--- July 10, 1893
Marty was starting to get the impression that the past was trying to kill him.
He made his fumbling, half-blind way down the hallway, smoke-stung tears blurring his vision. His fancy coat had been sacrificed to create a makeshift face mask, but it wasn't doing much to make it any easier to breathe in the choking, smoke-filled air.
The heat was stifling.
Something exploded nearby, the sound ringing like a gunshot through the air. Marty startled badly, stumbled, and put out an unthinking hand to catch himself.
"Shit!" he hissed, yanking his fingers back from the red-hot metal. He earned himself a lungful of smoke in the process and coughed wretchedly, struggling for breath.
If only he could tell where the smoke was coming from. Maybe then he'd know which way to run.
But the smoke was too thick to see more than a hands-length ahead, and the air was so hot that he was nearly as likely to be walking towards the fire as he was away from it. He'd been searching for an exit for what felt like hours and had nothing to show for it but tired legs and a throat worn raw by smoke and fear.
There was no way out.
Dammit, Doc, he couldn't help but think. A rescue sure would be handy right now.
He just wasn't sure he was going to get one this time.
--- Four weeks earlier, as reckoned in a nonlinear fashion
Doctor Emmett L. Brown could admit to feeling a certain degree of trepidation about the phone call he was about to make.
"It's all groundless anxiety, of course," he told Einstein, who was sitting on the couch watching Doc pace across the carpet. "Extrapolating on previous data makes it clear that Marty is likely to be pleased to hear from me, irrespective of the time since our last communication."
Einstein perked up at the sound of Marty's name, tail wagging.
"But then again," Doc continued, and Einstein sank back down to the couch with a whine. "It's also important to consider the social implications of completely cutting off contact for an extended period, the knowledge of which I am somewhat deficient in. It's possible that Marty feels slighted or unappreciated by the abruptness of my departure and may not want to reinitiate contact."
Doc ran a hand through his hair and glanced at the phone. It sat there silently, mocking his indecision.
Frustrated by the impasse, Doc threw himself onto the couch with a huff. "Damn! Perhaps I should reconsider."
In answer, Einstein put his head on Doc's knee with a sad little whine. His eyes peered up at Doc in a mixture of sadness and hope that Doc found himself utterly unwilling to disappoint.
"I know, Einie," he sighed, dragging his fingers through Einstein's fur. "You're quite right. Inaction is by far the worse course." Because Marty might say yes. And that was worth the risk that he might say no.
Frustratingly, however, all the logic in the world didn't make it any easier to ask.
Einstein nudged pointedly at Doc's leg.
Doc nudged him back. "That's easy for you to say. I'll have you know that fear of rejection is a powerful deterrent to affirmative action."
Einstein whined. Loudly.
"Alright, alright! I'm going!" Hauling himself upright, Doc marched over the phone, picked it up and turned back towards the couch. "Do you-"
Einstein was sprawled across the full length of the couch, which were the sort of bad manners that Doc definitely hadn't taught him.
"You've made your point," Doc told him. Einstein looked unconvinced, so Doc gestured pointedly with the telephone. "I'm making the call right now."
Einstein continued to stare at him. Unhelpful creature.
The telephone seemed uncharacteristically daunting. "It's merely an internal perception of personal inadequacy," Doc told himself firmly, and dialed the McFly residence before he could lose his nerve.
Lorraine answered, and Doc suffered through the obligatory few minutes of small talk, one leg jittering in impatience. A metaphorical eternity passed before Lorraine finally bid him farewell and summoned her youngest child to the phone.
Doc listened to the indistinct sound of conversation at a distance, which was quickly replaced by the hurried pounding of feet.
"Doc?" asked Marty's voice, breathless and shocked.
The sound was enough to make Doc grin. "Marty!"
Marty's breath escaped in a rush. "Jesus, Doc, where've you been? It's been months! I thought..." He paused abruptly, then audibly changed topics. "Are you really here? You know…" Marty's pitch dropped, as though he was worried that someone might be listening. "In 1986?"
"I'm generally continguous with you now," Doc agreed. "Otherwise I'd have to be communicating via the mail service again. The creation of a telephone that can ignore temporal laws would take an immense application of-"
"Could've just said yes, Doc," Marty interrupted, with familiar fond amusement. "Are you at the garage? I could come over?"
Here, Doc faltered slightly. "Alas, no, I'm rather further afield right now." By an order of approximately three states, otherwise he'd have come to see Marty in person.
"Oh," Marty said.
Doc could hear the disappointment in the short sound, and it made something twinge in his chest.
"I have a proposition for you," he blurted, hurried and hopeful. "What are you doing with your summer vacation?"
There was a pause, and Doc could practically see Marty shrugging in response. "Hanging around the house while trying to decide what to do with my life? Why do you ask?"
"Do you think your mother would give you permission to come on a short expedition with me?" Doc asked, doing his best to sound nonchalant. "I'm planning to depart the morning of July 5."
"A… I dunno, maybe? What kind of expedition?"
"I believe the vernacular term is a road trip," offered Doc.
"A road trip," Marty repeated slowly. "For how long?"
Linearly or actually?, Doc nearly said, but he didn't want to spoil the surprise. Instead he said, "Oh, two weeks should be sufficient. Provided your parents approve, naturally."
The silence that followed was more nerve-wracking than he'd have expected. Doc's leg started jittering again.
"I'll convince them," Marty said, suddenly and surprisingly firmly. "Somehow or other, I'll figure it out."
Somehow, Doc hadn't entirely expected him to say yes, and so found himself flailing at the sudden acquiescence. "Oh. Well then. That's good. I'll see you in-" A swift glance at his watch, "-approximately 15 days and 12 hours, then. I'll be there by 9."
"Doc, wait-!" he heard, but he'd already hung up before he could learn what else Marty had wanted to add.
Phone firmly back in its cradle, Doc turned to Einstein with a triumphant grin. "There now," he said. "I told you that worrying was a fruitless endeavour."
Einstein tilted his head in silent inquiry.
Doc crouched down to give Einstein a scratch behind the ear. "Yes, Marty's coming with us," he promised. "You happy now?"
Einstein barked out an affirmative, tail wagging, and Doc had to smile. That made two of them.
If Marty had thought the days leading up to summer break had been dragging before Doc's unexpected call, it was nothing compared to how slowly they passed afterwards. After nearly nine months of radio silence, he'd begun to fear that Doc was never coming back.
Of course, by the time the day of Doc's mysterious road trip arrived, Marty was half-convinced that he'd dreamed up the entire conversation. Why now? Doc had seemed perfectly content with getting on with his life with Clara and the kids without Marty. And why a road trip, of all things? The man had a flying time train these days; what possible interest could a road trip have held for him?
If he was being honest, Marty hadn't really been sure that Doc was going to show up.
No, wait, that wasn't being fair. Doc was the kind of guy who kept his promises, y'know? And if he said that he was taking Marty on a road trip, of all things, then he was going to.
Marty just wasn't sure when he was going to show up. For a guy who owned so many clocks, Doc was notoriously bad at being on time.
Of course, Doc was a seasoned time traveler these days, which might have made it easier for him to stop being late for everything. Or maybe Clara had taught him a thing or three about punctuality. She seemed like an on-time kind of lady.
Or maybe Marty was just fooling himself, but that wasn't enough to stop him from waiting on the front porch with his bag packed at exactly 9:00 AM on July 5. His mom, he knew, was lingering worriedly inside; no big surprise after the amount of effort that had gone into convincing her to let him go. At this point, all Marty could hope was that Doc would be close enough to on time to keep his mom from changing her mind.
It was surprising on a number of levels when the sound of an engine rumbled down the street a scant five minutes later, followed by the once-familiar sight of Doc's work truck pulling into the driveway.
Doc stuck his head out the open window, grinning like a fiend. "Marty!" he exclaimed, sounding so much like he always did that it momentarily took Marty's breath away. "Ready to go?"
"You're here," Marty said, somewhat dumbly.
"Of course I'm here!" Doc said, as though it was a foregone conclusion. "We have a road trip to partake of." He climbed out of the truck, wearing one of his ubiquitous Hawaiian shirts, and a pair of shorts with a couple of scorch marks on them. He didn't look a day older than he had that day on the train tracks last October, but that had been true for most of the time that Marty had known him. Besides which, God only knew what those rejuvenation treatments had done to affect how long it took Doc to start visibly aging.
Marty tried to stop himself from wondering just how long it had been for Doc. He wasn't sure he wanted to know.
He glanced past Doc at the van. "I was kind of expecting you to have… different transportation. Isn't the van kinda small for all of us?"
Doc looked puzzled for a moment before his expression cleared. "Clara and the boys have the train."
Marty wasn't quite sure how to take that. "Oh. Is everything... okay?"
"What? Naturally, everything's fine! All families need time away from each other, regardless of the strength of their familial bond. Besides," Doc offered him a crooked, awkward sort of grin. "This trip is just for us."
Marty was embarrassed to feel himself getting a little choked up about that. "Cool," he managed lamely.
"Of course," Doc said, as though he'd only just remembered. "There is one other passenger coming on this trip with us who's quite happy to see you." He whistled sharply, and Einstein tumbled out of the van with an enthusiastic bark.
"Einie!" Marty exclaimed, delighted. Einstein swarmed all over him, practically wagging himself off his feet in his excitement. "How's it going, buddy? I missed you too! Ack!" he cried, laughing, as Einstein's long tongue swiped across his face from chin to hairline. "Watch it with those kisses, Einie!"
He spent a handful of minutes saying hello to Einstein, who he'd honestly missed nearly as much as the doc. He'd spent a lot of time walking Einstein when Doc was caught up in his experiments, and he'd missed having a dog around. There was no way that his mom - either version of her - would have let him have a dog. Yet another reason to be glad that Doc had come up with this road trip idea.
Finally, Einstein seemed to satisfy himself that Marty was real, so Marty gave him one final pat and stood. "We should probably go before my mom comes out here," he said. "She'll talk your ear off if you give her the chance."
"I'm aware," Doc said, with a touch of wryness. "Grab your bag and we'll set off."
It took them a few minutes to get settled and then they were on the road, Doc behind the wheel, Marty in the passenger seat and Einstein in Marty's lap. Marty doubted he'd be able to let him sit there for long - Einstein wasn't exactly light - but he was determined to enjoy it for as long as he could.
Doc set them on the road out of town, but refused to say where he was taking them. Marty could honestly say that he didn't really care where they were going, just so long as he got to got there with Doc and Einstein.
"Things haven't been the same round here without you, Doc," Marty told him, the closest he could bring himself to admitting just how lonely it had been to lose his best friend so completely.
Doc slanted a glance at him. "I can imagine that there were fewer explosions, for one."
Marty barked out a laugh. "That's true. I'm kind of impressed that you haven't blown up the time train yet, to be honest."
"Mm. There have been one or two close calls," Doc admitted, then launched into a story about lightning storms and Benjamin Franklin that Marty sincerely hoped was at least partly made up.
He listened as Doc shared the story, trying not to be jealous of the way Clara and the boys fit into the narrative where he might have once, and failing miserably. Marty looked down at where his hands were petting Einstein to hide his expression, and frowned a little at the realization that Einstein was wearing a collar that looked considerably more hi-tech than Marty thought dog collars were supposed to. It was the sort of thing that would have been at home in one of George's books.
"What's up with this collar, Doc?" Marty asked, interrupting Doc mid-sentence without realizing.
"Hmm?" Doc glanced over absently, his expression brightening as he realized what Marty was looking at. "Ah! My newest invention! The temporal recall system!"
"Temporal recall system, huh?" He stroked the bulky collar with a curious thumb. "What does it do?"
"What does it do? What does it do? Why, it recalls objects from one temporal location to another!"
"Temporal loca-?" A thought occurred. "It's a mini time machine?"
"Only in a limited sense. Here." Doc dug abruptly into his pocket, and Marty lunged for the wheel before Doc's inattention could send them right into the path of an oncoming truck.
Horns honked, and Marty's heart felt like it was going to jump right out of his throat.
He was somewhat bemused to find that he'd actually missed the feeling of terror.
"Aha!" Doc emerged with something held triumphantly in his fist, apparently oblivious to the near-miss they'd just had. "This is the recall remote. When I activate this, it instantly transports the collar and any object it's touching to the temporal and spatial location of the remote."
"And it actually works? Married life must agree with you," Marty teased, smiling to make sure that Doc knew he didn't mean anything by it. "So it's kind of like a transporter, huh? What sort of objects can it transport?"
Doc looked pleased with himself. "Currently the maximum threshold is 357 pounds of either organic or inorganic weight. The possibilities of this technology are staggering!"
"I guess," Marty said dubiously. "But considering that you're the only person in the world with a time machine, how much use is there for something that helps time travelers not to lose their keys or whatev-"
And then Marty realized what it meant that Doc had attached the thing to Einstein's collar and he groaned aloud.
"Jesus Christ, Doc. Please don't tell me that you made this because you've been leaving Einstein in the past when you travel on the time train. How many times have you lost him?"
"Never permanently," Doc answered, which was totally a cop-out.
Marty's fingers clutched tighter in Einstein's fur. "Doc! How could you forget Einstein?"
Doc shrugged calmly. "Einie's very resilient. He's the world's first time traveler, after all."
"That still doesn't make it okay," Marty protested. "Does he just have to wait around until you notice that he's missing?"
"Sometimes," Doc agreed. "Most often, though, he gets someone to activate the distress beacon."
Following the gesture of Doc's fingers, Marty flipped over the dog tag hanging from the collar. "If found, please push button," he read aloud, then raised an eyebrow at Doc. "That really works?"
"It has so far, and so we can safely extrapolate that it should continue to do so in the future."
Well, that was good, at least.
"Tell me about it," Marty said impulsively. "About the places you've been."
Doc seemed happy to oblige, and the miles passed effortlessly as Marty listened, rapt, to one story after another. Because the next best thing to going on adventures with Doc was hearing about them. Better than his ordinary life in Hill Valley, anyway.
He could only hope that this road trip of theirs would prove to be an adventure too, before the end.
Marty suspected something. Frankly, Doc would have been disappointed with him if he hadn't; it was hardly a great leap in logic to speculate that he had more in mind than a road trip. And Doc could admit that he wasn't doing an especially good job of keeping his own rising excitement secret, especially as they drew closer and closer to their ultimate destination.
It had been easier, to begin with, to pretend that a road trip really was all he had in mind. They'd gone to the Grand Canyon and marveled at the wonder inherent in the natural world. Then Doc had angled them up through Utah where Marty spent most of his time with his face glued to the window, awed by the view. Doc was pleased with how much both of them enjoyed the night they spent in Denver, although he could feel Marty's suspicions mounting as they traded Colorado for Nebraska and its endless supply of cornfields: not exactly typical road trip sights.
They were well into the first of the two weeks that Doc had asked for, and he could see Marty trying to figure out how much further they could possibly go and still make it back before Lorraine started to wonder if he'd been abducted. There weren't a great deal of options.
Doc smiled inwardly at Marty's confusion and kept driving.
They'd just left Des Moines when Marty finally broke.
"Seriously, Doc, are you ever going to tell me where we're going?" Marty asked, from where he was slouched comfortably across the passenger seat, Einstein napping in the foot well between his spread legs.
The boy had adjusted to the long hours on the road with enviable ease; Doc suspected it was the product of both his youth and his apparently inexhaustible adaptability.
"Not that I mind guessing," Marty added, his eyes leaving the view of the sunrise out the window to fix on Doc instead. "Only it'd be nice to know how much further we're going."
Doc considered and concluded that it wasn't likely to spoil the surprise to give Marty an answer.
"We're going to Chicago," he told him. "According to the directions I received from the hotel manager, we should be there in five hours or so, barring a stop for lunch."
"Chicago, huh?" Out of the corner of his eye, Doc watched Marty consider that. "What's in Chicago?"
Doc couldn't keep from grinning at him. "Wonders like you have never seen before."
"Well," Marty said. "I guess I can live with that."
--- Five hours and a lunch break later…
"And here we are!" Doc said, gesturing with a flourish.
Marty glanced out the window. "It's a park."
Doc snorted, putting the truck into park. "Astute observation. It's Jackson Park, specifically. Named for President Andrew Jackson in 1881."
"It's..." There was something admittedly amusing about watching Marty grope for something to say. "A nice park, I guess? Geez, Doc, are you really telling me we came all the way to Chicago to go to a park? We could've done that back home."
"True," Doc said airily, unbuckling his seatbelt. "But there's something special about this one that you won't find anywhere else on the planet. Come on."
Marty fumbled his way out of his seat and followed Doc around to the back of the truck, Einstein bounding along at his heels. "Doc, what are you…" he started, only to trail off when Doc lowered the rear ramp to reveal the tarp-covered shape within.
"Is that...?" Marty ventured, his expression not unlike what Doc's children looked like on Christmas morning.
"Go on," Doc offered, gesturing to the tarp.
There was a beat, then Marty was up the ramp and flinging the tarp away.
"The DeLorean," Marty breathed, something reverent in his voice that made Doc want to puff up with pride. "How did you-? It was in pieces!"
Doc allowed himself a little bit of puff. "As if that could stop Emmett L. Brown! After the work Clara and I did to get the time train working, rebuilding the DeLorean was relative child's play. And you never know when you might need a spare time machine."
"Heavy," was Marty's response, which Doc really should have expected. Some things never changed. "So?" Marty rounded on him, eyes bright with excitement. "Where- I mean, when are we going?"
Doc had been looking forward to this moment for non-linear weeks. "1893."
No flicker of recognition at the date crossed Marty's face, but the game agreement that appeared instead was almost more satisfying. "Aw, you shoulda told me we were going back to the 1800s, Doc! I would've brought my cowboy hat."
Doc couldn't have held back his grin for the world; Marty's unquestioning faith was something he hoped he never took for granted. "You'd be nearly as conspicuous in a cowboy hat as in what you're wearing now, actually. This part of America considered itself considerably more civilized than the frontier. I've taken the liberty of procuring you some suitable attire."
Marty shrugged. "As long as it's not pink, it wouldn't be the worse thing you've made me wear."
Well. Doc had to give him that one.
"I hope you'll find these more to your liking," he said, handing over the dove gray jacket and vest, dark trousers and fitted shirt that he'd purchased for Marty the last time he'd been in the late nineteenth century. "Use the truck to get changed while I get the DeLorean primed."
Marty did so, and Doc took the opportunity to switch his own clothes at the same time. He was just settling his hat in place when Marty reappeared, beaming widely.
"Well?" he asked, spreading his arms wide. "Will I do?"
Doc gave the fit of Marty's suit a critical once-over. "Adequate. A moustache would be ideal, but you're young enough that it will likely escape comment." Doc's own lack of facial hair would be slightly more notable, but he was long used to being the odd one out in a crowd. The added scrutiny wouldn't bother him. "You'll want this as well," he added, passing over a bowler hat. "It isn't seemly for a gentleman to be seen in public with his head uncovered."
That earned him an eye roll, but Marty put on the hat without complaint.
"Well then?" he asked, practically vibrating with excitement. "What are we waiting for?"
An excellent question. Doc gestured to the DeLorean. "After you."
They piled into the car, Einstein sitting calmly half on Marty's lap and half on the floor. Doc keyed in the time coordinates - July 9, 1893, 8:00 AM - then shot Marty a grin. "Ready, Future Boy?"
Marty returned his smile with interest. "Punch it, Doc!"
Doc hit the gas, and they were off.
The world flared brilliantly blue-white and, in an instant, the quiet of 1986's Jackson Park was gone, replaced by something far more interesting.
Thank Newton for hover capabilities, Doc thought to himself as they rematerialized in 1893 to a veritable sea of people and stately white buildings stretched out below them. They were in the air at the southern end of the park, one of the least busy areas, but even so there would have been no chance of them arriving unobserved had they been on the ground.
"Holy shit!" Marty had his nose pressed up against the passenger window, hands splayed wide on the glass as he tried to get a better look at the ground. "Are we even in the same place? Look at all those buildings! It's like… Rome or something!"
"It's the same place," Doc confirmed, keeping a weather eye on the crowd as he brought the DeLorean down to the hiding place he'd prepared for it. "The buildings were designed to be temporary. Only a few of them are still standing today, and that with heavy restorative work."
"Jesus Christ, what is all this?"
"Patience!" Doc grinned, most of his attention on the landing he was attempting to make. "I'll explain everything once we're on the ground."
Marty mumbled something that sounded like 'you're enjoying this, you secretive bastard', but obediently bit back his questions while Doc got them down and ensured that the DeLorean was adequately camouflaged.
"Well?" Marty demanded, the moment they were out of the time machine.
And really, Doc had made him wait long enough.
"Welcome," Doc said, throwing his arms wide. "To the 1893 World's Columbian Expo!"
Marty's face registered blank incomprehension. "The what?"
"It was more commonly called the Chicago World's Fair, and it was America's opportunity to show the rest of the world just how far it had advanced as an independent nation. It is arguably," Doc added, posturing just a little under Marty's rapt expression. "The greatest single spectacle ever conceived of in all of human history."
"Woah," Marty said. "I guess we can't see that at a park back home, yeah." Einstein barked, jumping up on Marty's legs, and Marty's laugh was happily bewildered as he crouched down to Einstein's level. "Is that your way of saying you want to go exploring, Einie?" He glanced up at Doc, looking at once strange and intimately familiar in his new clothes. "Can we?"
"Can we? My boy, why else do you think we've come? This way!"
Doc set off confidently, and Marty and Einstein fell eagerly in beside him. They passed large crowds and several impressive buildings as they walked, and Doc could tell that Marty wanted to stop and take a longer look, but he wanted to introduce Marty to the Expo with maximum impact and so didn't deviate from the course he had set.
It was worth it for the stunned expression on Marty's face when they finally emerged in the Court of Honor, the six enormous buildings gleaming brilliantly white in the morning light as the fountains sent sparkling cascades of water dancing through the air. The crowd was not quite big enough to feel claustrophobic, but more than enough for the air to fairly hum with the excited buzz of hundreds of voices.
"The Court of Honor," Doc explained, delighted by Marty's reaction. He pointed as he spoke, ignoring people doing the same all around them. "The statue is a representation of the American Republic, and the Columbian Fountain over there commemorates Columbus' discovery of the New World in 1492. That one is the Administration Building, which was designed to look like the Capitol Building in Washington, and the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building was the largest building ever constructed up to this point in history. It's big enough to fit the Great Pyramid inside."
"Heavy," Marty breathed as he stared, wide-eyed, at the splendor around them.
For once, Doc could only agree with the colloquialism.
He offered Marty a hopeful grin. "Want to take a closer look?"
"D'you even have to ask, Doc? Where to first?"
Where to indeed.
They started their explorations at the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building, leaving Einstein dozing peacefully in the shade outside. They spent hours inside and still managed to see only a fraction of all the exhibits on display. Doc, unsurprisingly, was enamored of the 120 foot clock tower on Columbia Avenue, while Marty's favourite exhibit was a model of Windsor Castle made entirely out of soap. They snacked on some of the edible wares on display and tried with varying degrees of success to avoid getting swept away by the unceasing crowds.
"This place is nuts!" Marty exclaimed, rising up on his tiptoes to try and get a glimpse of the Tiffany pavilion through the crowd. "How does anyone manage to see everything?"
"They don't!" Doc answered, shifting to the side to let Marty slide into a gap in front of him. "It would take months to see every exhibit at the Expo. Not really an expense that most people could afford. Still, it's estimated that one in four Americans attended the Expo during the six months it was open, and over 25 million people in total visited."
"Please tell me we're coming back tomorrow!"
Doc chuckled. "We can come back as many times as you want!"
Marty's teeth flashed in a grin. "One of the joys of being a time tr- shit, I mean, a you know what! Oh hey, look! A clock exhibit! Maybe we can get something new for your collection!"
Greatly pleased with the success of his surprise, Doc let Marty lead him further into the crush of humanity so they could start exploring all over again.
They eventually left the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building having exhausted their attention spans more so than the exhibits on display. They collected Einstein and took a gondola ride through the lagoon up to the north pond, where they wandered around the state buildings. Marty was bemused but delighted by the California state building and its abundance of fresh fruit displays. Doc let him have a small glass of wine from the fountain on the roof, but none for Einstein, no matter how much he whined.
They finished up their day at the World Expo on the manmade island in the middle of the lagoon, watching Tesla's lights come on all over the White City as the sun dipped below the horizon.
"This place is amazing," Marty said, his voice hushed in deference to the quiet peace of the lagoon. "Hard to believe that all of this stuff existed almost a hundred years ago."
"In a lot of ways, this Expo was the beginning of the twentieth century," Doc told him. "Nearly 700 acres of fairground and representatives from 46 nations all brought together in a commemoration of progress and human enlightenment. A tiny gleam of peace and brotherhood a mere twenty years before the beginning of the First World War."
Marty made a quiet sound of comprehension. "It's kind of scary to think of it like that." He looked out across the water, the whites of his eyes glinting when the electric lights caught them. "Is that what happens to all of this?"
"Hmm? Oh no, no. The Expo was designed to be impermanent. Only the Palace of Fine Art was built to last." He gestured at the buildings along the far edge of the lagoon. "They might look like marble, but they're actually wood and steel beneath a veneer of staff - that's what gives it that white finish. How else do you build an entire city in two years?"
"I guess that makes sense. I mean, we saw how long it took Hill Valley to put up a single clock tower, right? Still looks mighty impressive, though. Especially at night."
Doc nodded. "This was one of the first wide scale uses of electric lighting in the world. It takes three times as much electricity to power the Expo as it does the entire city of Chicago."
Marty whistled. "That's some thing."
"Indeed it is, Future Boy. Indeed it is."
"Thanks, Doc," Marty said, painfully sincere. "For showing me all this. It's, well, it's really great."
"It's my pleasure, Marty," Doc answered gravely, and Marty's smile flashed again in the dark.
The three of them sat in silence for a time, until Doc realized that Marty was fighting to stay awake, at which point he figured it was high time they took their leave.
"Alright, up we go," he said gently. "It's been a long day."
Marty gave himself a shake, blinking his eyes open unnaturally wide. "M'fine," he protested, a yawn breaking the word down the middle.
"Einstein's tired," Doc said, which didn't appear to be even remotely true, given that Einstein had spent most of the day napping. He doubted that Marty was awake enough to notice, though. "We'll book a hotel in the city."
"Oh," Marty yawned. "Okay, then."
They made their way slowly out of the fairgrounds, then caught a streetcar into Chicago proper. Marty was drooping with fatigue despite his protestations that he was 'totally awake, Doc, really!'. Doc had to hide a smile at how much Marty reminded him of Jules and Verne, age difference notwithstanding. He struggled to resist the urge to offer him a supporting arm, sure that Marty wouldn't appreciate the implication that he couldn't take care of himself.
Einstein, who was on the bench on Marty's other side, huffed in annoyance and butted his head against Marty's shoulder hard enough to topple him. Marty fetched up against Doc's side, a warm line of heat from shoulder to hip.
"Sorry," Marty mumbled, and Doc wrapped a ginger arm around Marty's shoulders before the boy could push himself upright. Einstein woofed in obvious approval and promptly snuggled in close enough for Doc's fingers to brush through his fur.
"Get some rest, Future Boy. I'll wake you when we get there." Doc paused, ready to leave it there, but some insecure part of his psyche prompted him to add, "I trust you had an enjoyable day?"
"Mmm, was amazing. But who needs a Liberty Bell made of fruit?" Marty mumbled, a question he'd asked loudly and often since they'd seen the one in the California state building.
Doc chuckled. "You do realize that several of the other states have done the same, right?"
He felt the curve of Marty's smile against his neck. "Well now we have to see them all."
Doc cautiously gathered him closer. "If you like."
Marty let out a quiet hum. "You smell like chemicals."
"I apologize," Doc said stiffly, and was disentangling them when Marty spoke again.
"S'nice." A yawn. "Didn't know I missed that smell."
"Marty," Doc said awkwardly. "It's not- I was never intending to leave you. Not permanently. Time just-" he huffed out a self-recriminating laugh. "Got away from me. As it is wont to do."
Marty's eyelids cracked open, brilliant blue peeking out from between his lashes. "Really?" he asked, in a little boy voice that Doc had never heard from him before. Logically, it was the fault of Marty's fatigue that he sounded so vulnerable; 'vulnerable' was not a word that Doc would ever use to describe his young friend.
Not that that stopped him from dropping a kiss on Marty's forehead just as he would for one of his sons. "Really," he agreed. "Now are you going to ignore good advice for a second time, or are you going to go to sleep?"
"Y're bossy," Marty told him matter-of-factly, even as his eyes slid shut. It was mere minutes before his breathing evened out, his body going slack and heavy against Doc's.
Doc held him carefully as the streetcar trundled its way into the city center, thinking over his interactions with Marty in this past week and how he would have felt to be the one left behind.
"I missed you too," he admitted quietly. Einstein huffed out a soft agreement. "I'm sorry for being away so long."
Sandwiched safely between them, Marty slept on.
Ah well. Probably for the best.
Marty woke up the next morning in an unfamiliar bed, feeling gritty-eyed and exhausted. It was getting to be a habit of his.
Blinking in the pale light filtering through the window, Marty cast his eyes around the small but tidy room. He found Doc sitting cross-legged on the other bed, his back to Marty as he fiddled with something in his hands. Tiny gears and bits of metal were strewn across the bedspread, and Marty watched with sleepy amusement as Doc groped blindly beside him for a screwdriver, muttering under his breath as he worked.
It was a familiar sight from all the times that Marty had crashed on the cot in Doc's garage, and it had him relaxing instantly.
Einstein was curled up on the mattress next to him, a sleeping bundle of heat and soft, warm fur that made the fatigue pulling at Marty's eyelids seem suddenly ten times stronger. Another few hours of sleep sounded like a great idea...
The bedsprings squeaked as he shifted closer to Einstein, and Doc's head swiveled towards him.
"Good morning, Marty!" he said brightly and at a far higher volume than Marty really appreciated. He was, Marty noticed, already dressed for the day, even if his hair was an erratic disaster. "Ready for another day at the World's Fair?"
Marty hesitated. There was a part of him that wanted nothing more than to go back to bed and get another few hours of sleep. They had a time machine, after all; it wasn't like they'd be missing out on the Expo if Marty stayed in bed all morning.
But the excitement on Doc's face was infectious, and Marty had had enough of being a disappointment in his old life not to want to do it again, especially not to Doc. It wasn't like being a little tired was going to kill him.
So he shoved his hair away from his face and offered Doc a tired smile. "Only if we eat breakfast first."
Marty barely remembered their trip into Chicago the night before, so he made up for it by staring like a tourist at everything as they made their way back to the Expo.
Doc was laughing at him, he could just tell.
"Chicago will still be here when we're done with the Expo, Marty," he said. "There'll be plenty of time to look around."
"It's just so different from home," Marty said, craning his neck to get a better look at a passing carriage. "And nothing like Hill Valley in 1885. I can't imagine Mad Dog Tannen getting away with anything round here."
A liquid shrug. "At this stage in its history, Chicago is very concerned with gaining recognition as a place of note. The Expo was its chance to prove that it was civilized and modern, especially compared to the western part of the country. Being chosen over New York as the location of the Columbian Exhibition was quite the coup."
Marty raised an eyebrow, impressed. "I don't remember you knowing so much about history."
Doc's answering grin was decidedly impish. "I'm finding that it's become increasingly relevant, of late."
"I'll bet." Marty looked again out the window at the crisp, uniform faces of the buildings. "This really is some end to our road trip, Doc."
"Beginning of our road trip," Doc corrected. When Marty glanced at him, puzzled, Doc looked a little flustered. "That is, if you're amenable, I have several other historical locations in mind to visit after we leave the Expo. I'll make certain you're back within the time that we promised your mother."
Marty grinned broadly. "Sounds great, Doc."
"Does it? Excellent! Einie and I have so many places to show you, don't we Einie? Wait until you see the- oh, this is our stop! Look lively! Come on, Einie!"
Marty didn't even bother trying to stop grinning as they, and everyone else on the streetcar, filed off and joined the crowd at the 64th Street entrance.
Doc paid their admission fee - fifty cents each - without batting an eyelid. Marty wondered how much fifty cents was worth in 1893.
"It's about $12 for the both of us, factoring in inflation rates up to 1986," Doc told him, because he was apparently a mind reader.
"Oh, I guess that's not so bad. So have you got a whole pocket full of 1893 money?"
Doc hummed in agreement. "I've made it a practice to collect a variety of currencies for varying time periods."
"Makes sense. So," Marty shoved his hands in his pockets. "What's the plan for today?"
"I'm quite interested in visiting the Electricity Building," Doc said, gesturing vaguely down the busy path. "There's an exhibit of the Tesla Polyphase Alternating Current that promises to be quite illuminating."
And really, Marty should have known that Doc wouldn't be able to come see all this without sticking his nose into the science stuff at least once. It was one of the things that he liked about him, to be honest: he was never afraid to be honest about what he liked.
Which wasn't to say that Marty wanted to spend the entire day looking at noisy machines that he didn't understand.
Doc glanced at him. "Would you like to join me? I brought earplugs to contend with the noise."
"Ah, that doesn't really sound like my kinda thing, y'know?" Marty groped around for an alternative, and realized that there was a ready-made one sitting at his feet. "I think I'll stay out here with Einie; I feel bad that we kind of left him alone yesterday."
"Capital idea," Doc said, with his usual extravagant enthusiasm. "He'll be glad of your company, won't you, Einie?"
Einstein woofed an affirmative.
"Shall we schedule ourselves to reconvene for lunch?" Doc suggested.
"You gonna remember to eat if you're all caught up in your Tesla whatsit?" Marty asked, because he knew Doc.
Doc waved him off. "Regular meals are a predicate for a healthy mind."
Marty snorted. "You say that like I haven't seen you pass out in the middle of inventing something because you'd forgotten to eat for two days."
"That's different," Doc said, even though it clearly wasn't.
"I'll set an alarm?" Doc offered, which was probably the best Marty was going to get.
He nodded. "Fine. When and where will I find you?"
"Noon is customary for lunch, is it not? We can meet back here. It's reasonably central. Oh!" he added, in his 'I've just had a brilliant thought' voice. "You might also enjoy Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. They've rented some land just a few blocks west of here. We can probably catch the afternoon show after lunch."
Now that sounded much more Marty's style. "Cool."
"Here," Doc said, handing Marty a pile of coins. "In case you need it. Take the map as well."
"Won't you need it?" Marty asked, even as he accepted the folded paper map that Doc had picked up on the way in.
"I know the way."
"If you say so." Marty glanced around at the masses of people going every which way. "Uh, any suggestions for where we should go?"
"Go anywhere you like! That's what this place is all about." Doc paused, considering. "Except the Midway Plaisance. Your mother would not approve of your presence there."
"But-" Marty started, even though he didn't have the faintest idea what the Midway Plaisance even was.
"Not buts. There's plenty to see besides the Midway. Watches synchronized?" Doc interrupted him, pocket watch in hand and open expectation on his face.
Marty had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling as he held out his pocket watch for proof. "Synchronized," he confirmed.
Doc shot him a grin. "Until then!" he saluted, and turned to go. "Be good, Einie!" he called over his shoulder, before disappearing into the crowd.
Marty looked down at Einstein. "Guess it's just you and me now, buddy. Just like old times, huh?"
Einstein wagged his tail.
"What do you want to do?"
Ultimately, Marty decided to start with the Court of Honour, take a longer look.
"No wonder they call it the White City, right Einie?" he asked as they walked around the central basin, awed all over again by the graceful white buildings and the massive statue of the Republic.
They played a covert game of tag through the columns of the peristyle, then angled up towards the Manufacturer's Building and took a stroll along the bank of the lagoon.
When they reached the north end of the lagoon, they found themselves square on the path that led to the notorious Midway Plaisance. Marty had to admit that he gave it a long, weighing look, before regretfully turning away.
"Maybe I can convince Doc to take me later," he said to Einstein. "Think he'll go for it?"
Einstein looked skeptical. Marty couldn't really blame him.
They headed past the Horticulture building instead, meandering leisurely through the meticulously tended gardens and pausing to buy a snack using the cash Doc had given him.
Marty'd had some vague idea of taking a look at the state buildings again, but it didn't take long for him to realize that there was no way they were going to be able to see even a fraction of the Expo on foot. Even with a skateboard and some bumpers to hitch a ride on, it would have taken him hours just to cover the territory; walking that far was completely out of the question.
Especially because the day was getting warmer the longer it went on, and Marty was starting to feel more than a little overheated in his three piece.
"Geez, it's hot," he said, wishing that he could take off his hat and fan himself. Why were people in the past so weird about hats, anyway? "I think we're going to have to wait until later to look for more Liberty Bells made out of fruit," he told Einstein, who didn't look particularly bothered by the news. "Where should we go instead?"
Einstein whined, and Marty realized that the sheepdog was starting to droop in the heat, his tongue lolling and his steps growing clumsier.
"I think we need a break," Marty decided, and found them a spot of carefully cultivated grass near the bank of the lagoon to sit. Marty probably shouldn't have been slouching around where people could see him acting uncivilized, but he was too damn hot and tired to care.
He and Einstein sat by the water for a time, recovering from the heat and sharing Marty's flask of water. Marty didn't receive quite as many scandalized looks as he'd been expecting, and there were even a handful of people who looked like they wished they'd thought of it themselves.
They'd ended up in front of the Transportation Building, which had a red and gold arched entryway that stood out like crazy amidst all the white buildings. Coming as he did from a time when cars didn't look like motorized bicycles and airplanes were made out of steel instead of canvas, Marty couldn't find much to interest him in whatever counted as cutting edge transportation of the 1890s, but it was still fun to watch all the people. Their excitement was contagious, and Marty could only imagine how dazzled they must be by all of this. Hell, he was pretty dazzled himself, and none of this was new technology to him.
Honestly, he'd had no idea that the world could have been so modern 70-some odd years ago.
Or, well, this part of the world, anyway. He doubted eight years had done all that much to change Hill Valley from the way it had been when he and Doc had ended up there in 1885. The clock tower was probably finished by now, at least.
"The past is kind of crazy," Marty observed. He looked down at Einstein, who was flopped down with his head on Marty's knee. "I guess you've seen all kinds of stuff with the Doc and Clara, huh?" He sighed. "I think I'm kind of jealous."
Einstein woofed curiously at him.
Marty shrugged. "I dunno. It's just kinda hard knowing that you and Doc are off having adventures and I'm back to living my boring old life." He paused, considering. "Well, my new-old life. Which is way better than the way it was before, don't get me wrong, but Hill Valley's just not the same without you guys around."
It was a depressing kind of thing to say aloud, even if Einstein was the only one listening. And it wasn't like Doc had forgotten about him - he just had to look around to know that - but Marty still couldn't help but feel like there were more important things in Doc's life now than the awkward teenager who'd been his best friend for so long.
Which was totally fine, except for the fact that Marty was left feeling like he'd lost his best friend in the process.
Marty was startled out of his maudlin thoughts when Einstein suddenly put both paws on his lap and licked his face until he was squirming.
"Ack! Stop it, Einie! Get down!"
Einstein ignored him, and kept on licking until Marty was flat on his back, laughing helplessly as he received a thorough face washing.
"Alright! Alright! I surrender! Mercy!" he gasped out, breath hitching with laughter.
Einstein barked at him, clearly pleased with having made his point, then sat on Marty's chest with a satisfied huff.
It took several minutes for Marty's laughter to taper off, and then he lay there for several long minutes, enjoying the sun and Einie's comforting weight on top of him. If it hadn't been so damn hot, he probably could have fallen asleep right then and there, completely content.
Unfortunately, it was just that damn hot, and Marty pushed Einstein off him with a muffled curse.
"Sorry, Einie, I'm hot enough without a fur coat." He cast around for his hat, which had fallen off in their tussle, and set it on top of his head. "You ready to get moving again?"
The woebegone look Einstein gave him suggested that no, actually, he wasn't ready to get moving again and might never be willing to move again, for that matter.
"Come on, Einie," Marty cajoled. "We can't sit here forever. Doc'll be looking for us."
Einstein slumped more firmly onto the grass.
"You're being ridiculous. What time is it, anyway?" Marty pulled out his pocket watch and winced. "Shit, it's almost noon. Now you definitely can't sit here any longer. Up you get."
Marty climbed to his feet, and waited while Einstein dragged himself reluctantly upright as well.
"Good boy. Now, how do you think we get back to 64th Street?" Marty fumbled the map open, leaving sweaty fingerprints all over the paper. "Hey, it's not too far from here. Uh, that way, I think."
The sun was beating down in earnest now, and Marty and Einstein were both relieved when they reached the meeting place without any mishaps. By wordless agreement, they flopped down against the wall of the closest building, more than grateful for the little bit of shade.
Marty checked his watch again. "Twenty minutes to spare. Bet you ten bucks Doc's going to be late." Einstein huffed at him and Marty chuckled. "Fair enough. I wouldn't take that bet, either."
There was a building across the way with a huge white tower sticking out of the top. While not nearly as busy as the Transportation Building had been, it still seemed to be attracting its fair share of visitors.
"What do you suppose that building is?" he asked Einstein, pointing. Einstein yawned at him. Marty rolled his eyes and pulled out the map again. "Some help you are."
According to the map, it was the Cold Storage Building. Which sounded like a damn good idea, come to think of it.
"Would you mind if I checked it out for a bit, Einie?" he asked. "I won't be gone long. Just long enough to cool down."
In answer, Einstein flopped down onto his side, looking like he was about to settle in for the duration.
Marty had to laugh. "Okay, I get it. If anyone gives you any trouble, you come and find me, okay? I don't care if they don't allow pets inside the buildings."
Einstein pointedly closed his eyes, wearing an expression that seemed to say 'would you stop talking and go already?'
"Becoming a time traveler has given you kind of an attitude, you know that?" Tucking away the map, Marty rose to his feet. "I'll probably be back before Doc even realizes he's late. Send him my way if he manages to show up before I do."
Einstein, who was either ignoring him or actually asleep, didn't respond. Marty assumed he knew what to do.
Shaking his head, he made his way across to the Cold Storage Building. The air inside was crisp and refreshingly cold; Marty breathed out a happy sigh as the chill finally chased away the relentless heat of the day.
He had honestly never given much thought to the science of refrigerating food before he'd got stuck with Doc in 1885. At the time, he'd been beyond impressed that Doc had managed to build a refrigerator in the Wild West, even if it did make disgustingly unsanitary ice.
Looking around the Cold Storage Building, however, he had to admit that it blew Doc's homemade refrigerator right out of the water.
He whistled in admiration at the sheer size of the space inside. How much food was being stored in here? The 7-Eleven back home could have fit in here a couple dozen times, easy. The buzz of the cooling machines was jarring and loud, like there was a cloud of angry hornets hiding in the walls. Not pleasant, but worth it for the cool air drying the sweat on his skin.
And normally, Marty wouldn't have had much interest in a giant refrigerator beyond that, but that was before he discovered that there was a skating rink upstairs.
He hesitated, but the temptation was too great to resist. Einstein had been fine by himself for the entire day yesterday, and God only knew where Doc was right now. Probably still looking at his polywhatsit systems. Marty had time for a quick spin on the ice. He'd still be back in plenty of time.
So he followed the crowd until he found the ice rink and shelled out the money to rent a pair of skates.
Which was how he learned that skates in the 1890s were little more than blades strapped to his shoes. Definitely not what he'd been expecting. But they'd do the job well enough.
He skated for a while, fumbling and ungainly on the ice in a way that he would have been seriously embarrassed by back in 1986, but was somehow less mortifying surrounded by people who were long dead by his time. Eventually, he surrendered to the soreness of his feet and staggered off the ice, flush-cheeked and wobbly.
In his defense, Marty hadn't meant to fall asleep. He'd just been looking for somewhere to sit and catch his breath before heading back out into the oppressive heat, but the hum of the freezers and the exhaustion he'd been carrying all day proved too strong to resist. Five minutes later, he was out cold, tucked into an out of the way niche with the sound of the freezers all around him.
Unfortunately, it meant that when the screaming started, he didn't even hear it.
Though Doc was somewhat chagrined to admit it, Marty had been right about his tendency to lose track of time when he was focused on something.
The Electricity Building was fascinating. So fascinating that Doc completely forgot about his promised meeting time with Marty and Einstein. By the time he resurfaced, he was dismayed to have his watch tell him that he was nearly half an hour late.
"Damn! How did that happen?"
Doc hurried out of the Electricity Building, and was just making his way past the Administration Building when he looked up and saw smoke in the distance.
Now, the law of averages dictated that the concept of Murphy's Law was a statistical impossibility. It simply wasn't logical to hypothesize that the worst case scenario was always the most likely outcome.
None of which stopped the very first thought in his head from being 'Dear God, Marty'.
Doc's amble turned quickly into a run, and he pelted down the crowded paths towards the billowing clouds of smoke. The road was soon clogged with a glut of curious fair goers, and Doc had to fight his way through the crowd to avoid getting sucked into their slow pace.
His worry climbed higher the closer he got to the 64th Street entrance and it became increasingly obvious that, whatever was on fire, it was practically on top of it.
It was a building that was on fire, he saw finally, massive clouds of thick smoke billowing out the main door and the top of the tall tower in the centre. Several fire trucks were on the scene, along with an army of hose-wielding firemen with tall ladders. Several more firemen were fighting to keep the huge crowd away from the building.
Doc heard Einstein before he saw him.
"Would someone quiet that dog?" a fireman was demanding, yelling to be heard over the chatter of the crowd and Einstein's insistent barking. The dog was at the edge of the space that the firemen had cleared, barking loudly enough to wake the dead.
There was no sign of Marty.
"Einstein!" Doc rushed over and Einstein's barking devolved into unhappy whimpers, to the clear relief of the fireman. "What happened? Where's Marty?"
Einstein barked again, and Doc followed his gaze towards the cordoned off door of the burning building.
"He's inside?! What was he even doing in there?" He could always count on Marty to be in exactly the right place to get mixed up in trouble. "Damn! Wait here, Einie."
Squaring his shoulders, Doc marched deliberately towards the door. The fireman tried to block his way.
"Let me through!" he demanded. "My friend's inside!"
"It's not safe!" one of the firemen insisted, stubbornly refusing to get out of the way.
"The building's been cleared!" another one said. "Your friend's not here."
"He is!" Doc insisted, still struggling to get past. These firemen were entirely unreasonably burly in stature. "I will not have him getting hurt! I'm responsible for him! Let me through!"
One of the firemen met Doc's frantic gaze calmly. "What makes you think he's still inside?"
"Because he was with Einstein!" Doc wrested himself free to point an explanatory finger at Einstein, who'd gone back to barking at the building, his entire body quivering with tension. "Logically, given Einstein's location and agitation, Marty must still be inside."
"Sir, I promise you, if your ward is still inside, then he'll be with the firemen. They'll get him back to you."
You don't know Marty, Doc wanted to say, but the firemen took advantage of his reduced struggles to strong arm him back into the crowd.
"Your friend will be fine," they promised. "Just wait here."
"Damn it!" Doc dropped a hand to Einstein's head, trying to calm him down. "Guess we just have to wait, Einie."
Einstein whined at him.
"Yes, but this is Marty we're talking about. He's resourceful. And the fire department is clearly prepared for trouble at the Expo, considering Chicago's poor track record with… fire...." Doc trailed off, frowning.
There was something tickling at his brain, something about a fire at the World's Fair. But what was it?
Doc's eyes scanned the gleaming edifice of the building, lingering on the unusual tower in the middle. It didn't really fit with the neoclassical aesthetic of the rest of the Expo, did it? And with the smoke billowing from the top, it didn't look like a tower so much as a smokestack, albeit one sheathed in white staff…
"Wait!" he realized. "I remember this!" The man stood next to him gave him an odd look, but Doc hardly noticed. "Yes, yes, the fire at the Columbian Expo, of course! This must be the Cold Storage Building!"
A cheer rose from the crowd, and Doc followed their upturned faces to see a passel of firemen on the roof of the building aiming a firehose at the smokestack. It should have been a heartening sight, but there was something like dread curling through him, something was wrong. It was a refrigeration building, Doc mused, windowless, meant to maintain a consistent temperature. A solid core with a neoclassical veneer pasted over the walls-
"The walls!" he remembered abruptly. "The walls, the w- they've got different dimensions from the building inside! And the fire-" Doc's words staggered to a halt. "It's in the walls," he repeated, shocked and slow.
Doc didn't remember the details, they weren't of particular interest to him, but he remembered the science. "Fire in the walls," he murmured again to himself, eyeing the building with a slow dawning horror. And no escape for anyone who didn't get out in the initial outrush.
He was running for the door before he'd even realized he'd moved, but he was no match for the firemen in the way. "There's fire in the walls!" he tried to tell them, struggling against their restraining hands. "They've got to get out of there before the whole place goes up!"
But no one was going to listen to a crazy old man shouting about fire in the walls, were they?
Doc found himself unceremoniously dumped on the ground with a warning that they'd arrest him if he interfered again. The crowd closed in on all sides, and there was no one who could save Marty except him.
If only he knew how.
Einstein whined and bumped his head against Doc's chin. Instinctively, Doc's hands came to Einstein's neck, holding him close, but Einstein wiggled loose and butted against his chin a second time. "Easy boy, we'll think of something."
Einstein barked, head butting him again. This time, Doc's hands brushed across Einstein's collar, and he realized all at once what Einstein was trying to tell him.
"Great Scott! The temporal recall system! Einie, don't you see? If we can get your collar to Marty, then I can shift him to my spatial-temporal location!" A sobering thought occurred on the heels of his elation. "But if I go inside to find him, then we'll both be stuck! I won't have anywhere to transport us to!"
Shoving both hands in his hair, Doc tried frantically to think of a solution. Perhaps if he left the recall key with Einstein, then rushed the door... No, no, the heat would likely incapacitate him long before he managed to find Marty, and that was only if he could get past the firemen, which seemed statistically unlikely, based on prior experience. Given two hours and access to Tesla's excellent lights, he'd have been able to rig up a message, but he would be lucky to have twenty minutes before Marty passed out from the heat and the smoke; two hours was out of the question.
"Blast it!" he burst out, barely noticing as some people in the crowd sidled further away from him at the outburst. What good was being a scientist whose inventions sometimes actually worked if he couldn't do anything when it was most needed? He glanced down, seeking a friendly face. "Einie, what do I- Einie?"
Cutting himself off abruptly, Doc cast about around him for Einstein, but the dog was nowhere to be seen.
"Um," a voice ventured, and Doc whirled towards a man in tweed, quickly enough that the man startled back a step. "I think your dog went- oh, goodness!"
Turning in the direction of the man's pointing finger, Doc just barely caught the sight of Einstein's tail disappearing through the door of the Cold Storage Building. The officers guarding the door looked rather put out by this flaunting of their authority, but none of them moved to go in after him.
"Damn!" Doc started instinctively after Einstein, but only managed a handful of steps before he realized that it was pointless. Einstein had the recall system and Doc had the relay point; going into the building himself would only make sure that they had nowhere safe to recall themselves to. Far better to remove himself to somewhere inconspicuous, so that he was prepared if - when Einstein and Marty signaled him.
He wasn't going to let either of them down.
Turning abruptly, Doc pushed his way through the crowd, ignoring their gasps of horror as things on the roof took an apparent turn for the worse.
Finally, he reached a relatively quiet patch of ground and skidded to a stop, his eyes going to the Cold Storage Building fire like a magnet. He pulled out the recall remote with shaking fingers, feeling like he had nearly half a lifetime ago when trying to harness a lightning storm to send his strange Future Boy back when he belonged. So much potential for disaster. They only had one chance at this.
So he waited.
"Come on, Einie," he breathed, feeling the sweat trickle down the back of his neck. "You can do it."
The remote remained cold and silent in his hand.
He couldn't have lost them both. This was all his fault. He couldn't have-
The remote flashed, startling him badly enough that he nearly dropped it. Doc hammered on the recall button hurriedly, heart in his throat.. "Come on, come on!"
Time shifted and warped, resolving itself into a slumped-over Marty who had both of his arms wrapped in a death grip around Einstein's neck. One of his hands was gripping Einstein's dog collar like a lifeline. His jacket had vanished, and he was covered in smoke and soot, but he was alive. They were both alive.
Doc's breath returned to him in a rush.
"Marty! Einie!" He was on his knees without any clear idea of how he'd got there, gingerly prying Marty's hands loose from their death grip on Einstein's fur. "Are you okay?"
Marty coughed in answer, lifting his head to reveal a smoke-begrimed face streaked with tear tracks. His eyes stood out brilliantly blue amidst the grime. "Oh, hey, Doc. Thanks for the save."
"You'll have to thank Einie," Doc said, still hardly able to fathom the fact that they were both here and safe. "He's the one who went in after you."
Laboriously, Marty brought up a shaking hand to pat Einstein's head. "Thanks, Einstein," he said, quiet and sincere. "You're the best."
Einstein gave a soft woof, licking Marty's nose and leaving a swathe of clean, pink skin in the midst of all that soot. Marty smiled.
And all Doc really wanted to do was collapse for a while and hold the two of them close, but he'd already been the cause of far too much trouble already to want to add to it at this juncture. This was far too public a place for rejoicing.
"We should probably remove ourselves from the situation," Doc said apologetically. "The smoke damage on your clothes will be difficult to explain, and I'm afraid that I was rather conspicuous in my concern for your well being."
Marty, ridiculous boy that he was, looked touched by that. As if he was the one who was most fortunate in their friendship.
"You're the doc, Doc." Marty nearly collapsed when he tried to stand up; both Doc and Einstein hurried to support him. "Thanks, guys. Remind me never to go into a burning building again, okay? That was almost as bad as nearly getting hanged."
"I'd appreciate it if you'd stop putting yourself in danger like this," Doc said, trying for stern and failing utterly. "I'm older than I look, you know. This kind of stress isn't good for my health."
"Hey," Marty defended. "All I wanted to do was get out of the sun. It's not my fault the past wants me dead."
The words, flippant though they were, made Doc falter. "I suppose you'll be wanting to go back to 1986," he said awkwardly. "You'll need to be treated for smoke inhalation and I'm sure you want to go home now, what with the dangers of -"
"You kidding?" Marty offered Doc his favourite smile: the crooked little one Marty always wore when he was game to try whatever mad thing Doc had come up with and to hell with the consequences. "I haven't even got to see Buffalo Bill's show yet. No way I'm going home." His words dissolved into a coughing fit that lasted several long moments, his whole body shuddering with the force. "Although a quick trip to a time where they have proper hospitals might not be a bad idea," he allowed.
What had Doc possibly done to merit this remarkable young man's friendship? "Marty..." he said, sounding worried despite his best efforts.
Marty waved him off. "Come on, Doc, we both know I've had worse than a little smoke inhalation."
"That doesn't make it okay," Doc retorted.
"Hey, Doc?" Marty said, with another crook of a smile. "Thanks for all of this. Even with the near death experience, it's been a blast. I wouldn't have missed it for anything."
"Marty McFly," Doc said. "You are impossible."
That made Marty chuckle. "Says the time traveling scientist. You should take me to the Midway Plaisance after this," he said. "It's only fair."
And Doc could have told him that his logic was beyond faulty, but right now he was willing to do pretty much anything Marty asked. "Hospital first," he insisted.
"Won't hear me complaining." Marty hooked an arm over Doc's shoulder, Doc stooping to help as they started their slow, stumbling way back to the DeLorean. "Just… just promise me that after our road trip's done, you won't go so long without stopping in to say hi next time, okay? I- miss you guys when you're away."
And Doc privately resolved that he would do everything in his power to keep Marty McFly in his life for as long as Marty wanted to be there.
It was what Einie would want, after all.