted as he led Rory down the hall to his office, giving a low chuckle. Rory stayed beside him, returning the chuckle with a forced smile and a nod.
"Yes, well, uh, that's sort of the point, you see." He glanced at the doctor a moment, then ahead down the hall. "Can't have you sprucing the place up last minute, right?"
"Nothing of the sort," Dr. Rector gave a dismissive wave of his hand. "I'm just afraid I have an appointment very early today, so you won't have my full attention for much longer. I'd offer to let you sit in but, well, I'm sure such a glaring breach in confientiality would be an instant failure in your eyes."
Rory nodded. "Right. Good that you, uh, remember that." Even when he was supposed to be inspector of the day, Rory was still a nurse. Even though Dr. Rector had no way of knowing his ruse, the man's sharp gaze made Rory feel like the man was seeing right through him. "I won't be long. This is more like a, uh, check-up than a full out inspection." He kept his eyes off the doctor's, instead gazing at the scenery around them. It was easier to keep calm and pretend to be in charge that way.
"Of course. You're a busy man, you can't stay long. We'll get everything we need in short order." Dr. Rector stopped in front of a door, gesturing up and down the hallway with a sweep of his arm and a warm, welcoming smile. "You'll find everything is up to par. In fact, my little facility far higher than the national standard for mental health."
"Good to hear," Rory said with a nod, following Rector's gesture to gaze down the hall. He wondered where to even start with his investigation.
"You'll have nothing but good things to report to your superiors."
"I certainly hope so." Of course, between himself and Dr. Rector, Rory figured "good things" had two entirely different meanings.
There was a moment of silence as Dr. Rector opened the door, gesturing for Rory to follow him in. "In the meantime, can I provide you anything? You sound like you could use a hot cup of tea."
"Heh." Rory smirked and shook his head. "No, thank you." In actuality, Rory'd been so shaken up by the disappearing boy he'd met earlier, he didn't have much of an appetite. He'd nibbled on some eggs and toast from the nearby diner and managed to down a mug of tea, but his stomach threatened to bring it back up at any moment. The boy's strange, unreal features, the desperation in his voice… even the memory sent chills up Rory's spine. He would definitely need to bring it up when he met with the Doctor again.
"Of course." Doctor Rector led Rory into his office and offered him a seat as he moved behind his own desk, leaning back in his chair, that warm smile ever present on his face. "We do have time before my eight thirty. Tell me exactly what you want to know about my clinic."
Sitting across from the doctor, it was more difficult to avoid that uncomfortable eye contact. Rory folded his hands, keeping his gaze fixed on a spot in the desk. "Well, you know. Just tell me about your practice. And methods and… things. Brag a little."
Dr. Rector chuckled at that. "Very well."
As it turned out, Dr. Rector definitely had nearly twenty years worth of bragging rights. In addition to his medical license, he also was a licensed therapist, thereby condensing the role of both therapist and psychiatrist — both counseling and medication. Rector's primary focus was cognitive behavioral therapy, the modification of destructive thoughts and behaviors. In more extreme cases, Dr. Rector might use medication to relieve symptoms, but he spent far more time raving about his therapy skills and relaxation techniques.
All in all, it sounded like a standard practice. Rory had been hoping Dr. Rector would let something slip about Martin McFly, but he seemed far more interested in talking about himself.
Just when Rory was getting to think he'd never get out of there, a buzzing sound from Dr. Rector's intercom cut him off.
"Doctor," came the buzzing voice of his young secretary, "your eight-thirty is here."
"Send him in," he replied, flashing an apologetic smile at Rory. "I'm afraid we're going to have to cut this short, Mr. Williams. Can you see yourself out?"
"I can. It's all right," Rory said, standing up and clutching his briefcase, offering his free hand. Dr. Rector's handshake was tight and firm, and after some brief formalities Rory was out the office door, passing the next patient on the way. He stopped and turned his head, watching as the young man here to see the doctor disappeared into the office.
Rory lingered a moment more, glancing up and down the hallway, making a rough guess where the records room might be. More likely than not the records were stored near reception, which would make rooting through the files a touch difficult without being detected and thrown out. With that in mind, he started back toward the entrance, eyes lingering on the Old West photos and knick-nacks that lined the hallway as he passed them by.
One made Rory stop in his tracks.
Two men - one young, one old - stood on either side of a clock tower skeleton, dressed in historical garb. For a moment, he thought his mind was playing tricks on him, but no; The young man in the photo had a face that was all-too-recently burned into Rory's memory.
There was some writing on the matting:
Unknown. Eastwood and Brown at the Clock Tower. 1885. A History of Hill Valley, 1850-1930. Hill Valley, CA: Courthouse Publishing, 1934. 115.
Rory swallowed down a lump in his throat, gazing at a hundred-something year old photograph of the boy he met this morning.
He glanced up and down the hallway once more before pulling his BlackBerry from his pocket and readying the camera.
Rory couldn't exactly show the photos on his phone to a librarian in the 1970's, so he copied down the citation onto a scrap of paper and from there she'd been delighted to help. It hadn't taken her long to find the book, and Rory had the rest of the day to waste before the Doctor came to get him. He could afford to do a little resarch on Eastwood and Brown in the meantime.
Right there, page 115, was the same photograph that had been staring him down at Dr. Rector's office - the same face that had looked to him in wide-eyed desperation that very morning. Rory frowned, inspecting the image closer. The face was the same, most definitely, but something about it seemed less.. unsettling. This morning something about him seemed like he'd come right from Uncanny Valley, but the face in the ancient photograph seemed as normal as can be. Maybe it was one of those things that didn't communicate on film, like trying to photograph the Grand Canyon or something.
He turned his gaze to the accompanying text in the history book, and balked.
Not much is known about the young hero Clint Eastwood, who courageously took down Mad Dog Tannen in a gunfight without firing a single shot...
"Clint Eastwood," Rory muttered, testing the name on his tongue as it to test if it were real, lips stretching into a smirk. "Seriously?"
...before plummeting to his death that same day in his efforts to stop a train robbery. (SEE: Eastwood Ravine 24, 297)
Plummeting to his death. Well, in Rory's experience, death wasn't exactly a dealbreaker if you wanted to pop up a hundred years later, though he imagined his circumstances weren't exactly common. The text made no mention of descendants - in fact, it seemed Eastwood's only connection to Hill Valley was the blacksmith Emmett Brown, and details on him were scarce. He'd lived in town for about a decade with his family before they all disappeared without a trace.
Rory leaned back in his chair, smearing his hands down his face and giving a heavy sigh. He idly wondered if perhaps he'd seen a ghost, but if then, Eastwood's "ghost" sure as heck hadn't been dressed like someone from the nineteenth century.
Another hour of perusing the text amounted to nothing. Frustrated, tired, and hungry, Rory finally put the book with the reshelving and trudged back outside for a well-deserved lunch break. Rory. Doc's lab. The rip. Eastwood's desperate words echoed in his mind again, but despite such an obvious clue to... something, Rory couldn't make heads or tails of it, and his research led right to a dead end.
"Excuse me," a voice called behind him, but Rory paid it no heed.
He made his way back toward the diner. A meal and some tea would help him think. Maybe there was something he was missing - a detail he overlooked.
"Excuse me, young man, can you spare a moment?"
If all else failed, he could just take his findings to the Doctor and let him make sense of it. After all, it's not like clues would just reach up and tap you on the -
A hand grapsed Rory's shoulder. He yelled in surprise, ducking out of the grip and whriling to face his assailant, ready to take a fighting stance. The man before him looked immediately apologetic, raising a hand to presumably calm any retaliation.
"Ah... I'm sorry to have startled you. I assure you, I meant no harm or disrespect!"
The stranger was an older gentleman, dressed casually in a loudly-patterned Hawaiian shirt and light slacks. But despite his eye-catching outfit, it was his face that held Rory's attention.
"You... you're..." Rory started, throat dry as he looked the man over once more, eyes wide and mouth agape. The blacksmith. But... no, no, there was no way. That would be too easy. It couldn't possibly be him, could it?
Rory's mind was reeling as Emmett fished into his pockets for something. Emmett Brown. The blacksmith. On the same day he saw Eastwood's ghost. Could it be? Rory swallowed again, glancng across the courthouse square to the alley where he'd met Eastwood this morning.
Rory was jerked from his thoughts as Emmett took his hand, and made no protest when the man dropped a shiny pocketwatch into his palm. "Now, young man, if you could please wind this..."
"Uh..." Rory looked down at the trinket in his hand. It was still ticking, so it hadn't run out of power just yet. "Yeah. Sure."
As he did so, Emmett produced an identical watch and wound it as well. "Excellent, excellent. Now!" Emmett moved beside him, holding up his watch face-up alongside Rory's. "Can you please confirm for me that these two pocketwatches are perfectly in sync?"
Well, this was certainly turning out to be quite the day, wasn't it? It was really saying something that this felt like the most normal thing to happen to Rory today. He inspected the two watches - the times were set exactly the same, right down to the second hands moving steadily around the face. "Perfectly in sync, yeah. Why am I-?"
"Excellent! Hold this, and stay right there." Emmett held up a hand, as if that would help persuade Rory to stay in one spot. From there, he backed up along the sidewalk until he was several meters away.
"Uh..." Rory looked to his watch again, then back up to Emmett. "Should I be doing something?"
"Just stay right there! Don't move!" Emmett looked down to his watch again.
Rory frowned, then decided to glance around. No X on the ground, nothing around that looked like it might be some kind of death trap ready to spring. Another glance at the watch as the seconds passed. "Is something supposed to happen?"
"I'll explain everything in a moment!"
Rory wondered if he had anything better he could be doing right now, but no. He really didn't.
A few minutes ticked by on the pocketwatch before Emmett approached again, holding the two clocks side-by-side once more. "Now, see? Look at that. The two watches had been in sync before, but now..."
The watches were still set to roughly the same time, but now Emmett's watch was slightly slower - the second hand of Emmett's watch now lagged just barely behind Rory's. Emmett stepped away, leaning back on a nearby building, gently rapping the edge of his watch with the back of his hand.
"Two identical watches, set to the same time, both wound completely - but step away with one, and soon enough, they fall out of sync. What does that tell you?"
Rory frowned. "Shoddy craftsmanship, I imagine."
Emmett nodded. "A perfectly reasonable conclusion. Now, what if I told you that I've been able to replicate these same results several times, with several different kinds of clocks, all over town?" He tapped the face, brow furrowed in thought. "Imagine if this wasn't an effect of the clocks themselves, but some sort of outside factor. What would that tell you?"
Rory clicked his tongue, glancing off to the side nervously, remembering what the Doctor had told him yesterday. He wondered if that was the conclusion Emmett was going for. "Well, I mean... if the clocks are working fine, then..."
He watched Emmett for a reaction, trying to gauge when he'd said too much. This was the sort of thing humans weren't supposed to be able to perceive, right? Maybe he shouldn't tip Emmett off. The man seemed midly distracted, still focusing on fiddling with his pocket watch.
Rory continued carefully. "Then I guess it might mean that time is... uh..." Twisted? Warped? Before he could find the word, Emmett looked up, focus now entirely on Rory. That wild, erratic expression softened into something gentler. Concern? Interest? In fact, to Rory, it looked like... hope.
"Go on," Emmett urged quietly.
"Time is... uh..." Rory held up his hands, miming a stretching motion. "Warped?"
"Warped," Emmett echoed, pulling a small notepad from his pocket, eyes brightening in excitement as a smile stretched across his face. "Twisted. Stretched. Call it what you like, but the end result is that in various locations throughout town, time is inconsistent. And inconsistently inconsistent, at that." He flipped the notepad open, showing a simple drawing of the town square. "I apologize for the crudeity of this drawing, but..."
Rory took the notepad gently, inspecting the sketch and the overlapping lines Emmett had drawn in another color. On another page was a similar drawing, but the lines had moved. The next page was much the same.
"It's moving," Rory noted, remembering what the Doctor had told him. "And you're mapping it out?" This strange phenomenon that humans supposedly weren't even able to notice, and Emmett not only noticed but managed to record it?
"It's exhausting work," Emmett admitted. "But you know, I've brought it up on occasion with others - just making conversation, you see - and of everyone I've talked to, you're the first one to come to the same conclusion as I have."
"Well, I mean, it's not the sort of thing most people really think about." Rory offered the notepad and fobwatch back to Emmett as he spoke. "You look around and can't really see time as a thing, right? Not everyone's got a solid understanding of Special Relativity. I mean, I can barely wrap my head around it, myself."
Emmett's expression brightened even more. "You've read up on Einstein?"
"He... I mean, this stuff comes up in books I read sometimes. Science fiction and all that." And in real life, but Rory figured it best not to mention that. "Never actually sat down to learn it."
"I must say, I find that surprising. You seem like a brilliant young man." Emmett dropped the items back into his pocket before he offered his hand in greeting. "Emmett Brown."
And there was the confirmation, the answer to one quiestion that only raised a million more. Rory didn't even know how to begin broaching the subject, so for now he simply opted not to.
"Rory Williams." He matched Emmett's warm smile, taking his hand.
SEPTEMBER 14, 1986
In the time he'd been back, Doc had made a few improvments to the garage that doubled as his home and lab. Though larger than the average garage - it'd once been part of a mansion, after all - It was every bit as small and crowded as Marty remembered, though these days the space was better utilized and organized. Moreover, some walls had been constructed inside to give the boys their own space and allow Doc and Clara to conduct experiments safely away from the living area.
After Marty's most recent time-traveling escapade from 1931, when he'd seen the Brown residence in its current state, he'd been hit with simultaneous surprise and nostalgia - after all, thanks to conflicting memories, it was both the first time and the umpteenth time he'd seen it like this.
That had been months ago. These days, in any timeline, that garage was a second home. Doc, Clara, and even the boys were almost always just a phone call away.
Then again, no phone call could compare to being with them in person. Here, with one talkative child trying to keep his attention as the other one climbed all over him. with Clara fussing over him like a second mother, with Doc... here.
The car ride had been mostly silent. Doc hadn't immediately pressed the issue, and Marty just... neded some time to sort out his thoughts. After arriving, with the comfort of Doc's family, Marty let himself get distracted with the familiar and (relatively) mundane for a little while. After a day like today, after... everything he'd learned today, it was nice to just dial it back and just let things be.
Yet Marty had come here for a reason, and he knew it. Doc knew it, and Clara knew it, too. When things had settled down and they'd put the kids to bed, the three of them had sat down together in their sitting room to finally just... talk.
Or try to, at least. As energetic as Doc was, he was patient - as was Clara. The silence hung heavy in the room as Marty tried to calm the storm of thoughts and anxiety swimming in his heart and mind.
"I don't... even know where to start, you know?"
Clara smiled gently. "I've been told the beginning is a good place for such things."
Marty chuckled. "I'm not even sure I can figure out where that is." He sighed, combing a hand through his hair and hunching over on the couch, resting an arm heavily on his knee.
"Would you prefer I leave? I know you and Emmett have far more of a history together. Maybe-"
"No, no." Marty lifted his head to smile at her. "It's all right. I'm glad you're here. It's nice to be able to talk about this with more than one person, you know?" He paused, glancing over to Doc. "No offense."
"None taken," Doc answered, looking a little proud as he nodded to his wife. "She'll be an excellent addition to the conversation. I find Clara's insight invaluable, particularly when I can't seem to keep my own train of thought straight." He paused to take a drink from a cup of tea - he'd been drinking a lot more tea these days - before his tone turned more somber. "Can you tell us about what happened today?"
Marty didn't answer right away. He smiled when he saw Doc and Clara look at each other with so much love in their eyes. Even if this time travel business had screwed up Marty's life, he was glad to see it'd granted his friend a happy ending of his own.
Sill back to the subject at hand. "Man, what didn't happen today?" Marty leaned back, smearing his hands down his face as he tried to get his thoughts in order. The revelation about Marty seeing a psychiatrist, the weird behavior of his roommate, that strange hot chick in the stairwell... "It started in the afternoon, I think. I was at the arcade with Rory, and I was so sure I had a history paper due in Doctor Bradley's class..."
"...But Doctor Bradley hasn't worked there all semester," Doc finished, picking up where Marty's sentence trailed off.
"Exactly. But for that second, I could remember taking the entire semester with him." He frowned, giving another sigh. "And then I remebered Doctor Smith and his class, all at the same time. It was just like every other time my memories changed, only way more intense, you know? The headaches were a hundred times worse, and I couldn't figure out which one was real. But you said yourself, Doc: You haven't been messing with time lately."
"Indeed, I haven't." He rubbed his chin in thought. "And I can't fathom a scenario where either of us might go back to alter the course of your school itinerary, of all things. Seems rather petty."
Marty shrugged. "I mean, if nothing else, I guess we could... go back and check?"
"We could, theoretically, and possibly even create the very mess we try to unravel. But then again, I've yet to encounter such a truly stable time loop - it'd be fascinating to experience, if it were truly possible for something to simply cause itself in endless repetitions throughout every timeline..."
Marty watched as the wheels started turning in Doc's head, allowing a small smile. He missed this.
"...And, indeed, if such a stable time loop were to exist and we fail to perpetuate it simply by knowing of its existence and opting not to continue, does it cease to exist, and by doing so, continue to exit by causing us to never know of it in the first place?" Doc sat back, gaze distant. "I wonder if-"
"Emmett," Clara broke in gently, nodding toward Marty.
"I - yes, of course. Apologies."
Marty, however, wasn't fazed.
"If I might make a suggestion," Clara added, looking thoughtfully down at her own teacup, "I know in the past - and elsewhere - your adventures together took place in a relatively controlled space. From what Emmett's told me, when things went off track, it usually involved the intervention of a third party somewhere along the line."
"A human error," Doc mused aloud.
With a coy grin, Clara raised an eyebrow. "I beg your pardon?"
Doc paled, looking a bit sheepish, quickly sputtering to correct himself. "I - Yes, well. Clara, you must know, falling in love with you was the finest experimental error I've ever made."
She laughed, giving a nod of approval, before looking back to Marty. "What I'm saying, Marty, is that if this is indeed something related to time travel, I'm not certain you and Emmett could be the only possible suspects."
Marty regarded her with confusion, and he could see Doc doing the same. "You're... not suggesting there's another time traveler out there, are you?" He looked to Doc. "Have you met any others?"
"Not at all," Doc answered carefully, "but I have entertained the possibility before. After all, given the vast expanse of space and time... Clara, are you sure?"
"I'm not sure of anything. But you said yourself: You've no reason to change Marty's professor."
Marty frowned, gaze low as he considered that. "Yeah, but why would anyone else? Especially to replace him with..."
Haven't you got a car of your own? Drive in that!
"Doctor Smith..." A realization began to dawn on Marty. He slowly brought his gaze up, locking eyes with Doc. "Before I got back in the DeLorean with you, Doctor Smith, he... I thought he just wanted me to stay at the dorm. Because I have class tomorrow."
Marty watched Doc carefully for a reaction as he continued. "But it wasn't that. It wasn't about keeping me at the dorm. He was adamant about me not getting in the DeLorean." He swallowed a lump in his throat. "He said it was dangerous."
At that, Doc's eyes widened, the sudden revelation clear in his expression. "I see. And... now that I think about it, he seemed awfully interested in the Flux Capacitor."
"...He did." Marty felt a chill rise in the pit of his stomach. "I thought he was just being weird. I mean, I thought he was just a weird guy in general. But he forced his way into the car and looked right at it, didn't he?"
"You and I both." Doc frowned. "What was it he said? That it 'explains so much,' right?"
"He knew how my parents met."
"He knew when your parents met."
"He knew my name," Marty muttered, feeling suddenly sick. "Oh, my God. Doctor Smith, of all people? He's the time traveler? He's the one screwing around with my memories?"
Doc frowned. "Marty..."
"Why, though? I mean, why make himself my history teacher? Why change something like that? Why do I remember it changing if I wasn't even there?" He could hear his own voice growing frantic as each question raced from his mouth more quickly than the last. He combed a hand back through his hair, as if clearing his vision might also clear his thoughts. "If he's already changed it, why would he even need the DeLorean? Do you think he's dangerous? Is he - this isn't gonna be like another Hell Valley, right? What if -"
"Marty." Doc's tone was more forceful now, enough to cut through Marty's panic, but still warm. He reached across the coffee table to put a comforting hand on his arm. "We don't have all the facts yet. We can't even be certain your professor actually is a time traveler. Any conclusions we make right now are pure conjecture."
Marty felt Doc gently squeeze his arm, and the tension eased just slightly. "So what do we do?"
"I don't know, but we don't panic. Not yet." Doc offered a hopeful smile. "After all, in my experience, visitors from the future tend to have only the best intentions. Statistcally speaking."
The literal meaning of Doc's words hit Marty first, before the affectionate tone and underlying implication settled in as well. It was enough to bring a small smile to Marty's face. "Yeah. I guess so." He took a breath, trying again to clear his thoughts. "This is so surreal. I mean, if that's what's happening, at least. But I've never been on this end of a time travel adventure before."
"That we know of, anyway," Doc added with a thoughtful look.
Marty glanced at him in confusion, then shrugged. "Okay, yeah, I guess so."
"Well, for now, I think it might be best to do away with guessing." At some point during the conversation, Clara had gotten up to procure a pen and paper, and was already writing out a heading with her impeccable handwriting. "Let's write down what we know for certain, and see what conclusions we draw from there."
"Excellent idea," Doc said as he and Marty moved in closer to huddle near Clara, as she neatly divided the paper into sections: One for pieces of history Marty remembers differently, one for other facts they could confirm.
The day had been a rollercoaster of emotions and revelations. Marty was still reeling from it all, and had no idea what to expect from any of it. His life had changed so much in the past few months - both his past and his present - and apparently it wasn't showing any signs of stopping.
Still, he watched Doc and Clara as the three of them discussed the facts and the absolutes, he couldn't help but feel hopeful that it all would turn out all right. No matter what changed in the past or the present, some things always stayed the same. Marty McFly may be different, an outsider, even an outcast, but he took comfort in knowing that no matter what, he'd never be alone.