Title: Keeping it Real (2/?)
Chapter: Two
Rating: G
Couplings: Newt/Anathema at the moment, some Adam/Pepper
Notes: Sorry this has taken so long! I've been distracted with original work, and I don't feel this chapter is quite up to par. Regardless, I want to finish this, and Stuff starts happening at the end of this chapter. Exciting? Hate it? I'd like to know. This is slow writing for me, and feedback of any sort would be greatly appreciated.

~~~~
~~~~

Crowley approached the house with Anathema at his side, cool and as composed as possible. Despite her presence and his own immortal aspects, the demon was beginning to get nervous as his eyes trailed over various signs of human youth - a broken tricycle, several doll heads, buckets, tins, coke cans, all sorts of debris littered the front walkway. Stepping over a suspiciously colored stain on the cobblestones, he moved up the creaking front steps, glancing across the Lego-coated front porch as Anathema rang the bell.

Pepper's mother was a thin, blonde woman with fat lips and smiling eyes, a mole on her left cheek. She opened the door, thin fingers rising in surprise at the sight of Anathema and Crowley, then turned and called into the house. She was wearing a thin blue dress, modestly cut, with a wide-brimmed summer hat the likes of which Crowley hadn't seen since the eighteen hundreds. "Hon! Anathema's here, and she's brought her gentleman friend! Come in, come in, dear, and you as well, Mister....?"

With a snake-like grin, Crowley turned on the charm faucet as he slid his glasses off his nose, revealing innocent brown-gold human eyes. Anathema stared. "A.J. Crowley - please, call me Anthony."

"Oh," the woman flushed and beamed at him. "Y-yes. Anathema, dear, you have the nicest friends...John! John, we'll be late! Thank you so much, Mister - Anthony - for coming on such short notice."

"It's not a problem," Crowley purred, silently assuring the woman that no further fears were necessary. He was...a niiiiice man. "Ma'am."

"Heather," Heather fluttered, beamed, and called for her husband again.

It took all of fifteen minutes for Crowley to win them over utterly. Heather and John were a normal couple, their two daughters seemingly normal children - and they adored Crowley to a degree that made Anathema glare at him behind their backs.

'What?' Crowley mouthed as Heather turned to speak to her husband, winking one bland human eye proudly. 'I'm lovable.'

Anathema looked ill.

The truth about humans is that they're drawn to a strong person, regardless of who (or in this case, what) that person happens to be. Crowley exhibited an air of clarity and assurance around him, his physical appearance was suave and thin, dark hair and nice cheekbones, accented by his precious leather jacket and dark, sexy sunglasses. People felt like he was in charge, he was dominant and cool -

It only made tempting that much easier.

"This is Pepper," John introduced the oldest daughter, who stared suspiciously up at Crowley through short red hair that parted down the middle. Freckles spattered her nose, and her legs were scarred, criss-crossed with marks of the outdoors and friendly scuffles. "She's eleven, loves playing outside, is allergic to penicillin..."

Crowley nodded faintly to Pepper, who gave him a look she usually reserved for particularly intrepid insurance salesmen. The demon frowned.

"....and this is Sam. Sam's six and loves her cat... Marry's a longhair, and sheds some. If you get allergies, there's some Claratin in the medicine cabinet... " Sam looked at Crowley for a long moment, then buried her face in her father's leg. She had painfully long, almost-curly straw blonde hair tied back with pink ribbons. Next to Pepper, Sam seemed like a toy doll. "No, no, behave, Samanthaaaa..."

Crowley took note of her father's tone of 'unquestionable parental authority' - he was pretty sure someone on his side had thought it up.

"They're out of summer, but they need to play outside for their exercise. No staying out past seven, bedtime is at nine for Pepper, eight for Sam, only two hours of television at a time. Every morning they need their Flintstones vitamins, and you need to feed the cat, her food is in the pantry, Sam knows where it is. We're... ....and Sam doesn't like peanut butter, Pepper will only eat grape jelly, we've left some in the refrigerator in the game room... ....the laundry room is down the hall past the kitchen, that's where the ... here's my phone number, John's cell, my mother's nursing home, the next door neighbors, Anathema, the Young's - they'll help if you have any questions, they live over a few streets down - EMS, the major hospital in Norton, and -"

By the time Crowley was settled in (he had forgotten luggage, and 'borrowed' one of the angel's suitcases from London with a disconcerted thought), it was time for the parents to go. Heather didn't want to leave Crowley's dashing company, she talked endlessly as they stood in the doorway until her husband pulled her away towards the car, flashing the demon an apologetic glance. Quick kisses went to the two children, then Anathema shoved off as well, wishing Crowley luck with what could only be an amused smirk perched on her lips.

The door slammed, and he turned.

"............so."

Four wide eyes stared back.

"What do you two do for fun?"

~~~~
~~~~

Aziraphale was musing with the talent of an angel that has enjoyed thinking very much for several thousand years. He had a book open across the table, a cup of warm tea pressed between his fingers, and continuously pressed his thin-rimmed glasses back up the bridge of his nose before continuing to peruse the open volumn before him.

He was reading up on the general consensus of time and space. What he found, not surprisingly, was that every good science fiction author had a different opinion of how it worked. "At least it makes for good reading," the angel sighed, folding Ender's Game closed ("Nothing....") and tossing it onto the couch, where it knocked aside A Wrinkle in Time and bumped A Brief History of Space into the trash bin.

The angel reached for another tome, absently sipping his drink.

His research had proved fruitful on a number of different theories, however none of them told him quite what he wanted to hear. Generally, most authors seemed to think that a hole in space or time would either form a black hole, which would devour the planet - or simply destroy reality in one massive explosion.

Neither of these options were acceptable to Aziraphale. He wasn't sure what to do.

In response to that depressing information, the angel caught his chin on his fist and frowned. "I wonder how Crowley's getting on in Tadfield..."

It had been three days, after all. And he had heard nothing. Aziraphale pandered over the phone for a moment, frowning faintly before deciding at last to pick it up and give Crowley a ring at the number Anathema had left with him.

On the fourth dial, Crowley picked up.

"Crowley, dear, how are you getting on?"

Silence. Then, "Angel, I'm going to kill you."

"Oh. My."

~~~~

The sound of trashy bicycles threading up a dusty lane filled the afternoon air - followed by young, grubby voices and cheerful shouts. "Pepper! Hey, Pep!"

Pepper was standing on her front porch, hands folded over her chest. Her jeans were tatters of their former selves and a rim of chocolate surrounded her mouth. She waved.

Brian peered at the lone female member of the Them as their bikes pulled to a stop. He grinned, dirt shivering off as his expression changed. "What took ya so long?"

"Mum an' dad hired some fellow to watch us," Pepper shook her head. "He's...well..."

The Them nodded at once in understanding. 'Babysitters - sigh -' their glances seemed to say.

"He wouldn't let you outside?" Wensleydale peered at Pepper over the rim of his glasses, impressed. The Them knew it took quite a bit of work to keep one of their number inside when they would rather be out.

"I think he's a professional. He's got funny eyes," the redhead shrugged, but the smile on her face didn't shrink.

"Hey," Adam and Dog gazed suspiciously at the girl, peering at the dark smudges on her chin and lips, "you've been eating cake."

"Yep," Pepper grinned imperiously, towering above them on the porch. Cake was a major finding to them all.

Brian was positively awed, eyes as round as saucers. "But...it's only.... ten thirty in the morning! Nobody eats cake at ten-thirty in the morning!"

"Anthony lets us eat cake whenever we want," the girl shot back haughtily, examining her scummy nails as she spoke. "Even at bedtime! He's great."

The Them tried to contemplate that idea. Cake at bedtime was like wearing your shoes on your head, or washing your bicycle... It just wasn't done. "At bedtime?" Adam asked, skeptically, "that's..."

"Late," Wensleydale added, then shifted. He was growing quite hungry, and cast a glance at Brian and Adam, hopefully. "Could we have some cake?"

Pepper's grin was enough to tell Them she'd been just waiting for them to ask. "Come on in."

~~~~

Adam peered around Pepper's house as they stomped through the foyer, leaving trails of dusty footprints across the hardwood floor - his eyes were wide with surprise.

The house was...different. There were more candles, for one. The kitchen walls were splattered with a number of expensive looking foods, and there were microwavable hot pocket wrappers scattered across the floor. As they passed the dining room, the boy swore he saw Mary - the cat - hanging from the ceiling in a cage made of silverware, but he might have imagined it. Funny little noises filled the air. The wallpaper danced.

"Anthony!"

The babysitter called 'Anthony' was flopped on a couch, heavy black boots propped up on the expensive, polished coffee table. All of Pepper's mother's expensive trinkets and poupouri plates were in a pile of broken glass, lumped together on the floor. He was talking on the phone, ignoring her.

"Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaanthony!" Pepper hollered, unaffected by the remnants of her nicely manicured parlor. "AAAAAAAAAANTHONY!!!!"

"No, angel, she's fine - just brought some of her little friends in to play. What do you mean?! I know plenty about childcare! I invented half their toys, after all - no, that's not - no!"

"AAAAAAAAAAAANTHOOOOOOOOOOOOONNNNNNYYYYYYYYY~!"

Crowley's glare met the children, eyes yellow and flashing in the dim room. Brian and Wensleydale stared, but Adam merely glowered back, blue eyes narrow and cold - he was not intimidated by some imposing babysitter that didn't know poupouri was forbidden ground. "I'M ON THE BLOODY PHONE, KID! ... no! 'Bloody' is NOT a swear word, you stupid - "

"I'm not stupid," the redhead looked hurt. More hurt than Adam had ever seen her appear - the Them never displayed a weakness to anyone, because weaknesses could be fairly exploited, however Pepper face at that moment radiated injustice

"Not you, I'm talking to someone - well, angel, I - "

Behind the couch, the redhead's eyes went wide, a faint blush trailing across her face. "Angel?" She'd never been called that before. Demon-child, brat, git, idiot, fetus-face, yes, but never angel. She smiled at Crowley, adoringly, over the back of the couch.

"Yeah, yeah, what do you want?" Crowley clapped a hand ineffectually over the receiver's mouth.

"Cake."

"More? Can't you make it this time?"

Brian and Wensleydale peered at Adam, hopefully. The Them had been trusted in a kitchen once and one time only - their experiment, unfortunately, had not turned out quite like they'd planned. There were still lumps of burned flour scattered on top of Brian's cabinets, which the Them had agreed were never to be spoken of again.

"We don't know how," Pepper peered at the demon, eyes wide and attaining a reasonable semblance of innocence. Crowley muttered darkly, sighed, and gave up.

"Sorry, Aziraphale, I have to go. No. Yes. Maybe. See you." The demon hung up the phone and stood, black leather folding and creaking as he moved, towering over the children. Adam noticed, with some astonishment, that 'Anthony' had one ear pierced. "Cake, right?"

Pepper nodded, staring hopefully.

Crowley paused. Blinked, raised a brow, smiled slyly. Something shoved at Adam's mental consciousness, and then the kid-sitter waved a hand, trying to look nonchalant. "Oh, I forgot - I already had one in the oven. Why don't you check?"

The kids stared a moment. Finally Brian managed to squeak, "Really?" and the herd tromped into the kitchen, opened the oven door - and yes, indeed, there was a chocolate cake. Fully iced. In a cold oven.

Crowley smiled like a snake for a long moment, until the mental equivilent of cold water was sloshed across his brain.

The demon hissed softly at the nearly painful strength assailing his mind. A pair of ageless eyes settled on his face with enough force of will that the demon was half-tempted to shiver - it burned slowly, softly, incredibly hot -

"Fancy that," said Crowley, shoving the cake into Wensleydale's arms and gesturing towards the living room almost desperately - he needed an excuse to get away from that burning gaze, from power that made it difficult to think. "I must be psychic, to know you'd all want cake."

'Adam, huh? The antichrist…' "Go eat. I have to check on Sam."

"Can I come with you?" Pepper asked, taking a hesitant step forward. The Them stared - nobody in their right mind would pass up cake to check on a sibling! Adam's stare, if possible, grew more painful. The demon shook his head, nervously.

"No, no, you…er….have guests," he hissed, sidling out of the room without pausing for breath. Pepper looked after him, a faint frown on her face, before glancing over at the boys, two of which were staring longingly at the chocolate cake. Adam seemed annoyed.

She paused, then beamed shamelessly at the group. "Did you see his earring?"

"It was a bloody great earring," Brian nodded, absently tugging on his own earlobe with a free hand. "Sparkly."

Even Wensleydale seemed impressed. "You'd have to be awfully brave to punch a hole through your ear," said the be-speckled boy, nodding wisely. "I bet he's got real guts."

"Course he does," Pepper preened, proud to have such an interesting specimen under her roof. Anthony was almost as neat as Anathema, who Adam had first met. She wondered what the dark-haired man knew about witches . "And he's got a great jacket."

"Leather."

"Black!"

"Think he's got a motorcycle?"

"Bet he has lots of lady-friends."

Dog found a chunk of cake that Brian's fingers had knocked to the ground, licking it up cheerfully - Adam didn't see why dog's shouldn't enjoy chocolate too, and therefore in Tadfield they often did. The boy eyed his pet disdainfully.

"Bet he gets sick of buying chocolate for them!" Wensleydale shook his head, looking very impressed. "You always have to buy chocolate for them, yanno."

Pepper said nothing, but looked with sudden interest at the cake Brian was embedding his fingers in, licking the icing away. Her expression read, very obviously, '….chocolate?'

The Them closed in, save one.

Adam slammed the door back behind him, stalking out into the garden with his hands clenched at his sides. He did not expect to be followed - his subconscious tended to enforce his expectations on other people, and this was one of those occasions. As much as he hated using the 'magic' against his friends, he needed to work something out with just himself for company.

That Anthony fellow was utterly familiar: Adam had seen him before, and what he suspected about him made the young boy angry.

The Antichrist let his senses fan out, reaching about for a grip on the 'babysitter's' mind. He felt Crowley out, he was upstairs in Sam's room, watching the young girl build a tower with blocks - and suppressing a very un-adult-like urge to knock the entire thing to the ground.

Yes, he had seen Anthony before. Perhaps…. Perhaps…

Yes, there. It clicked.

He was there when I changed things,' Adam realized, eyes narrowing to thin slits in his tanned face, still round with baby-fat and soft, despite the freckles. 'He was with that angel, and Anathema knew them.'

Anger, white-hot and stronger than most people could contain burbled through the boy's consciousness. Here he had been happy, had worked everything out to suit his tastes, had made Tadfield extra perfect…and what had to happen? A stupid demon waltzed in, baked a few cakes, and suddenly Pepper seemed to think he was the greatest thing in the world.

Adam was not sure why the thought of the scrawny red-head hero-worshipping someone (other than himself, which honestly, she did not do and never had) stung his pride quite as sharply as it did. Antichrist or not, pre-puberty females were quite alien.

'Why is he HERE? I told them I was through with that! I don't want anything to do with them...!'

But Anthony was there, and he was changing things in his own sort of way. The Them generally agreed on everything, and most of the time 'everything' was what Adam proposed - when he didn't want something, they sensed it, and it was avoided. However, they did it of their own accordance, and Adam felt that naturally, their opinions should be considered in his plans. They were his best friends, his council, advisors and playmates in a twisted sort of filter for Adam's worst plans and hair-brained schemes... they were everything.

And 'Anthony' - whoever he was - was taking them away.

Adam frowned, and somewhere in the distance, thunder rolled. It was not just another midsummer storm.