Strength In Numbers
by Dan Spector

"Willow, I am not going to take no for an answer!" Cordelia Chase insisted. "You are going to spend tonight in my bed if I have to carry you in there, and don't think I won't!"

"Well, all right," the visiting wicca reluctantly consented, "but I really wouldn't mind the couch."

"You're kidding, right?" Cordy snorted. "You just lost your best friend -- and you look it -- " the seer pointed out, still tact-averse, " -- you need a decent rest more than anything. Or do you actually want to be at the funeral and look worse than the corpse?"

"Cordelia..." Willow blanched.

"Sorry. Overstated. But you know I'm right." Cordelia gently sat her guest on her queen-size bed and dug into her dresser. "Night shirt for you, because my jammies would be too big," she said, tossing the oversized wine-colored shirt with "Sunnydale" in yellow on it to Willow and taking the pajamas for herself, "and I'll go slip out of my sacrificial-princess bikini thing and into these." She stepped into the bathroom, leaving the door open a crack, and the two twenty-year-olds changed into their nightclothes.

"I don't know," Willow said, calling to the other room, "I feel bad not going right back."

"Hey, we have to take two cars anyway, or you'd have to drive us back afterwards, and just because Angel has to travel at night doesn't mean you can't get some sleep."

"I don't think I can anyhow," Willow muttered.

"What?" Cordy asked, her voice muffled by the toothbrush working over her mouth.

"I said, more griefy than sleepy."

"Don't worry, -- you decent?"


Cordelia came back into the room, now clad in her black satin pajamas. "You'd be surprised," she said, "your body knows what it needs; I bet you drop right off."

"Say," Cordy continued, as Willow went to use the bathroom herself, "should I have outed you to the guys before they left? I mean, you're going to want to lean on Tara tomorrow and I don't want them to be all gape-y at a very inappropriate moment."

"Well, I think Angel always had a clue," Willow replied, "but I guess you could give Wesley a discreet nudge."

"Always a good idea, just on general principles."

"Yeah," Willow said, returning, "I forgot I hadn't told everyone yet."

"Well, duuuh! Naturally you'd only tell your closest friends." Cordelia smiled, remembering their actual, extremely awkward conversation and the previous years of hostility and strain the two of them had shared.

"Uh-huh, that's us," Willow was able to slightly return the smile. "Best Buds forever."

Cordelia turned serious here. "We should have been. You're a really nice person, Willow, and I should have appreciated that."

"It doesn't matter," the redhead said, sitting on the bed again, her back against the salmon-colored headboard.

"No, it does matter," the taller girl insisted. "I was a jerk and I want to say I'm really sorry."

"It's all right, Cordelia," Willow insisted. "And yes, you were."

Cordelia felt better seeing her friend tease her like that. She turned to head out to living room couch, but Willow's voice stopped her.

"Cordelia? This is going to sound really stupid, but I was wondering if, uh, if..."

"Don't be silly, Willow, anything you want is fine. What is it?"

"Well, uh, I was kind of wondering if you could stay with me?"

Cordy fought to keep her eyes from going wide and merely gave a questioning look as Willow continued.

"I know it's stupid, but ever since Tara and I moved in together, I can't sleep -- and I mean SLEEP and ONLY sleep -- if I'm alone. Even that night Tara was in the hospital, Buffy stayed with me, and I realize it's kind of pathetic and clingy, but I thought that maybe if you'd stay we could cling to, like, opposite sides of the bed -- with a good couple of feet between us, and it might help a little if that's okay?"

Cordelia smiled and walked to the opposite side of the bed and climbed in.

"Plenty okay," she said.


"...yeah, baby, we'll get out of here around 8-ish, and I guess we should hit Sunnydale by 10. That'll give me enough time to change, right?...Hmm-hmm, 1 o'clock services,, I'm fine...really, I am. Okay, I mean fine as in 'not dead yet from the horrible painful always-hurting shock' but that's still a kind of fine...How about you? I mean, it's only been a day...Good...Good...I love you, too...forever and ever...good night." Willow hung up the phone with Tara and swung her legs onto the left-hand side of Cordelia's bed.

"She sounds very nice," Cordelia noted. "I'm glad you have someone." She was kind of surprised she wasn't wigged at all by talking about Willow's lover or sharing her bed with a lesbian, but then it wasn't like Willow was going to rape her or anything. Really, she looked very sweet. And so sad.

"Yeah, Tara's the best." Willow's eyes dropped disconsolately for only a split second, and then she lifted them up and added, "I'm so lucky that I found her."

"Mmhmm," Cordy assented, not having missed Willow's brief pause, and quickly shifted subjects. "You know, maybe we should have gone together, after all. I mean, the whole purpose of this LA thing was to keep Angel away from Buffy, and THAT problem, unfortunately, now seriously out the window. Maybe we'll have to stay in Sunnydale, if we need more people to guard the Hellmouth until the new slayer shows up."

"If she shows up," Willow pointed out. "Big planet, plenty of evil."

"If there even is a new slayer. I mean the first time Buffy died, the power went to that Caribbean girl and then to Faith, maybe it did the same thing again and Faith just got another -- oh, god, I hope no one tells Faith!"


"'Cause she'll freak out, that's why, and blow her parole, which is due in two months."

"So?" Willow asked coldly. "I didn't know you did cheerleading for evil psychos, too."

"Yeah, I'm all warm and fluffy for Miss-Elbow-Me-In-The-Face-Leather-Bitch, that's it," Cordelia sneered. "I told you, I was scared every time I walked in here for months after she pulled her ambush jobby. She gives me major creeps, but Angel wants her to get better, and, working for Angel, 'forgive but never forget' is almost my mantra now. Besides, the volunteering for jail thing did take guts, I suppose I wouldn't want her to just blow it over this."

"Okay, maybe. And if she is the only slayer, I guess she can't be in jail, which is a pity because I always thought that Faith and jail were, like, a perfect match."

"Still not the best of friends, I'm guessing?"

"Well, that was a really big knife. And she hurt Buffy so much," Willow added quietly.

There was an awkward pause, and then Cordelia asked the question she had to ask.

"You loved her, didn't you? And I'm not talking about the friend thing, either."

Willow was transfixed for a second, but then nodded her head very slowly, as tears began to well in her eyes.

"Yes, yes. Tara's great -- she's so great, but Buffy..." Cordelia quickly closed the gap between them and took the witch in her arms as Willow began to sob.

"I love her so much. And I never told her -- she never knew -- "

"Shhh, shhh!" Cordy murmured, stroking the smaller girl's back and planting tiny pecks on the top of the red head now buried in her shoulder. "Come on, of course she knew. I mean, hello-o, I haven't seen you for two years -- you should visit more, you know? -- and I knew, I'm sure she did, and she loved you, too, I know she did."

As Cordelia kept holding Willow, she felt her own body beginning to heave and she suddenly burst into sobs herself, which Willow noticed as she began to slow down.

"Cordelia? What is it? What's wrong? You can tell me. Please?"

"I, I, I'm just thinking of you and how it's so totally unfair that you loved Buffy and could never tell her, and you felt you had to just be her friend, and then she dies, and I'm thinking how awful any of that is, and you have to go through it all, and then -- you know me, can't ever stop thinking about myself -- and then I realize that I've never really loved anyone and no one loves me, not like that, and now it's all stupid tears and thank God I took off my make-up already," she concluded with a sniffle.

"Cordy, come on now, you'll find someone, I know you will. And you are going to be a great lover -- I mean, you made a Holy Quest out of cheerleading, imagine how devoted and wonderful you'll be to someone you love. Unlike stupid me, who could never -- " Willow suddenly found herself cut off by Cordelia kissing her on the lips, which she enjoyed for maybe five seconds before pulling away.

"And, uh, uh, you're also apparently a hell of a kisser, but we, we can't -- " Willow continued.

Cordelia, who'd been rendered mute by a mixture of total lust and raging panic, found her own voice.

"Right," she said, "we can't. I mean, Buffy -- "

"And Tara -- " Willow added.

"And Tara," Cordy agreed, "and also, still pretty sure -- this here to the contrary -- not actually gay!" Maybe not as sure as a minute ago, though, she thought. I never have loved a man, after all, but then, that doesn't have to mean "gay", is it my fault they're all such jerks...?

"Couch!" the brunette declared suddenly, dropping her left foot to the floor and starting to rise.

"No, don't go!" Willow cried, surprisingly strongly, and clamped her hand on Cordelia's arm, before both of them looked at the vise-like grip and Willow sheepishly loosened it. "I mean, I still need you -- for the sleeping -- the no-kissing sleeping -- and nothing else is going to happen, and if it does, I'll just push you away again. Pushing worked; I'm good with the push. I've even got spells for it, and everything." How I'm going to do those spells with Cordelia's tongue in my mouth, that I don't know, Willow added silently to herself.

"Well, o-kay," Cordelia said, sitting back down, not really convinced by the argument, but wanting to at least give herself the lesser thrill of resisting temptation. Oh, God, Willow is "temptation" now, she thought, what is happening to me? "But no more kissing, right?"

"Right, no more kissing," Willow nodded in agreement.

There was an awkward pause.

"Maybe...ONE more kiss?" Cordelia asked softly, leaning in slightly.

"Maybe..." Willow agreed, but then pulled away. "No, we can't," she said.

"Uh, right, it wouldn't be right -- " Cordelia lied affirmatively.

"No, I mean, I could do one more, but that would end up being at least three or four, and I couldn't do THAT."

"Oh, okay," Cordelia said, turning towards the bed table lamp, still rather shocked she was so disappointed. "One thing, though," she added, turning back to the girl she was really glad to have in her bed, " 'hell of a kisser'?"

"Hell Of A," Willow confirmed, smiling. "Capital Letters."

"Wow. To be expected, but still, from the first girl I ever, wow." Cordelia glowed, turning out the light. "Oh, and Willow?" she asked the other girl.


"If you wake up with my arms around you and me groaning, don't worry, that's just one of my spectacularly annoying, excruciatingly painful stupid vision thingies, okay?"

Even in the dark, Cordelia was pretty sure she could see a mischievous eyebrow being raised in response. "Oh, really?" came the voice back to her.

"Well, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it," the actress smirked.

Willow smiled a happy smile, and then wondered what the hell she was doing, flirting with Cordelia of all people when she was supposed to be grieving for Buffy. Oh, and also, she already had a girlfriend. (Right, Tara, her girlfriend.) Well, she supposed, sometimes people are really vulnerable when they're grieving and they make emotional connections that way. And Cordelia had known more about her love for Buffy than, than Tara had, so maybe she felt close to Cordelia because of that.

And besides, here she was in bed with the girl who had always been the prettiest girl in school, a girl whom Willow had known her whole life, and she thought, given that I turned out to be a whole lot more than just "kind of" gay, maybe I always had a crush on her, like all the boys did.

For a brief, horrifying, moment Willow worried that she had only fallen in love with Buffy because she had been a Cordelia substitute, like her girlfriend back in Sunnydale, Tara, had only been a Buffy substitute (well, maybe that wasn't true, she did really like her, her girlfriend, Tara, that is). But she fought off that worry; she knew that however wonderful Cordelia might be, however much she might come to love Cordelia (or Tara, who was her girlfriend), Cordelia wasn't Buffy, there was only one Buffy. And now there wasn't.

"Cordelia?" a small quavering voice asked in the darkness.

"Huh...yes?" a sleepier voice answered.

"Did Buffy really know I loved her?" Willow pleaded.

"She knew," Cordelia answered, rolling over on her stomach, her left arm reaching across Willow's body, her hand caressing the cheek on the far side of Willow's face, her fingers wiping away the tear she knew was there. "She loved you. Buffy loves you right now."

"Buffy loves me," Willow sighed, crying a few more tears of silent joy and loss, and then the two girls drifted off into what was in fact a very peaceful sleep.

To be continued