TITLE: Distorted Reflections
SERIES/SEQUEL: Sequel to The Reality of Absence
AUTHOR: Katarina "Katta" Hjärpe ( head_overheels@hotmail.com )
RATING: PG-13 for violence and foul language
SUMMARY: There's nothing like a demon pregnancy to determine who the really champions are.


"Hey, Alonna," Bobby said, swallowing the bite he'd taken of his sandwich before he sat down with the others. "You're a friend of Carmela Juarez, right?"

"A bit, yeah." She looked up from her own meal, surprised at his sudden interest in her friends. "Why?"

"Well, is she... uhm..."

"If you have to uhm about it, the answer is probably yes."

The way he squirmed was almost endearing, and caused quite a bit of laughter from the others.

"Thing is, she seemed a bit... pregnant."

"What?" Not that it was very surprising in itself. Alonna would just never have expected Carmela to stay pregnant long enough for it to be visible. And Bobby wasn't exactly the perceptive type. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah, I'm sure. She was really huge."

Her mind stood still. "Bobby, that's impossible. It's not that long since I last met her."

"She's probably just gone fat," one of the others interjected.


"Shut, up, both of you," she snapped, still watching Bobby. It was clear he meant it. "It must have been a joke or something."

"Didn't look like a joke. She was crying."

That was so completely unlike Carmela Juarez that Alonna's eyes automatically went to Gunn, asking him to come up with an explanation. As if they were still kids and he was the big brother who could take care of everything.

But Gunn looked just as uncomfortable as the rest of the guys. How entirely typical.

"We got to check her out," she said to him. "I mean, either she was pulling Bobby's leg, or... or there's something really weird going on."

He averted his eyes. "Whatever you say, sis."


Of all the people that might have shown up at Wesley's doorstep, he never would have expected to see the girl who was with Gunn. Her name was Alonna, but when he saw her standing there that wasn't what came to mind. She was the girl who was with Gunn, and he wondered if she knew that, knew how much he envied her for it. It didn't matter if they were friends or lovers, she was still the person standing by that youth like an extension of his being - or maybe he was an extension of hers.

"Do you know anything about supernatural pregnancies?"

She must have seen his consternation, because she continued: "I have this friend who got pregnant overnight. I mean, nine months pregnant overnight. And, you know, that's not normal."

"I would say not." He opened the door wider. "Do come in. But why come to me?"

She stepped in, mercifully not commenting on the state of his motel room. There was a certain absurdity to the situation. He didn't much like her, and he got the feeling it was mutual. And yet here she was, requesting his assistance in matters people who knew him would have found too complicated for his talents.

"The gang's great at killing demons. It's a bit trickier when the thing to be killed is inside someone else. Plus -" she gave him a wry grin "- if I as much as mention 'pregnancy' my brother tries to hide under a table. Not unlike you right now."

She had a point, of course. Embarrassment wouldn't help. Neither would his mind being currently stuck at "brother", as if that actually made any difference whatsoever. He forced himself to concentrate on the problem. "Go on."

"That's pretty much it, really. She doesn't know what caused it or what to do about it, and neither do we. So we talked it over, and decided to ask you."

He wondered whose decision that had been, hoping for Gunn's. "Well, I've heard of demons who can only reproduce by implanting a human woman with their seed. The women..." He hesitated to tell her what he had learned of the women.

"Don't feel so good afterwards?" she suggested. "Do you know what to do about it?"

He shook his head slowly, and she shrugged. "Well, it was worth a shot. See you."

So coming to him probably hadn't been her idea. Which made it all the more vital that she didn't leave empty handed, claiming he was useless. "Wait. I have some books that might be of importance when it comes to identifying the demon in question."

"Books are good."

"Indeed. It might take a while though - perhaps we should bring them with us?"

That was so transparent she must understand what it was about, but even though her eyes narrowed a bit she didn't protest. "Sure, we can do that."

It took until he had stacked the books on the table before he saw the need to reconsider that idea. Sure, he could carry the books - but not open the door, or lock it, or in general look as tough as he'd like to right now.

She solved the problem for him by picking up the stack. "Is that all of them?" The question indicated a certain irony - there were half a dozen books, all quite large.

"No, but I think they will do for the time being."

They both smiled briefly, and the tension eased a little.

"Well, if you don't have anything else, at least you got a lot of reading material."

"Yes. I... I thought of selling them, but I couldn't quite bring myself to do it."

She let her hand stroke the cover of the top book, and he turned from the sight, going back to the door.

"You're not going to use them anymore?"

"I don't quite see how I can make it as a demon hunter." Or anything else, but that he wouldn't tell her for the world. His university degree had been in obscure languages only useful to translate old prophecies and other things found in demonology. And it seemed he had disqualified himself from manual labour.

He struggled with his jacket, hoping she was too preoccupied with the books to pay much attention. But when he turned back, she was watching him with an intensity that bordered on rudeness. She didn't give him a chance to forget what he was. Then again, neither did politely averted gazes like Gunn's.

"I wish I'd let Gunn come with me."

That surprised him, mainly because for the first time in this entire conversation he didn't. "Why didn't you?" he asked as he stepped outside, taking the key out of his pocket.

She stepped out after him with the books propped up against her chest. "I just hate to see a man blush. Two is more than I can handle."

A joke. He appreciated the effort, but he had asked in earnest and wanted an answer.

They walked down the stairs and were out on the street before she spoke again. "My bro's like a kid poking the big dogs with a stick. He's got to see how close he can get before they bite him."

He'd never been one of those children, but he'd always admired them, and so he got her point. Because the fascination above all was reserved for the child who was bitten.

Did she really think he'd use a status based on *that*? He tried to wrap his mind around that preposterous concept as they walked down the stairs. Most of the time, he was just trying to forget that anything ever happened, forget the stares, the dull ache where his arm used to be, and she thought he'd just flaunt it in front of Gunn to get in his high esteem?

They reached the street, and Alonna dumped the books on the floor of the truck. Wesley would have been shocked to see his precious reference literature so carelessly treated, had not her brother been sitting in the driver's seat, eyebrows raised in amusement.

"Thought you'd never come."

And it appeared Alonna had been correct after all.


"I don't understand. I finish the night's work, go to bed, everything's fine - only when I wake up, I'm like *this*."

Carmela looked at them pleadingly, and Gunn averted his gaze. It wasn't his fault this had happened, and he would feel so much better if he knew what to do about it. At least then he could get past the guilt he was feeling, that stemmed from relief. This could have happened to Alonna, had things been different, and he couldn't help it, he was incredibly relieved he'd been there to keep her safe.

She could have been the one. Instead she was playing nurse, holding Carmela and cooing sweet comforting noises, and wasn't that a laugh? Alonna didn't do sweet, not unless they were in some serious danger, and so if nothing else it told him that she was scared. For Carmela, sure, but possibly for herself too. There were no guarantees for a girl in L.A. except that shit happens - again and again.

Wesley was sitting cross-legged on the floor looking in books. A nerdy course of action, but it fitted him somehow. And it wasn't as if they had any better options. Wesley shrugged with his bad shoulder - at least Gunn interpreted it as a shrug until Wesley looked up in confusion, blushed, and reached out for a book. Gunn hurried to look elsewhere.

"But the weirdest part," Carmela was explaining to Alonna with intermittent sobs, "is that it's not just a demon thing, you know? It's not just what they did to me, it's *me*. It's a part of me, so I'm what has really changed, you know? It seems like the world is different, and it's really just me."

"It's gonna be okay," said Alonna, and then addressed Wesley: "How's it coming?"

"Badly, I'm afraid," he replied, browsing the second book. "Carmela, have you had any human... sexual encounters lately, that you found strange somehow?"

Gunn nearly choked, and even Alonna seemed momentarily stunned. But Carmela smiled for the first time since they arrived.

"None I didn't know from before. Except there was this guy..." She frowned. "Rich guy, nice car. But his money smelled weird."

"Weird how?"

She made a move to get up, but was too heavy to manage. "My wallet's in the top drawer."

Alonna dug through the drawer until she found the wallet, and took a sniff. "Gross." She handed it over to the guys.

Gross didn't even begin to describe it. Gunn grimaced at the smell. It couldn't have been much worse if something had died in there. "Telling you anything?" he asked Wesley, who shook his head.

"Okay," Alonna said, taking it back. "Give me a description and I'll check the streets, see if anyone knows a rich guy with smelly money."

Wesley looked shocked. "I'm not sure that would be entirely wise."

"I have a better chance of finding something out than you two would," Alonna pointed out.

"Lighten up, English," Gunn said, sitting down next to Wesley on the floor.

"I just find it unsuitable that..."

"You want to go out there and ask hookers nosey questions?" Alonna asked. "No? Just as I thought."

She got the basic, very human description of the perpetrator from Carmela and headed out. Gunn noticed the look on Wesley's face and smirked.

"She knows what she's doing. You don't have to play superhero for her sake."

"Well, if you say so..."

"I used to think about pregnancy, but I never thought it would be like this," Carmela said.

Wesley got up from the floor and went over to her, somewhat awkwardly. At least if he comforted her, Gunn wouldn't have to.

"Of course you didn't. Nobody expects something like this to happen."

"You know what?" She looked up at him. "I think I'm going to name him Damien."


"Darla, can you please stop doing that?"

Angel had willingly stepped into the borderlands when he felt the pain of a vision coming on, but the sight of Darla sucking the life out of the pregnant woman made him reconsider his decision.

"Don't be such a baby," she told him, blood on her lips. "She's not dead yet."

The woman was pale and withered from the blood loss, only her belly not shrunken and wasted, and that seeming to grow larger every passing moment. Yet she gave Angel a reassuring smile.

"I'm fine," she said. "Won't be this that kills me."

"What will be?"

Darla and the pregnant woman both smiled in perfect understanding. Next thing he knew, Darla was bending over and ripping open the woman's belly.

Small, demonic creatures welled out, more and more of them. The woman was still smiling, even as her face withered away. The last thing he saw on it before it fell apart completely was that blissful smile.

He looked up in horror and saw Darla cradling the small demons in her hands. Very slowly, she let them drop to the floor. More pregnant women came up behind her, crowding them both.

"They are so many," Angel said, not sure what he was to do about that.

"Pretty maids all in a row," Darla taunted, dropping another demon from her hands. He grabbed her, trying to stop her from making her garden grow.

"Is this a vision? Am I supposed to stop it?"

"You were, but now you're not." Darla smiled at him, and before he could react, she had put one of the little demons in his mouth. "There are other champions. The Powers leave nothing to chance."

The demon was large enough to fill him mouth, but somehow he still managed to swallow it automatically before he could stop himself. "Other champions? Who?"

"We're both on a need to know basis here." And the face was still hers, the smile was hers, but it was Doyle's voice she was using and he could have hit her.

"Don't ever do that."

"Ooh, scary, Angelus." She moved closer. "I made you what you were. They made you what you are. But tell me, which one of us made you such an ungrateful bastard?"

His nails dug into her skin. "What am I? What do they need me for, if they have other champions?"

"You're the messenger."


"You are."

"Doyle is the messenger."

"Doyle is dead."

"Not here, he isn't."

Her smile widened. "But you're not staying here."


Wesley took off his glasses, rubbed his eyes, and took a second look. It was there all right. He felt a surge of joy, followed by a surge of disappointment. Since Gunn was still busy with his own book, Wesley cleared his throat.

"What's up?" Gunn said, raising his head from the book so fast Wesley suspected he'd been close to falling asleep. Carmela had done so a long time ago.

"I think I've found the demon. Actually, I'm quite positive I've found the demon. And it appears if we kill the father the spawn will die too."

"Great!" Gunn clapped Wesley on the back, and Wesley tried to pretend that didn't hurt. It was a touch.

"There is a bit of a problem." He didn't particularly want to speak about the bit of a problem, but it seemed he would have to. "The demon is practically indestructible."

That sobered Gunn a little. "Practically indestructible or actually indestructible?"

"I doubt there is such a thing as an actually indestructible demon. But it's immune to decapitation, and fire..." He sighed. "And the size of it..."



"Ever encountered a demon like that before?"

What a laugh. As if he'd ever make it past a demon of that size. Except of course, that he had made it past a demon of that size - without being very helpful, admittedly.

"There was a quite huge demon in Sunnydale, where I was stationed before."

"And you killed it?"

"Well." He wanted to sound good, but he couldn't quite manage to lie. "Collectively."


"We blew it up. That one wasn't immune to fire."

"Okay, so not fire and not sharp stuff. So that leaves us with what? Ice and blunt stuff?"

"Yes, why not throw ice cubes at it?"

At first he regretted snapping like that, but Gunn's grin made him change his mind. Before either of them could continue the conversation, the door burst open and Alonna stormed in.

"I got the guy," she said breathlessly. "Dirty, shitheaded bastard, I got him. And trust me, he's not going to impregnate anyone any time soon."

"Great," Gunn said. "We got the demon. And we're thinking of throwing ice cubes at it."

She stared at him. "Of course you are. You're both idiots."

Apparently tasteless and improper jokes were a natural part of their conversation.

"Seriously, though, what do you do with big hard-to-kill demons?"

"Everything you can think of, probably," she said. "Can we put this on hold a minute? I'm going to check on Carmela."

Alonna disappeared into the bedroom and returned right away. "Where *is* Carmela?"

"In there, sleeping," Gunn said, looking just as confused as Wesley felt. The room was small, and even if Carmela had taken the effort to get out of bed there wasn't anywhere to go.

Alonna shook her head slowly. "Uh-uh. She's nowhere in sight. You know what, though? Back door's open."

If Wesley's priorities had previously been the kill, rather than the victim, they changed that very second.


Apart from Alonna, no girl had ever punched Gunn before. But Carmela wouldn't let anyone hinder her, and now his eye was swelling up. It would have been utterly embarrassing if Wesley and Alonna hadn't looked just as bad. Of course, he'd only gotten a quick glimpse of Alonna before she told him that if they couldn't stop Carmela, following her was the best option, and wasn't it lucky that she was the smallest person around?

"So, now we have two girls in there," Wesley said, rubbing his jaw. "And possibly a demon."

"Alonna can take care of herself."

And as if to prove him right, he spied Alonna sneaking out of the warehouse. Her shocked demeanour told him a thing or two about what was in there.


"Real fucking huge demon," she corrected him, eyes wide. "And a whole bunch of pregnant women. If I'd known the john had been this busy, I'd have hurt him a whole lot more permanently."

Fabulous. Gunn shook his head, trying to figure this one out. Killing the demon was hard enough without having to worry about a bunch of innocent people.

"Did you contact the others?"

"Yeah," he said, eyes narrowed at the warehouse entrance as if he expected the answer to show up there. "They're coming as soon as possible. But you know, I was counting on a kill and run sort of thing, with grabbing Carmela somewhere in the middle."

"That won't work."

"Yeah, I figured that one out. How many women are we talking about, anyway?"

"I don't know. Twenty?"

"Twenty!?" That was Wesley chiming in. Gunn echoed the sentiment, but not the words. He had spotted the gang driving up, the truck loaded with weapons. If they didn't have a plan, at least they had an arsenal.

"Okay," he said as soon as the truck stopped. "Let's head inside."

He didn't quite know what he had expected the pregnant women to be doing. But it sure wasn't stepping into an icky bath and preparing to have their babies. From what Wesley was muttering, that wasn't something they were going to survive.

"Any great ideas?" he asked over his shoulder to the group.

"We could set off the big bombs and make the roof cave in," Rondell suggested. "That ought to kill him."

"And us." That was Alonna.

"Hey, I didn't say it was perfect."

The creature was looking in their direction. Not a good thing. Gunn was pretty sure it hadn't discovered them yet, but he still ducked and gestured for the others to keep their voices down.

"Okay. James, what are our weapons?"

"Uhm... spike bombs..."

"Might work, but we'd risk hurting the girls. What else?"

"Rifles, for some reason. Molotov cocktails."

"Haven't you guys heard anything I said about this demon?" Of course, he'd told them to improvise. But improvising didn't mean bringing the same weapons they always did, regardless of what they were about to face.

"Nitro...gen?" James sounded confused. "What the hell? I said nitro-glycerine."

"Nitrogen will do just fine," said Wesley. It was the first thing he had said since they entered. Mostly he had just looked surprisingly pale for someone who had presumably seen it all. Now he turned to address the group.

"Hurl it as close to the demon as you can. We had rifles, yes?"

The boys looked at Gunn, who at first didn't know what to say. He didn't mind people with good plans taking over, but Wesley hadn't actually said what his plan was. Then he realised what was going on, and his mouth curled up.

"Ice cubes, huh?"

"I should say so."

Gunn nodded, grabbing the drum of nitrogen. It was important to get it as close to the demon as possible, or it wouldn't work out. Dangerous, sure, but worth the risk. He ran down the room, and when the creature turned its head towards him, he yelled, "Hey, beast boy! Catch!"

The demon caught the drum with ease and looked down at where Gunn was standing, quite a bit below him.

"Why are you bothering me, human?"

"Actually, I planned on killing you and saving these women. You game to thrown down?"

The demon stepped forward.

"Apparently so," Gunn mumbled. "Shoot!"

And he threw himself on the floor just in time to hear Alonna's bullet fly over his head. She was a good shot. The demon screamed for a split second, and then its frozen body silenced. Instead, the scream was repeated in many voices from the women. Gunn turned his head and saw how their stomachs slowly deflated. He crawled back to his feet and returned to the others with light steps.

"So, that worked out well."

Alonna stopped on her way down to the women, rifle in her arms, and looked at him. "And you're not seeking out danger? Right."

He meant to answer, but she was already moving on, and he had the others to think of. James was standing in a position almost as frozen as the demon's, and Gunn slapped him kindly.

"Thanks for the nitrogen."

James shook his head slowly. "You know, I could have sworn it was nitro-glycerine when I swiped it."

"It worked, who cares? I'm just glad Wesley is such a fast thinker."

He looked over James's shoulder down towards the ex-pregnant women, who were leaving for the exit with the aid of his group. Wesley was leading Carmela back, his arm across her shoulders. His eyes met Gunn's, and he gently let go of Carmela, letting her proceed alone.

"Go on. I need a word with Gunn."

"You do?" Gunn couldn't help the question from coming out of his mouth. "About what?"

But Wesley said nothing else, and Gunn had to wave for the others to go ahead without them. When the last person had headed out the door, he nodded at Wesley.

"What you did just now..."

Gunn braced himself. That low voice sounded an awful lot like Alonna's before she started yelling at him.

"It was incredibly brave. And I feel I owe it to you to tell the truth."

There was an extended pause, and Gunn knew he should say something, only his mind was on pause and there was nothing *to* say.

"I was fired from my previous job, because I was incompetent and cowardly. I came to L.A. tracking the *wrong* demon, which was by the way already dying, and I was pinned to a wall by its mate because I refused to let it die in peace. I have messed up more than should be humanly possible, and I let you think I was a hero because I didn't know what else to do." He paused, and then added, "That's all."

All of a sudden, he looked so much shorter. And younger. And most important of all, terribly tired. Gunn was still trying to make his mind work this out, and he had a suspicion he'd be terribly angry when he did. As it was, he only raised his eyes and looked at the demon at the other end of the room.

"It's dead, isn't it?" he said.

"Uh - yes. Yes, it definitely is."

"So what's the problem?"


With all the traumatized women they had to return to their homes, it was a while before Alonna got a chance to talk to Wesley. During the long rides in one direction and another, she watched him closely, and noticed the increasing distance between him and Gunn. A couple of times she pulled the already written note out of her pocket, looking for a trash can to put it in. But when she passed a trash can, the note was always already back in her pocket.

And so when the last woman had been taken care of, Alonna stood outside the headquarters with the note hidden in her hand, and she still wasn't sure if she meant to throw it away or give it to Wesley as she called him to come talk to her.

He'd never looked particularly perky, but now he looked so tired it bordered on illness. And he'd just helped save her friend. The best thing to do would be to let him work with them and help him fit into L.A.

"You wanted to talk to me?"

Or the next best thing.

"Do you want a job?"

His brow furrowed. "I beg your pardon?"

She hoped her voice didn't ring as false to him as it did to her. "If you do, I know a place." Even though she had by now nearly decided not to, she handed him the note. "This is the address and phone number of Anne Strong. She runs the teen shelter; I'm sure you've seen it."

He turned the note over in his hand. "I have."

"She took over last month, and I know she's still looking for help." Her hands felt weird without the note to hold and fold, and she stuck them in her pockets to keep them still. "It's not like some fancy office job, but it'd give you a chance to move out of that motel."

At first he did nothing at all. Then he nodded slowly, closing his hand around the note. "Anne, was it?"

"That's the girl."

He could decline it, of course. Figure out what it was she was actually trying to do and tell her to go shove it. She smiled at the possibility. But then again, it was a good offer, and a true one. A guy in his position shouldn't turn something like that down.

"I'll give her a call."

He nodded again, this time as a brief goodbye, and started walking down the street. She remained, feeling strangely disappointed, like a child who had just had her Christmas present taken away - and she actually knew that experience first hand. And that was just silly. This was what she had given him the note for. You didn't wave an offer like that around if you didn't mean it. And Anne had been asking her to help her find some people. She was just keeping a promise.

She returned inside and found Gunn stacking away the weapons. He hadn't noticed her, and she let it stay that way, watching him in silence for a while before getting ready for bed. After all these times, he knew how she felt about his stunts. The one tonight had been somewhat more stupid than they normally were, but not surprisingly so. For each mission, he was getting closer to the edge, and it was her job to keep him away from it. She'd send anyone to Hell who tried to stop her.

Wesley Wyndham-fuckhim-Pryce should count his blessings.


Angel lit a few lamps, but the shadows remained. The room was mirrored in the large window, and he walked up to it, watching the reflections of his furniture. It was all there, every last detail, except him. According to the mirror image, he didn't exist. He'd contemplated that many nights before, but now as he let his fingers brush the glass he took the thought further. Say that the mirror was the image telling the truth, and the world was lying. One lie so easily led to another. Who was to say where they stopped, and which mirror image was the distorted one?

"I won't let you die," he said to the man he couldn't see in the mirror, but whose burning face was always in front of his eyes. "I know you can hear me, and I don't care if you tell me it isn't real. The mirror isn't real, and yet it tells me the truth."

He didn't get a response, but that didn't matter for the time being. Still staring into the dark window, seeing the world outside behind the image of his furniture, he continued:

"Here's the deal. You're the messenger. You'll always be the messenger for as long as I'm here. I'm the one who goes out and fights the things, but then again, that was always my part. And I get the headaches, which is fine. I can probably take them better than you anyway.

"Actually, if there's an upside to all of this, it's that you'll never get any more of those headaches. Or hangovers, or colds, or any of those things living people get. You're dead. What difference does it make? I'm dead too, and I'm still hanging around. I won't let you bail on a stupid notion like that. Not when I know you're in there.

"Now, I know you don't like this - any of this. You've been throwing Darla at me to try and stop me. Dirty fighting. Then again, as a punishment I deserve it. But I'm not going to take intimidation tactics. I don't care what you show me, as long as you're the one showing it I'm staying put.

"I can't love you the way you loved me. I'm sorry about that, but there's nothing I can do about it. But you were... about the only friend I've had in a very long time. And you died for me. I wish to God that you hadn't."

He closed his eyes, trailing his fingers over the glass to erase the scars on a long gone body.

"But you did. And I'm going to keep you alive, every way I can. Even if you hate me for it."

He opened his eyes again and stepped away from the window. It was time to get outside, kick some bad guys. Before he left, he turned off the lamps again. And the mirror image disappeared.


Back to K