Lilah never disappoints; her lazy flicking-off answered me before she took a long drink of her frozen strawberry concoction. I took the time to admire her legs, which certainly did look tan, toned, and long.
“I’ve been waiting for ages,” she said hoarsely. “They let me watch you die, of course.”
“And?” I asked, bracing myself.
“No comment,” she replied. “It’s not your fault Angel damned you all to Hell for eternity, is it? So I can almost see how you’d believe you were going to Heaven.”
For the two of us, this was almost polite conversation. And she wasn’t exactly wrong about my fitness for the heavenly throngs, though I suspected she believed my sins to be somewhat different than I knew them to be. Or perhaps not; it was Lilah who was resolutely showing off her small privileges not ten feet away. While cheerfully ignoring the fact that I would probably be placed on the griddle like St. Lawrence for her enjoyment.
“Do they maintain you here idly, then?” I asked, determined to be pleasant. “Manicures, margaritas, closed-circuit cable television?”
Her laugh was long, low, and disturbingly sexy. I realized that I could not see her face, and that if I could not, I most certainly did not want to see. Vanity was a mortal sin to be punished, and more obviously, Lilah (and I, I supposed) would be a threat to the great powers. She had the bad habit of being distressingly useful from time to time, and then using that to her own betterment.
“Oh, lover, certainly you of all people know what sort of reward I deserve,” she said. “After all, I’ve been a very good girl. The bosses’ go-to girl.”
“I see,” I said, feigning coolness. It was a surprisingly difficult facade to maintain. The idea of what horrors Wolfram and Hart could do to my vain, power-hungry, and dangerous Lilah brought anger rather than fear to my naked belly. “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop?”
I decided that we would be punished enough over the eternities, and that if we weren’t, it was still worth saying. “I’ve missed your competence terribly,” I said. “I think, in fact, it’s rather cowardly of your so-called superiors to confine you to a cell simply because you’re much better than they are.”
The imp hissed at me, pausing in its subtle and slow torture of — and I blamed my weak eyes for not realizing — filing Lilah’s fingers down to bone.
“Smart men don’t say such things,” it hissed.
“Tsk,” Lilah said. “Threats make us look so pedestrian, don’t they? After all, he’ll get used to it. They all do. It’s a veritable Pandora’s Box of punishments, and like the Hotel California, you can check out any time you want…”
She really was quite extraordinarily good. Managing to convey the essential point — that there was hope, even if we couldn’t leave — in the first twenty minutes of what I imagined would be years, if not centuries, of torment? Was subtle and brilliant of her.
“Indeed,” I said. “So, is this point of this that I burn? Or freeze? Or do I just get to watch impotently while you torture someone I cared for?”
“Oh, it depends,” Lilah said. “I bet you might even get a turn in the chair when someone — ow, slower, if you’re going to work a nerve, keep in mind that it’s less torture for him if I pass out — decides to go after vanity and lust.”
“Lust?” I asked with an uncomfortable twitch in my groin.
“It’s a sin you’re guilty of, isn’t it?” Lilah asked lightly, her voice suddenly high and breathless and clearly in agony. And I was suddenly aching, imagining that high voice in other contexts.
“A sin you were excellent at…at…”
“Being the occasion of?” she suggests, her unmarred hand resting provocatively on her thigh. “I suppose I was, at that. Does it hurt?”
“Tremendously,” I said, feeling my heart thud and squeeze in pain from the racing blood flow even as I was unable to take my eyes from her hand and thigh.
“You would not believe how much I took it for lust,” she said, teasingly complaining as a tear fell from my eye. “Hell is deeply misogynistic.”
“It’s not very fond of men, either,” I rasped, my fingers digging so deeply into my palm that the pain of breaking the skin almost felt like relief.
“Well, dearest, you are guilty of enjoying female flesh,” she said hollowly. Both hollowly and with that faint, hopeful smirk that I clung to as I felt my pelvis start to shatter from the burning weight of my erection. “Naughty, stinking female flesh that parted like the Red Sea for your concupiscence. Is that the right word? You know what I mean. We got naked and liked it, so that was corruptive and carnal. Bad Wesley. You might have to be the woman to atone.”
“Oh, you’re not serious,” I groaned. The sheer tedium of the pit was rather annoying, even if the torture was real. “Let me guess. Angelus?”
“Or your dad. Probably more like both,” she said with a hiss as she tried to pull her hand away from the manicurist. “Anyone you even vaguely wanted to fuck. I got Kirk Cameron for a month because I used to fantasize about him when I was fifteen.”
I laughed. “Careful, or they’ll start on your tongue next.”
“You’ll have to do both sides of the conversation then,” she said. “But I think they get bored when I’m voiceless, because then there’s nothing good to punish me for. Can’t punish a bad woman for her wicked tongue when her tongue’s flopping on the floor, can you? And it’s just not as fun that way.”
I could see the tongue as clearly as if it were before me, and a queasy stomach rather got the better of me. Lilah and the imp were both rather disgusted.
“Flopping?” I said. “Did you have to mention it flopping?”
“Rookie,” she taunted. “Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to tough up before you actually see it.”
“And then?” I asked, appreciating the magnitude of time that stretched before us as never before.
“And then you’ll puke again and they’ll cut your guts out,” Lilah said with a chilling indifference. “You get used to it. And the sooner you do, the more time you have to think. Well, between sessions where you’d sell yourself to the devil six times over and fuck the King of Hell and thank him for it if the pain would just stop. Ow! Hey! Shapely stumps, please.”
Hope. Time. The illusory integrity of my own thoughts. A cunning ally who would turn against me as often as I against her. These were my tools against eternal suffering.
And one we didn’t mention, even knowing how it would be used against us, turned into disappointment and hate, made a lever against decaying minds. Love, treacherous love, and the uncertain love of people who had been enemies, and then allies rather than friends. We were probably fools to even imagine it was even the slenderest weapon.
But I would take it, foolish as it was. For even a shard of love was the whole of passion, and in the dead, hot air around us? It crackled, beguilingly, of life, love, hope, and freedom from all three.