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John F. Kennedy Drive, Hill Valley - 1985

When he saw Doc again it was late November, a Thursday, just before the last of the leaves fell. Which they had, in wet, orange piles turning to brown, all over Doc’s roof and driveway. Normally it would have been Marty’s job to clear them off, and so he’d come over to do it. It hadn’t occurred to him that Doc would be there, waving from the grimy windows, beckoning him over.

It was getting colder; not quite fall, not quite yet winter, and the air was crisp and sharp. Marty scratched the back of his neck and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. It was starting to rain. The first droplets hit him as he started walking, stepping gingerly to avoid slipping. He stuck his hands in his back pockets, then realized he should knock, but the door opened anyway.

“Hey,” he said, remembering to smile, “I didn’t think I’d see you here!”

Doc frowned. “Then why did you come? Never mind,” he shook his head as if to dislodge his confusion, and drew Marty inside. The stuffy heat of the garage made the outside chill all the more apparent. Marty crossed his arms, feeling, absurdly, colder than he had a moment ago. “Sit down,” Doc said, evidently realizing as he did that there was nowhere to do so. Hurriedly, he brushed a stack of papers off an empty crate of dog food, tutting when the lid proved to be jagged and broken.

“It’s OK,” Marty yelled across the room, where Doc was now clearing an eclectic mix of laundry, electrical tape, old newspapers, what looked like circuit boards, and cereal boxes off a threadbare couch. “I can stand.”

“Well, you need to sit,” Doc muttered, brushing what was either crumbs or metal shavings off an emerging cushion. Marty sat down on it, somewhat against his better judgement.

“What’s the matter?”

“Oh, you know, the usual.”

Doc had sat down opposite him, somehow; maybe there was a table or something beneath that stack of newspapers, or maybe it was just newspapers. Did it use to to be this grody in here? “The usual what?”

“The integrity of the space-time continuum.” He said it rather absent-mindedly, the way you might comment on unusual weather.

“Right. That.” Doc wasn’t looking at him. In fact, he was looking everywhere except at him. “Um. What’s wrong with it?”

“Nothing, for now. Which is why I’m here. We’ve got to maintain integrity.”

“Integrity.” It sounded like the sort of thing his dad talked about these days. Half of it went right over Marty’s head.

“Precisely!”

“OK. What does that-”

“Given that I am now residing outside my own personal timeline, in the current timeline - that is to say, the one which is now native to you, Emmett Lathrop Brown suddenly disappears without a trace, and all of his belongings, including this property, is sold at auction.”

“If you say so…” Disappears. It had only been a few weeks; barely even that. Marty hadn’t really had time to think it over, and now it was all coming over him at once. His leg twitched. Maybe it was the cushion; something seemed to be poking at him from inside of it.

“Now, initially I didn’t give it much thought; after all, I’ve effectively orphaned myself from all linear time, which would make my continued existence immune to changes made in any of the timelines in which I have, am or will be existing in future. But I wasn’t thinking it through!”

“You… weren’t?”

My existence is secured, yes, but anything outside my personal sphere of influence is still vulnerable! The causality cascade resulting from my lack of presence in Hill Valley from 1985 onwards might cause irreparable damage!” He leaned forward, grabbing Marty by the shoulders. Marty tried not to flinch, not from the sudden contact, but from the way Doc’s eyes were locked on his, because he was real, and here, and he wasn’t supposed to be, and neither was Marty, and he’d been trying so, so hard not to think about any of it!

“It’s good to see you,” Marty croaked.

 

Hill Valley - 1985

He didn’t like coffee, he never had, but what Marty had come to realize after just a few days in the Old West, neither did anyone else. That was the trick he’d been missing; there was no trick. You just grinned and bared it, and eventually, you got used to it. It didn’t taste any better, but if you kept at it, after a while it grew comfortingly familiar.

This place, much to Marty’s surprise, had grown on him too. He’d never been much for Wild West adventures, cowboys and indians and all that stuff, no more than any other kid at any rate. For one thing, he liked cars; liked tinkering around with and driving them both, and there weren’t all that many of them around back then. Now. Whenever. Still, sipping hot coffee on a bright September morning with the musical backdrop of Doc banging what sounded like random bits of metal together and muttering under his breath - he could get used to that.

In addition to not being a coffee drinker, Marty had never been a morning person. He probably still wasn’t, but no one could sleep through the racket Doc started making around 6 AM. It wasn’t too bad. He’d wake up, make the coffee - which took some doing when you didn’t have an electric stove, much less Folgers, or even a pot that didn’t leak unless you tilted it just-so - and bring Doc his cup, then stand here by the window and just let the world pass by for a little while.

He found himself relaxing. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been able to do that, between matchmaking his future parents and impersonating his as-yet-unborn children; it had been a full, rich few days. Weeks? Who knew. Time, right? Crazy. Not so crazy here though, where the best you could do was a calender and a badly wound pocket watch. Like the coffee and the early mornings, Marty could get used to that.

He took a deep, long sip, closed his eyes, and listened to Doc’s muted, rambling monologue. It took him a while to realize Doc was calling his name.

“Marty?”

 

John F. Kennedy Drive - 1985

Marty glanced up over the rim of his cup, back in the moment. “Sorry, I was miles away.”

“I didn’t know you liked coffee.”

Marty shrugged. “It grows on you.”

“Well,” Doc sat back down, his own mug still by the stove. Maybe he’d forgotten he’d made himself one, maybe he’d gotten two mugs out, then lost track after filling one. Wouldn’t be the first time; there was a reason Marty started making it himself. “I should apologize; I got rather ahead of myself. Never quite been one for the social graces, or so Clara keeps telling me.” He smiled at the mention of her name, and Marty did the same.

“Speaking of… how’s the family?” It sounded odd, that word. Not wrong, just… different.

“Fam… oh! You’ve met them, of course. The boys are fine.”

“That’s… that’s good.”

“Just fine. Jules is in Antarctica, in the 2040s - part of the permanent scientific outpost. He says he’s getting more out of the apprenticeship than he’d get from any undergraduate program, and I suppose he may have a point; he was so far ahead in most of his classes. Verne is actually thriving in college, which I’ll admit I-”

“Wait, college?”

“I know! I’m a surprised as you are; he was never the academic type, though he’s got a keen mind of course.”

“No, I mean…” Their eyes met, narrowing as they both reached the same conclusion. “How long has it been?” Marty asked.

Doc looked away, scratched his head. “How old were they when I last saw you? Ten? Eleven?”

“You tell me; not like I could tell. I don’t have kids yet.” He sounded angry. Why was he angry? Was he angry?

“About eight or nine years, then,” Doc nodded. He glanced at Marty, then seemed to remember something and jumped up. Probably his own coffee; he was heading towards the stove. “I’m sorry,” he continued, with his back turned, “it’s hard to keep track when the calendar no longer has any meaning beyond the arbitrary.”

“You still know how to count,” Marty snapped, the shock of what he’d said hitting him somewhere deep in the gut. It was surprisingly similar to being punched. “Sorry,” he said, halfway to the door before Doc could react.

“Marty, wait!”

 

Hill Valley High - 1982

Marty refused to turn, to even acknowledge the words, much less the person behind him who had spoken them. He kept walking down the endless corridor, books heavy in his hands and nearly slipping when he fell into a slow run. He couldn’t go faster; there were too many people and too much attention drawn to him already. He was late for class; if he could make it just before Mrs. Halvorsen closed the door, he would be safe. Just a few more yards. He could see the doorway!

A heavy hand fell on his shoulder, spun him around like a revolving door. Marty looked up, tried to glare, but he was too flustered and full of adrenaline, and all he could do was blink. Jerry Jenkins beamed above him, flat hair plastered to head like it was painted on there. He smelled like gum and dirty laundry, and he always smiled just a little too broadly. He shouldn’t be popular, but he was six feet two at the age of fourteen, and he was a genius. “Come on, Marty, what’s the rush? I just asked you a question.”

“Leave it, Jerr. I’m late for class.”

“So? You’re always late for class.”

“If I’m late for English again, I’ll get detention.”

“So hurry up and answer, then!”

“I don’t want to.”

Jerry leaned his head back and roared with laughter. His hand was still on Marty’s shoulder, bearing down just hard enough that Marty couldn’t break away. “Relax, McFly!” With his free hand, he reached into his pocket, and brought out the quarter Marty knew he’d dropped in the cafeteria. One of many. “I just wanted to know if you lost this.”

“Yeah, I heard the first time.”

“Hey, if you don’t want it, I’ll just take it.”

“Fine.”

“I could have sworn it fell out of your pocket.” Marty kept his eyes on him, determined not to look away. Jerry put his hands into his pocket again, and Marty tried not to squirm. He could hear them before he saw them; a mound of dimes and pennies and nickels, a few quarters here and there, balancing in Jerry’s beefy paw. “Just like these.”

“Are you deaf? I said you could take ‘em!”

“That’s not really for you to say, is it, if they’re not yours?”

“They’re mine, OK? I lost them, it was stupid; I tripped and fell, and they all came out of my jacket pocket. Big deal.” He huffed his cheeks out, keeping the anger in. He could taste the inside of his mouth, and the too-sweet applesauce he’d bought before this disaster.

“Funny thing. I was behind you in line. You said you didn’t have change.” He took his hand off Marty’s shoulder, but there was nowhere for Marty to go. He glanced behind him at Mrs. Halvorsen’s door, and sure enough it was closed. Marty’s eyes widened when Jerry picked up a penny, just one, and flicked him at it. “What’s this look like to you?”

“What’s your problem, Jerry?” Another coin hit him; a nickel by the feel of it, but Marty didn’t flinch. He knew what Jerry’s problem was. Marty sat behind him in chemistry, and yesterday, Marty had corrected him when he said there were 105 elements, instead of 108. He’d probably been reading an old chemistry book - they kept finding new elements, as far as Marty could tell, but Jerry didn’t care about that. He just cared about Marty, the little shit who sat behind him making jokes, and was nearly a foot shorter than him, getting something right that he got wrong.

Jerry leaned down, nearly pressing his face against Marty’s. He huffed, smile wiped entirely from his pale, freckled face. “You think you’re so smart, don’t you? Well, I’ve kept my eye on you. You never pay for anything with coins, except in the arcade. I don’t think you know how to-”

”Jenkins!” Principal’s Strickland’s voice roared, and Marty exhaled, slowly. “My office, now!”

 

Lyon Estates - 1985

His room didn’t feel like his room. It had, at first, because brains have a habit of making assumptions, in Marty’s experience. You didn’t notice unless you wanted to, and it’s not like you ever got the urge to minutely examine the walls and shelves and floor of a space in which you’d spent most of your life, right?

Now, Marty did. He didn’t want to think about Doc, he didn’t want to think about anything much at all, so he looked at the posters over his bed, and the books on his bedside table, which is when he first noticed there were books on his bedside table. One of them was his dad’s, which made a certain kind of sense. There was a bookmark in it which at least was familiar; he’d won it in a raffle in 10th grade. It was red and black and promoting a local book store which had now been replaced by a Borders, and for whatever reason, its logo was a squat, stylized rocket ship. He pulled it out, hesitating because he’d lose his place, until he realized he had no memory of reading any of it. The bookmark, though. He remembered that. Marty stuffed it in his back pocket, and sat down on the bed. He could still feel it.

There were so many books. Not just next to his bed, but on the shelves, on shelves he had no memory of having put up, strewn on the floor, falling out of his closet. Marty sat very still, wondering if there were any in the bed. Under the covers. His posters were the same, near as he could tell. The same cassette tapes in a misshapen heap on his desk, most of them taped off the radio. His radio, with the dial wobbly when you turned it to the left. He could go over there and try that now.

Maybe later.

To the far left on the closest shelf, there was a space between a thesaurus by someone called Rogers or whatever, and a couple of Hardy Boys novels he was pretty sure his aunt Marie gave him for Christmas when he was ten. They were dusty, leaning to one side. Marty leaned closer, peering at the gap. There was something in it; what looked like a pewter drinking cup. No, there was a base; an inscription. Some kind of trophy. He licked his lips and bent closer still, one hand on the duvet to steady himself. He hadn’t turned on the light, but he could make out one word:

Math

 

Lyon Estates - 1983

“Why don’t you get that Doctor Brown to tutor you, Marty?”

Marty let his spoon drop into his grape nuts, heavily. ”No,” he said, picking it up again before it slipped too deep into the milk.

His mom did that thing where she nearly shook her head, then seemed to change her mind at the last moment, like she was too apathetic even to disapprove. “Well, why not? He’s a… What is he, George?” She looked over at her husband, questioningly.

“Old Doc Brown? Lorraine, I’m not sure Marty should be hanging around there all that much…”

“And I suppose you’re going to by your son a car, then? On your salary? I don’t know how you expect him to raise the money if we don’t let him make it himself.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Marty saw his dad slump down. He sighed into his cereal. “He’s a scientist,” he mumbled.

“There you go, then.” His mom took a last puff of her cigarette, and stumped it out as a full stop to the conversation, then shuffled out of the kitchen. She’d never mentioned the F he’d gotten, not directly, just like she never made a single comment about any of his grades. His dad had lost interest, and was watching Star Trek reruns pressed so close to the television he might as well be making out with it.

Marty had been doing odd jobs for Doc for years, and he nearly had enough to get a half-decent car in another year or so. Anyway, Doc seemed happy, and he was smart, so maybe… He picked up his bowl, drank the soggy milk, dumped the rest of it in the sink, and ran out the door.

 

Lyon Estates - 1985

“Woah there!” His dad was in the kitchen, mixing himself some sort of healthy shake. Marty hadn’t even known they had a blender. “What’s the rush, sport?”

“I’m just going out.”

“What’s that you got there?”

“Nothing.” Marty hid the trophy behind his back. With some maneuvering, it might fit into his back pocket. His jacket would cover it nicely. The base was surprisingly sharp, scratching against the skin of his, uh…

“You heading back over to Doc’s?”

“I dunno.”

“I’m glad he’s back; he’s been such a good influence on you.”

“Uh, okay.” This was not an expected conversation. Not only was his dad looking him in the eye, but he was leaning casually against the fridge, weird-looking shake in one hand, the other falling on Marty’s shoulder. He shouldn’t flinch. He didn’t.

“I wish I had someone like that to look up to when I was your age, Marty. Maybe it wouldn’t have taken me so long to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.”

“You mean, writing?”

“Oh, I was always writing. I just didn’t think it was something I could do for a living.” His nose twitched, the little crease of skin just where his eyebrows met grew deeper. “I… can’t really remember what-”

“Yeah, I gotta go.” Marty stumbled backwards out the door, tripping over the decorative rocks in the yard that had not been there before, but of course, always had been.

 

Shonash Ravine - 1885

It fucking hurt. That was the most unexpected thing about riding a horse, though honestly, Marty couldn’t say exactly what he had expected. You were hanging on to a living, breathing thing, with skin and hair and muscles. It had a smell and a heartbeat, and if you leaned in close enough, you could hear and feel it breathing. The faster you went, the harder you had to hold on, and there was a saddle, sure, but all you could feel was your legs clamping on until they cramped, but you couldn’t let them, because the thing they say about horses not trampling humans is not the sort of thing you want to verify in person.

His horse always seemed to know what it was doing, which was terrifying; Marty barely knew where he was half the time, though lately, that could perhaps be excused. Either way, they ran alongside the ravine, never too close, and no unexpected snakes spooked them any closer. There were no sounds except what came from the two of them, and the air was clean and dusty all at once. Marty, who had never properly learned how to ride, had two speeds on these excursions; gallup and full stop. What else was new?

Horses were expensive, but Doc wouldn’t mind about that. Other things, he did mind; he asked where Marty went, though he never seemed to happy with the answers he got. After Clara, the questions didn’t come that often.

Maybe there was something to this, like the coffee. Maybe the wind and the fire in his thighs and these long, lazy stretches of not thinking could be everything. They had a choice, wasn’t that what Doc had been trying to say? That felt good. Better than the cold air on his unshaven cheeks, but that couldn’t last very long either.

They had a festival to go to.

 

 

John F. Kennedy Drive - 1983

“Let’s just get to it, shall we? You’re a smart kid; I’m sure you’ll pick it up in no time.”

Marty swallowed, remembering to nod. He sat on the edge of the only proper chair in Doc’s makeshift kitchen, hands clutching the sides of the seat. On the table in front of them lay all of this year’s homework assignments, grades and all. Marty’s tongue flicked nervously at his teeth. He leaned forward, hands clenching tighter.

“Let’s see what we’ve got here…” Doc picked up the closest paper. Read it. Frowned. Rifled through sheets, found another, fumbled for a pencil. “All right,” he muttered, making notes right on the tabletop.

“You don't have to do this,” Marty said, trying to pick out the words upside down.

“Oh, I’m happy to! Boy with your brains shouldn't have to worry about grades. I know how it is, believe me.”

Marty certainly wanted to.

“They can't keep up with you, that's the problem. It's not good forcing you to do the same for exercises over and over again; you need to be challenged.”

“I don't think…”

“Now, what would you say are your strongest and weakest areas?”

“Um…”

“Never mind; I have a idea. You're probably sick of all of this repetition, anyway. Why don’t we do something fun?”

“Like what?”

“We’ll make it into a game; turn it on its head.” From somewhere under the table, Doc fished out a bottle of white-out, and started slathering it seemingly at random. Little flecks dropped everywhere, obscuring the writing on the table.

“What are you doing?” A memory of his mom scolding him when he’d taken a pair of scissors to a crumpled dollar bill sprang up in Marty’s mind. He wanted to pull the papers back in, save them somehow.

“Now; what I suggest is the following:” As he spoke, Doc had picked up a pen - not a pencil, no going back - and started furiously filling in the newly redone blanks. “I redo this assignment, like so,” he put his pen down with firmly, and held the paper out, “and you grade it for me!”

Marty stared. “You think doing math is fun?”

“I’ll grant you, high school level linear equations are not particularly intellectually stimulating, but the added challenge of intentionally adding interesting mistakes makes it rather enjoyable.” He waved the sheet, expectantly.

Marty grabbed it. It was full of numbers and random bits of punctuation, and didn’t make any more sense now that it had when he’d filled it out himself. He glanced up at Doc. He was hunched over the table, smiling eagerly, waiting for some sort of response. Marty looked down again, making a show of reading slowly and carefully, and gave a quick nod at the end. “I still need to mow your lawn. Can I take this home with me?”

“Don’t worry about the lawn; I can do that myself.”

“No, you paid me for it; I’ll do it right away.”

Before Doc could protest again, Marty had the paper in his pocket and was dragging Doc’s ancient mower out into his tiny yard.

He never looked at the paper again. Doc never mentioned it.

 

 

John F. Kennedy Drive - 1985

“Funny, the things you never mentioned.” Marty placed the trophy on the table. Not heavily. Not with a bang. Just put it down. The door had been open, and Marty hadn’t knocked, not that he usually did. Doc was nowhere to be seen, but of course he was there. The man never seemed to sleep.

“Marty?” The voice came from the little nook where the improvised bathroom was. Doc peered out, hair still wet, a towel around his neck. “What’s wrong?”

“Everything is wrong. Everything about this place.” He pointed at the trophy. “That’s not me!”

“It’s your trophy,” Doc said, like he was describing the color of Marty’s shirt. Like it was nothing out of the ordinary. “I don’t understand.”

“Neither do I! You said the timeline would fix itself if we got my parents back together.”

“That’s not exactly-”

“It never felt right. Not the first time I got back; not even when I got home after seeing the future. You know, I look at Jennifer, and sometimes I don’t even recognize her! I have a polaroid she gave me, I keep it in a drawer in my nightstand, and it looks different. Her hair, her face; in the picture, there’s a cat. Jennifer doesn’t have a cat.”

Doc had taken the towel off. His still-wet hair was dripping down his neck and onto his checkered shirt. Pale blue. Did he use to have pale blue checkered shirt? “Marty… what you’re experiencing is normal.”

“Normal?!” He couldn’t breathe. He needed to sit down, but there wasn’t a chair, there was never a chair. He grabbed the edge of the table. “I don’t recognize my own family. I don’t recognize my life, because it isn’t my life. It’s some other Marty’s life! And I replaced him. I…”

“Let’s have a seat.”

“I don’t want to! I want…” He lost his grip, and something on the floor gave. His foot slipped. The room spun. The world spun. What else was new?

 

 

Riverside Drive - 1955

Not much of this was new, and Marty found he liked it. The house was, of course, but the hum of equations half-muttered under Doc’s breath as he worked, was not. The curtains, he realized, had been repurposed into a divider between Doc’s sleeping area and the rest of the garage in 1985. Marty had always thought the dirty yellow color had come from fading, but they looked exactly the same right here. He should probably be sleeping; it was past midnight, and they had a lot to get through tomorrow. And for the first time in as long as he could remember, he was able to relax.

Sprawled in the chair, Marty just needed to turn his head a fraction of an inch to see Doc, back bent slightly as he scribbled notes directly on the pages of a number of huge reference books. Now and then he would tear a page out, toss it over his shoulder. Half the time he would immediately start, then scramble over the back of the sofa to find whatever it was he’d accidentally thrown away.

He looked… Not young. Marty had no idea what age Doc was when they first met, but he’d been fourteen then, and like most kids his age assumed that anyone older than his parents were practically ancient. This Doc looked like himself, young or old, but in the dull light from the dusty lamps he was almost glowing. This Doc didn’t know him, but seemed to like him anyway, as much as Doc liked anyone. They were comfortable together.

That was a thought. Not a lot of things gave Marty a great deal of comfort. His parents were fine, but hardly reliable; a source of worry more than anything. His brother was a pain in the ass when he was around, which was rarely, because of his graveyard shifts, and his sister mostly kept to herself. Jennifer was lovely, but Marty had to keep pinching himself that she was interested; that he wouldn’t just come home one day and find she’d never dated him at all. That it was all a dream.

He shifted, but turned his head so he kept Doc somewhere in his eyeline. His breathing slowed. His eyes closed.

 

 

John F. Kennedy Drive - 1985

“Wake up, Marty.”

He was on a couch. Since when had Doc had a couch in here? Right. Since always, just not the always he remembered.

“You’re OK.” It was almost a question. Doc’s dark eyes were wide and startled, like a dog worrying what it did wrong.

“I’ll be the judge of that.” Marty tried to sit up, and his head politely suggested he didn’t. He told it to buzz off. “I’m sorry.” The trophy stood just a few feet away, just over Doc’s shoulder. “I shouldn’t have just barged in here.”

“You were clearly upset. This is my fault.” More of those eyes. Marty didn’t know where to look. “I should have realized the effects of the temporal shift would be cascading, not only in a historic-causal sense, but on a personal level.”

“Uh…”

“You feel like you don’t belong.”

“Well, I don’t! You do; you know this place! Your timeline… whatever, diverged differently. I’m not the Marty you remember; you’re not the Doc I knew. And those people are lost; they’re as dead as the mom and dad I used to have.” As dead as the other Jennifer. Marty had killed them all, just to save his own existence. And now he had to live with the consequences.

Doc hadn’t moved. He did now, walking over and picking up the trophy. “I had an idea,” he said, turning it over in his hands, fingers brushing over Marty’s name on the base, “when I first started considering time travel as a plausible concept, that it might permanently alter the synaptic patterns of the time travelers. I assumed it could be a force for good. I imagined children with brain damage, shifted to a timeline where their injuries never occurred. The poor and underprivileged, shifted to timelines where they were affluent.” He set the trophy down, leaning a hand on it. “But it doesn’t work like that.”

There were wood shavings in his hair. Marty brushed them off, and leaned back. He could just see the yellow curtains separating Doc’s sleeping area from the rest of the garage.

“There is no other Marty. It’s just you. As time travellers, we exist outside normal causality, which is why we only retain the memories of our personal timeline. But that does not mean some other Marty lived through the memories you do not have.”

“What about my parents? What about Jennifer?”

“Their memories did change. But the person they remember, the person they love - that’s still you, Marty. The boy who won this trophy-”

“You really don’t fucking know, do you?”

 

 

John F. Kennedy Drive- 1984

“You have no idea what you just did!”

Marty jumped back, as though the device had shocked him. Maybe it had. He’d never heard Doc yell like that; not with genuine anger. “I’m sorry,” he tried to say, but Doc pushed him out of the way and scooped up the device.

“I gave you explicit instructions; quite clear! Set the date to 35 years and thirteen days in the past, any time. For heaven’s sake; you didn’t even have to set the microsecond counter!”

“I tried, OK? I’m sorry!” It was something like a huge, digital alarm clock, wires poking out around and above it, and from the tangled mess of components in the back. Displays in multiple colors showed three sets of dates and times, one of which Doc had asked Marty to set, while he watched a monitor. Once he’d set the date, he had to press a button. Digital watches were easier than regular ones, which Marty, to his shame, had never seemed to get the hang of. And thirty five years ago wasn’t that hard to figure out from today’s date, though it took him some time. He’d pressed the button before he realized he’d forgotten to include the thirteen days.

“It’s probably my fault, but by god, can you blame me? I assumed a sixteen year old would be able to do basic math. An idiot could do this, Marty!”

The words hung between them. Marty picked at the strap of his watch; a brand new Casio. He’d bought it with the money he’d been able to save up for a car.

Doc never apologized. Maybe he did, Marty wasn’t listening as he left, and didn’t come back for a full month. But of course he came back. Where else would he go?

 

John F. Kennedy Drive - 1985

“No,” Doc said, quietly. “I don’t remember that.”

“Don’t say you’re sorry.”

They were both by the grimy little window. Marty supposed someone should wash it. It never snowed in Hill Valley, but it did get cold, and really, those leaves piling up out there needed to be taken care of. “In the 21st century,” Doc said, “there is a much greater appreciation of the challenges and advantages of people with dyscalculia.”

“Is that what I have?”

“It’s not a thing you have; it’s a descriptor of the way in which your brain works, that’s all. It means you require different learning strategies. I failed to appreciate that, in the timeline you remember.”

“I said, don’t apologize.”

“You were always a smart boy, Marty. I saw that right away. I don’t know what made the difference; perhaps it’s that I’d already met you and knew who you’d become.” He moved a used coffee cup aimlessly from the sink to the countertop. Back again. The sink was full, mostly of used dishes.

“Are you the same?”

Doc put a hand on Marty’s back, lifted it again. Almost a pat. Perhaps he was smiling. Marty wouldn’t know; he had started stacking dishes, filling the sink with water.