Perhaps it was the rich combination of a hundred subtle smells - bergamot, honey, rose - or the lights of a hundred mirrors shining endlessly from each other's silver.
Somehow she always felt at peace there, in whatever city she happened to be in at the time; they were places out of time where she did not need to think, to plan or to fight.
It wasn't even as if she did much to her face any more - whether it was just good genes, or her part demon nature, she looked almost the same at fifty as she had at twenty-five. A few years of vision-damage had brought her early to a plateau of maturity which she might never lose. A little eye-liner, a little lip-gloss...
And of course she moisturized religiously every night, but only so as not to tempt the gods.
The cosmetics counters of big department stores were a part of who Cordelia Chase was - they were the place where nothing could touch her, where she could walk in entire confidence and watch other women walking with the same confidence.
Other tall chic women with poise and large hats - so nice to have lived until large hats came back around, again.
Tall chic women - how wonderful still to be among them.
They were part of her sense of sisterhood, and part of her sense of self.
She had had many good friends down the years, but none with whom she could share that particular sense of peace and being at ease. None of them had ever quite shared her taste for the lights and the smells and the hundred thousand mirrors.
It was not their way of being quiet and at peace. And of experiencing short moments of the purest pleasure.
A part of that pleasure was looking at the new shades of red or brown or gray and thinking 'perhaps' or 'never in a million years'.
A part was wistfully remembering dead friends that particular red or brown or gray would have suited. For as long as she could think of how to make their look over, for as long as she could think of their living faces as canvases to study in detail and change a little for the better, they were not quite dead or gone.
It amazed her that she was fifty, and still so shallow, and still here.
She had come to LA to seek her destiny and, oh boy, had destiny seen her coming.
Thirty two years of the mission - more if you counted the years when she flounced around the edges of the mission being even shallower than she was now.
She caught herself in a mirror looking almost solemn and smiled that million-dollar smile at herself. So shallow, so mature, so chic.
Then, as she glanced away, she caught a pair of sardonic painted eyes glancing into the same mirror.
Eyes she had not stared into for decades, but remembered almost as if they were her own. Her own eyes, reflected in a mirror of different choices.
She turned, not sure whether to smile or snarl or prepare to fight.
'Lilah Morgan', she said. 'It's been an age.'
'Cordelia Chase,' Lilah said. 'I had no idea...'
'Always some of us around,' Cordelia said. 'Champions of humanity. And how nice that you finally learned my name.'
'Oh,' Lilah said. 'You didn't take that seriously, surely. Of course I knew your name - it was just so easy to annoy Angel by pretending you were not important. And annoying Angel, well, that was my job, back then.'
She has worn well, Cordelia thought - still that crucial inch or two taller and still that coiled pantherine energy and that knowledge that gray suits were what worked for her. Evil always was quite a good employer.
Yet something is different - thirty seconds in and already something that sounded like an apology. It's the sort of moment of weakness in a strong bad woman that could make a girl want to hold her down and see if you could make her scream.
Inside her head, Cordelia pulled herself up straight and shook herself; so not going there. Thirty seconds and already losing control.
'Coffee?' Lilah said.
'Why not?' Cordelia said.
They walked through the cosmetics department in silence and up to the coffee counter with its high stools, where, alone or in pairs, other chic women with long legs sat sipping expresso, or eating tiny pastries, or adjusting their lip gloss in small mirrors.
'So,' Cordelia said, after they had ordered, 'how's evil these days?'
'Same old, same old,' Lilah said. 'Since the War ended, it's all management seminars and moving the chairs around. Six years in the Pit of Abaddon; six months in Riga. And now back to LA.'
'Ah,' Cordelia said. 'Good thing about the Powers is that being a jealous god thing. They don't share. Especially not the bossing people around thing. Which means I never get kicked upstairs and don't have to do any administration.'
Lilah pulled a face. Strange that she keeps that same luscious dignity even when doing that with her mouth.
' I can never work out whether it's them trying to be a caring employer that involves subordinates in decision-making' she said. 'Or just another way of giving you a taste of eternal torment.'
'Still,' Cordelia said. 'You're looking well on it.'
'Hey,' Lilah said. 'Eternal chic is part of the package...But you seem to have managed that all by yourself.'
Cordelia smiled that killer smile. 'I live right. What can I say?'
'So,' Lilah said. 'Is there any particular reason why we have met here?'
'Not that I am aware of,' Cordelia said. 'This is a vision-free deal. I'm not aware of any prophesies. I know destiny rules our every move, but chance does still creep in from time to time, you know.'
'That's a relief,' Lilah said. 'Always nerve-wracking to come in after your favourite brand of hand-lotion and meet the Powers' principal assassin.'
'Yes,' Cordelia said. 'I'd imagine you need quite a lot of hand lotion. Washing your hands all the time...And I don't regard myself as an assassin - killing the evil never more than a byproduct of the Champion of Humanity deal.'
'If you say so,' Lilah said. 'So you're not here after me. In a blood vengeance sort of way. Only I came out without my bodyguards today, so I am completely helpless and unarmed. I know you good people like to keep track of these things.'
'Sorry, Lilah,' Cordelia said. 'You don't cross my mind from one month to the next. I assumed you died years ago. Like everyone else. As for the unarmed thing, it really wouldn't make that much of a difference. Not to me. Hello, one of the good guys here, but that doesn't mean one of the stupid, noble good guys. Trust me, if this was your day to die, you'd bleeding on the floor right now.'
'No. Not bleeding. Still here,' Lilah said with a bitter little smile. ' I know just how good you are. I read your file every so often. Always have. Just to keep up to date. I don't know where you get the energy.'
'Oh,' said Cordelia, sipping her coffee. ' I always have the energy.'
'Apparently so,' Lilah said. 'Any time I feel like slacking, my personal trainer shows me the tape of you closing the San Jose Hellmouth just to motivate me. Sometimes, your swords move so fast it's like they pass through each other.'
Cordelia sat back and looked at Lilah with enquiry in her eyes.
'Still the same callous bitch with good cheekbones...The whole evil fan-girl thing is new though.'
Lilah's sneer disavowed anything of the kind, but her hungry eyes said something else.
Cordelia continued to look at her, steadily and with growing amusement.
'As you say,' she said. 'You don't know what it's like on the other side. All these squeaky clean evil little boys and girls and demonettes who look at you with admiration, lust and envy in their eyes, lining up to crawl into your bed so they can knife you in the back. They all think there is some magic to sleeping with me, that somehow it will make them better at being bad. I just don't do it any more - you just get comfortable with someone's toothpaste in your bathroom, then you find the traces of their aura in your personal files and you have to disembowel them on the way back from the movies.'
'So you read my files instead? I suppose a habit of wishful thinking is a key part of working for evil.'
Lilah smiled back at her with small predatory teeth.
'Oh yes,' she said, 'so much so that I was thinking about asking you out to dinner, or perhaps just drinks, at my apartment.'
'That,' Cordelia said,' topples over from wishful thinking into pathological delusion. And also, from stylish bitch from hell, so very sad.'
'This from a woman who hasn't been on a date since the War. Except for your ghost, with his loofah.'
'Files not up to date then; Dennis went off down that tunnel into the light, oh, years ago.'
'Since the War, I can't get the help. We used to have a good Files department, but she broke.'
Lilah paused for a moment.
'No dates at all then, ' she said. 'Seems a shame'
' I've been busy, and besides, hello, mourning here. Great loves of life, killed by, oh yes, forces of evil. In whose army, you are at least a general these days. Burning hatred, not inappropriate. I could reconsider that not being an assassin thing and the you not lying on the floor bleeding thing'
'You could,' Lilah said. 'But why bother? It was all a long time ago and no-one wants to rock the boat. And it is a long time since I, personally, did anything to anyone you care about. And, yes, in case you're wondering, this is actually a pass being made here. After the appropriate decent interval.'
'Whatever,' Cordelia said, and signalled for a bottle.of mineral water.
Lilah did the same.
' The burning hatred aspect of things,' she said,' doesn't actually extend to walking out, then.'
' Oh no,' Cordelia said. 'But it certainly doesn't extend to losing my mind under the strain of sexual desperation and jumping into bed with the human representative of absolute evil, either. And I just know the sheets would be black satin or something tacky.'
'Unbleached Egyptian cotton,' Lilah said. 'I'm evil, not suburban.'
'Oh,' Cordelia said. 'So that's all right then.'
She sipped her water.
'Sexual desperation,' Lilah said. 'So we at least have something in common.'
Cordelia found herself pulling exactly the same face she had noticed Lilah pulling some minutes before; oh well, at least I look at least as good doing it.
'You need to live more dangerously, Cordelia,' Lilah said.
'As opposed to what? closing a Hellmouth with just a katana and a sabre. I know you have a high opinion of yourself, but I don't think your bed is actually a dimension of ultimate peril. Just the one place where a middle-ranking executive gets to feel herself in control.'
'As opposed to the lonely place where an over-the-hill champion lies alone and keeps up to date on her mourning.'
'It isn't just the mourning thing,' Cordelia said. ' The thing about the forces of good is that, either they are pure and noble warriors who want to go on respecting you and so pretend they didn't notice you coming on to them. Or, they are creatures with issues and curses and personal traumas. Bad boys, bad girls, only good. And bless them, I love them for it, but I'm tired, Lilah, I'm tired. Each of them thinks they invented black leather and eye-liner and I'm supposed to kiss them and make the pain better. And I did it before - I did redemption and relapse and recapitulation. I got the campaign medal; I got the t-shirt; I got the scars, but those went away.'
'Oh, I hear you,' Lilah said. 'You have a history; I have a history - and you know what, an awful lot of it is the same list. Somehow, sooner or later, we both get most of them. You're the good girl with the dark edge; I'm the bad girl with the nice apartment.'
'If it's the same one,' Cordelia said,'it's a very nice apartment indeed. I remember coming round there one night and you were looking interestingly battered and drinking single malt like it was Evian. But it's not as nice as my apartment, even without my ghost.'
'Ah well,' Lilah said. ' On the one hand, vast condo paid for as wages of ultimate darkness; on the other hand, nice architecture and rent control. Maybe there is a Cosmic Balance out there.'
'It's true,' Cordelia said,' thinking about it. That night, when you shot Billy, it must be almost thirty years ago. We do go back a terribly long way.'
'That's the thing,' Lilah said. 'I remember the first time I ever saw you - you elbowed that fight promoter down among his beasts, neat as anything, and I thought, oh goody, forces of good have got someone worth knowing for a change. Slayers, say, never know how to dress.'
'Or how to moisturize,' Cordelia said. 'Tell me about it.'
Lilah really does still look quite wonderful, she thought, but it would all be a terrible mistake. Setting aside the evil thing, for the moment, there is also the control issue. Her wanting it; me losing it - really really better not.
'It's been a long time,' Lilah said.'Long enough to be a decent interval.'
Cordelia lifted her glass, and realized she was out of water and they were both out of time.
Lilah hastily finished her glass as well.
The waiter came over.
'Will you and your sister be wanting anything else, Miss Chase', he said.
'I'm not her sister', Lilah said.
'Are you sure?' the waiter said. 'Because I'm definitely getting some sort of long lost, found again, vibe here.'
' Time was,' Cordelia said,' when everyone in the service industry had a screenplay tucked behind the register. Now everyone's a psychic.'
'Only not very good ones,' Lilah said. 'Or he'd know what people like us do to annoying clairvoyants.'
'Speak for yourself, sis,' Cordelia said, flashing the smile.
'Oh,' he said. 'I'm sorry. Not sisters - something else. I'm picking up a word. Or maybe a sneeze.'
'Oh for heaven's sake,' Cordelia said. 'Not champions on the field of battle, mutual destiny. Not that again.'
Lilah looked baffled.
'Your files really suck, then,' Cordelia said. 'It's a Pylean thing, you wouldn't understand.'
Oh well, she thought, Lilah is a very beautiful woman still and if it's a destiny thing, the control issue is out of the window. But just to establish that once and for all...
Cordelia's eyes wandered a second.
And then, she said, 'Oh, OK then, seems like I do have dinner with you, at your apartment.'
And then, 'Seems like you get to make that pass again, and yes, you told the truth for once. Unbleached Egyptian it is.'
Lilah pulled yet another of those oddly attractive faces, this one sort of little girl with the wrong present at a party, said, 'So, you wouldn't when I asked you, but you will when the visions tell you to. How am I supposed to feel about that?'
'Hey,' Cordelia said. ' Like evil girl caught up in destiny. You don't control everything; get used to it.'
A thought came to Lilah.
'Now the visions aren't painful any more...'
'Let's not go there,' Cordelia said. 'Because I might remember boils. And you wouldn't want that.'
'But how do I know you had a vision, really? Rather than just suddenly changing your mind or meaning to sleep with me all along and just playing mind games.'
'You don't,' Cordelia said. 'But hey, you're the queen of mind games, so figure it out, only not while we're in bed. I hate my lovers to be distracted from me'
She reached over and pecked Lilah on the cheek.
'I might be letting you seduce me or maybe I'm seducing you. It might be frothy casual sex, after a decent interval of burning hatred, or it might be the pre-ordained start of something that will shatter worlds. Or maybe I'm going to torture you slowly to death in honour of dead friends. Live dangerously, Lilah.'
Cordelia took Lilah's arm and the older taller woman shivered with the delicious firm force of Cordelia's hand.
The two women left the store out through the cosmetics department. Two chic tall women, who might be sisters, might be lovers, reflected endlessly in glass, walking among light and bergamot, honey and mirrors, rose and silver.