There were times when Noel Zachary worried that he'd made the correct choice. It had all seemed so simple once. Just follow orders. He'd been deliberately positioned to get the scholarship - to get close to Sarah Lynch and Victor Pearson, to protect Josie Trent when she arrived at the school. Sir Donald Wakefield had specifically picked him and he'd felt so proud.
But real life was so much more complicated and nothing was black and white any more. He tried not to lie to the science club, but he ended up leaving gaps instead, and they were curious and tenacious. It was what he liked best about them.
The prophecies said Victor Pearson was important, but they didn't say why. The White Chapter had thought that Sarah or Josie might be the Herald, but that had proved to be another woman, off in England - a journalist named Sarah Jane Smith. At this point all he could do was help and guide the science club to the truth, without revealing what he already knew. It was a very fine line to walk.
Especially when Marshall and Lucas decided, despite all past mishaps, to use Pearadyne branded crystal matrices from the basement to build a hyperbolic temporal viewscanner to try to look into the past and see what happened during the explosion at Pearadyne so many years ago and ended up transporting the entire science club to the past.
He still remembered it well - he'd been on the way to his interview with Victor when the five of them had burst out of the woods, knocking him off his feet and spraining his ankle in the process. Z had assumed they'd leave them there, but they had stopped.
"Professor Z, am I glad to see you?" Lucas blurted out.
"Professor Z? What on Earth are you talking about?" Z tried to stand, but stumbled, only to have Marshall and Vaughn catch him and settle him back down on the ground. "I'm here for an interview at Pearadyne. For a scholarship if you must know, so if you could just help me over there--." He remembered how bewildered he'd been at the time.
"You're in no shape for an interview," Vaughn said.
"But if he doesn't get that interview, everything changes. You know that as well as I do." Josie had seemed stubborn then, but he'd been unprepared for what she'd be like as a student.
"Will your dad let him postpone?" Corrine had not looked hopeful.
And Vaughn had confirmed it. "You know my dad. I doubt it. Maybe if we get his ankle wrapped up he can limp over there. We can help-- we just need to be sure that my dad doesn't see me. We just need something to wrap it with."
They hadn't given him time to get a word in edgewise, though he hadn't tried very hard. In retrospect he might have been in a mild stage of shock.
"My shirt," Marshall offered, stripping it off to reveal a t-shirt beneath. "Here. Do you know how to do this?" He looked almost impressed.
"I've watched my coaches do it before. You get a lot of injuries when playing sports."
Lucas was hanging back. "Are you sure we should be doing this? I mean, we could be changing time."
"I think we've already changed time." Corinne knelt beside Vaughn and Z. "Now we just need to fix what we've done. Can you stand now?"
Z had stood tentatively. It hurt badly if he put any weight on the foot, but he found that with Marshall and Vaughn's support he could stand and hop along. "I should have had the taxi bring me up to the door." He'd thought that Pearadyne Industries would be just a short walk from the main road, not the mile and a half it turned out to be. He needed this interview and more importantly he needed to prove that Sir Donald's trust in him hadn't been mistaken.
"Wait, there's a car. Let's wave it down. Save Prof-- Save Mr. Zachary the walk." Josie had already started waving frantically.
The car, a big, black limousine with tinted windows had stopped. And the window had rolled down. "Is there a problem?" He hadn't known the voice at the time, but looking back he could appreciate the science club's response to Victor Pearson's question.
Lucas recovered first, whilst both Josie and Vaughn shifted so that they were out of sight. "Mr. Zachary has an interview with you, but he fell and twisted his ankle. I don't suppose you could give him a lift?" he asked brazenly.
Victor had given them a grim smile and opened the door. "That seems reasonable. I've been looking forward to this, Mr. Zachary."
In retrospect, being in shock from the pain was a good thing--if he'd been in full control of his senses, he might have flinched at the implied threat, if he'd had a good ankle, he might have bolted. Instead, he let Marshall help him into the back seat beside Victor.
"Shouldn't the rest of you be in class?"
"Going right now, V- Sir," Corinne said grabbing the two nearest and pulling them back onto the path.
Victor had spent the drive talking about scientific theories and Z hadn't even realized that he was being interviewed until they'd come to the door. "Come in, I'll get you properly bandaged up in the infirmary and call you a taxi."
"But what about the interview?"
"I think I can say quite confidently that you've got the scholarship. I'll have my people give you the details. Welcome to Pearadyne, Noel Zachary."
He'd been stunned, but managed to say. "Thank you, I'll try to live up to your expectations, Mr. Pearson."
The rest of the afternoon was a blur of paperwork in his mind, but that moment had been brought back forcibly when they had returned from the past, intent on quizzing him once again on what Victor had said and what he had done at Pearadyne during his internship and how he had found out about the internship in the first place.
He put them off as best as he could. Talking in vagaries and lecturing about the dangers of using Pearadyne equipment for personal projects. And wishing all the while that he could just tell the truth for once, even though he knew the dangers. They'd become the closest thing he'd had to a family in so many years of deep cover, and he treasured that, even if he felt sometimes like he was using them to fulfill the White Chapter's goals.
It wasn't until close to curfew that he'd told enough half-truths to satisfy them and convince them to leave. He started to grade the quizzes from that afternoon only to look up to see the Janitor in the doorway.
"They need you as much as you need them. And you," the Janitor studied him through overly-thick glasses, "are precisely where you need to be. It won't be long now." And then he was gone, leaving Z to ponder what he'd meant by that.
The Janitor's words might have been cryptic, but Z felt like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders as he set back to work. They needed him, and he'd be there for them. He hoped that at the end, he wouldn't have to make a choice, because he knew which side he was on now.