Angel stared at Lilah, dumbfounded, for several moments before he came to his senses enough to respond. "What did you just say?
"I said the Senior Partners have your son, Angel," Lilah replied matter-of-factly. "What, don't tell me you thought things would go well for him after you broke your contract." When Angel said nothing else, Lilah let out a sharp bark of laughter. "You did, didn't you? Wow, and you'd think by now you would have gotten over all that annoying, yet easily manipulated naiveté." She took several steps forward, Angel's defensive posture not putting her off in the least. After all, what could he do to her now that she was dead?
"Here's the abridged version so you can play a little catch up," Lilah said, only a few feet away from Angel now. "When you made your deal with the Senior Partners, they gave you something in return—that something was Connor, healthy and normal. But you turned around, stabbed them in the back, and waged war on your benefactors, Angel. Did you honestly think they were going to keep their end of the bargain if you couldn't keep yours?"
For once, Angel was at a loss for a comeback. He hated to admit it, but Lilah made a good point—one he should've realized before. It shamed him now to realize he hadn't even considered what would happen to Connor if he took on Wolfram and Hart after their deal. He'd just blindly accepted his son would be fine.
Over two hundred and fifty years of existence should've taught him things never worked out that neatly.
"I won't let them keep my son," Angel snapped.
"No, of course you won't. They were banking on that as a matter of fact," Lilah replied with a cold smile, reveling in the fact that finally, she had the upper hand over Angel.
Lilah stepped back, walking back and forth in front of Angel as she began talking again. "Now, the child of two vampires, that's a nice little collector's piece, you have to admit, and one the Senior Partners wouldn't mind keeping. Maybe they could have him stuffed and mounted."
Angel started forward, anger flaring in his dark eyes, but stopped short when Lilah turned towards him again, the smile on her face making him uneasy in a way she'd never been able to manage before.
"But you, Angel. Having your dust in a jar—nothing could make the Senior Partners happier."
Angel crossed his arms over his chest and met Lilah's gaze, refusing to be intimidated. "So they're using him as a bargaining chip. Me for him. That's why you're here."
"That's pretty much the drill," Lilah replied with a look that told Angel she was enjoying this more than he could ever be comfortable with. "Your son can live as long as you agree to hand yourself over to the mercy of the Senior Partners." Lilah shivered. "This is just making me all tingly."
Angel felt resignation hanging over him. He'd known things would ultimately end like this. Cordelia coming back hadn't meant he would get to have her—nothing ever worked out that way for him. Instead, he'd made a foolish decision, and the price of that mistake wasn't paid in full. He knew there was no real choice here for him to make anyway. Despite anything that had happened in their past, Connor was his son, and Angel didn't hesitate over the thought of trading himself for him.
He opened his mouth to respond, but before he could say anything, Cordelia had stepped forward, coming between Lilah and Angel. "No, that's not how it's going to work. It's going to go like this—your bosses are going to give me a challenge. If I complete it, then Angel and Connor's lives are mine. If I lose, then they can have us both." Cordelia gestured between herself and Angel.
Lilah frowned, Cordelia's move taking her by surprise. "I really don't think…" She began even though her words were drowned out by Angel's reply.
"Cordy, no. No. You're staying out of this."
Cordelia turned towards him, her expression set firmly in determination. "No, I'm not staying out of this. I'm not about to let you go, not again. This is the only way, Angel."
Angel shook his head. "I can't let you do this."
"Oh, but it's too late. She's made a bargain. And I can never refuse a bargain."
Angel turned sharply, taking a step backwards from the man now standing with them in the lobby. He was tall and breathtakingly beautiful, with clear blue eyes and long, blond hair. "Who are you?"
The man laughed in response, a sound Angel found altogether unsettling. "I suppose you of all people wouldn't know what the true face of an angel looks like, now would you?"
Angel's brow furrowed and again he asked, "Who are you?"
This time, the man responded with a sweeping gesture with his arm. "Let's just say, I'm a man of wealth and taste. But I'm not here right now for you, Angel—though I'm sure I will be soon." He pointed to Cordelia. "She's the one who wants to play a game of Let's Make a Deal."
Angel started to protest again, but Cordelia stepped forward, pushing him aside. She knew they didn't have time to weigh the options, and she would be damned before she'd let herself lose Angel again after all they'd been through to get to this point. She'd do whatever it took to preserve the one real thing she had left.
"I do want to play," Cordelia replied, her hands crossing over her chest. "But first, you have to agree to one more term."
"And that would be?" the man asked.
"When I win, not only do I get Angel and Connor back, but Angel's soul stays—permanently. No more of that 'pure happiness' clause, nothing. Angelus is gone. Forever."
Cordelia had been afraid that trying to tack on this extra bit would anger the man, but instead, his lips spread in a slow, wide grin. "So this will be a quest for love then? Oh, those are the most interesting to watch. I accept your terms."
"Then give me yours," Cordelia replied, her gaze steely.
The man then sighed, as if this part of the conversation was making him incredibly bored. "Fine, a challenge. How about I send you on a quest. For something, oh, I don't know, I'll call it…the Cup of Perpetual Torment." He paused there, smirking, and Cordelia didn't miss the way Angel began to squirm. She got the feeling she was missing out on some inside joke.
"So this Cup, I get it and what?"
"You manage to find the Cup and drink from it, and you get your boys back—and Angel's soul is from here on out a permanent fixture. So are these terms to your liking? This is normally the part where people start making sure to ask for wealth, fame, and fortune."
Cordelia shook her head. "I've already been offered that before, and I don't want it. I want this."
"Seems like very little to risk your life for. Are you sure you don't want me to throw in something else? A car…maybe a plasma screen television? Those are quite nice."
"I told you what I wanted, now get on with it already," Cordelia snapped.
"Fine." He snapped his fingers and a table appeared in front of him. On top of it was a piece of parchment and two pens. "Sign this and the deal is sealed."
Cordelia took a step towards the table, but Angel reached out and grabbed her arm. "Cordy, don't do this, please. I'm not worth this."
She turned, smiling softly at Angel as she reached up to rest her hand on his cheek. "Yes, you are. We are. I've waited a long time for us to get our chance, and I'm not going to pass it up now."
"But this is insane. Whatever he's going to do to you, it isn't going to be easy. He's toying with us, Cordy. I can't let you…"
"And you're not letting me. I'm doing this on my own."
"Cordy, please. This is crazy."
"Love makes you do the wacky," Cordelia replied with an almost sad smile. She slipped her arm out of Angel's grip before kissing him softly. "I'll see you soon, Champ."
When she began to walk towards to the table, Angel tried to follow her again, only to be suddenly stopped by an invisible barrier. He snarled, beating against it in desperation and anger.
"And there you go with the futile bouts of rage again," Lilah said, reminding Angel of her presence.
Angel turned on Lilah, his eyes flashing yellow. "I'm not going to let her do this. I'll…I'll make some sort of deal of my own, keep her from having to make one."
Lilah shook her head. "No can do, Angel. You already made your deal. And didn't even bother to peruse the contract, if I remember correctly—which I do. At least she's not making that mistake."
Angel turned back towards the table, watching as Cordelia read over the parchment. "Don't sign it, Cordy," Angel called out to her. "Please, don't do this."
He didn't know whether she couldn't hear him or if she was simply ignoring him, but Cordelia didn't turn towards him as she picked up a pen. She touched it to the parchment, and the faint smell of Cordelia's blood wafted to Angel, letting him know she was signing her name with something other than standard ink. He called out to her again, though this time it came out as nothing more than a frustrated growl. Angel watched as the man added his own signature to the parchment, then picked it up with a grin.
In a flash of light, they both disappeared.
Angel roared, slamming his fists against the invisible barrier. Suddenly, it gave way, and he stumbled forward, hitting the floor of the lobby face-first.
"And you're supposed to be a Champion," Lilah said, smirking.
Angel got to his feet, his eyes narrowing on Lilah. "Where the hell did he just take Cordelia?"
"You saw as much as I did, Angel," Lilah replied. "I…" She stopped when a faint ringing sounded from inside her suit jacket, then reached inside to retrieve a cell phone. Angel couldn't tell what was going on from Lilah's side of the conversation, but when she snapped the phone shut and turned to him again, he quickly found out.
"A waiting room has been arranged for you. A limo will be out front to take us."
Angel stiffened. "A what? I want you to bring Cordelia back here. Call whoever that was and make them get her back."
"I can't do that, Angel. But if you come with me, I can assure you that you'll be able to see her."
"And I'm suppose to what, trust you?" Angel asked. "The last time I got into one your evil limos, Lilah, absolutely nothing good came of it."
"And yet, you made the choice to get in," Lilah pointed out. "No one forced you to make any of the choices you made this past year, Angel—and you didn't have a lack of soul to pin it on either. You did what you wanted to do, and now your friends are dead and your son is in the hands of the Senior Partners. That's all on your head. So cut the high and mighty crap."
Angel found himself at a loss for a response. She was right. He knew it, and she knew it.
Lilah started walking towards the front door before she turned around to face Angel again. "So are you coming or not?"
With a sigh and more than a little reluctance, Angel followed Lilah out of the hotel.
Cordelia groaned, the headache she was currently nursing reminiscent of the old days of painful visions. Not sure of her surroundings other than the fact she was face down on a hard surface, she opened her eyes and pulled herself up to her feet.
Immediately, she wished she hadn't. The world she found herself in now was desolate and dark, and the promise of what it held in its shadows was more terrifying than anything she'd ever faced before.
In a whisper, she gave voice to what she saw.
"I'm in hell."
I'm sorry it's taken me so long to update this story. Life has been pretty big on the busy and hectic lately, and I haven't had time to write very much. However, I don't have any intentions of abandoning this story. What I would like to know, however, is if the majority of you want me to post updates as I get them (even if there maybe time between new chapters) or if you'd rather me wait to post anymore until the story is finished (which may be a while from now). Let me know, and I'll make a decision from there.