34. A Love to Possess
The funeral was over, and the assembled guests had finally all dispersed. Susan, however, remained outside, sitting on the ground, looking over the desert night. The night was pitch black, the new moon having set an hour ago. She was not conscious of how much time had passed, and was barely thinking at all. She was filled with an aching emptiness, and didn't even know if she was sad or happy. All she knew was that for some reason, she was feeling a strange sort of contentment. Nancy and Mary were now at rest, and so Susan felt her own soul was finally at peace as well.
"That was so moving, my dear."
Susan didn't turn at the familiar voice. "Yes, it was…" she said softly. "What you said about Nancy…. Thank you. It was perfect."
"Your eulogy was very nice as well," Cockroach noted. "I liked the way you incorporated phrases from Paradise Lost."
"Mary started that," Susan explained. "She was always telling me about ruling in hell and serving in heaven."
"Yes, I remember. She rather liked that poem."
"I don't think it's as simple as she made it out to be, however," Susan added. "I mean, it's not a simple case of serve or rule, freedom or imprisonment. There's degrees. Not even the most powerful people on the planet, like the President, can have true freedom, and even a prisoner still retains the freedom of her mind. What matter where, if I still be the same? Like Milton said. There's a huge range of hells and heavens as well."
"And in the lowest deep a lower deep, still threatening to devour me, opens wide, to which the Hell I suffer seems a Heaven…. That's more Milton," Cockroach explained.
"Yeah. Just when you think things can't get worse, they suddenly do," Susan noted sadly. "Don't I know it." She sighed deeply, looking up at the stars. "I'd give anything to wind back the clock, back to before all this… before I became a monster. It's still so hard to lose a friend," she told him, wiping her eyes. "But… I'm so glad I still have you. After all I've done to you…. Please, promise me you'll always be here for me. You're like a rock, an anchor in my life."
"Is that a good thing?" he asked, concerned. "Do I weigh you down?"
Susan laughed lightly, shaking her head, her silver tresses dancing in the starlight. "No, silly. It's because I'd be adrift without you. You keep me from being wrecked in the storms that have been my life lately. Every time I've been scared and alone, you've been so strong and sure. You've always been there for me… even when I haven't been there for you…."
"I haven't been as there for you as much as I should have, I'm afraid," he said quietly. "I was… I was ashamed, too afraid of what you thought of me. I should have been stronger, braver…."
He trailed off, and there was a long silence. Cockroach could hear Susan's breathing, loud in the stillness of the desert night. Eventually she took a deep breath, and then stood to her full magnificent height, an immense black shape towering over him in the darkness.
"Doc, can we go up to the lake?"
"What for, my dear?"
"I… I need to talk. I need to try and make sense of all my feelings. Talk about life and death, friendship and love. Somewhere we can be alone. And… there's something I want to show you."
"For you, my dear, I am always ready to do what I can to help. What do you want to show me?"
"Something…." she told him, stooping and lowering her hand for him.
Cockroach arched an eyebrow, then climbed on and held her thumb carefully as she gently lifted him up, taking a little more care than usual. Susan headed off, her long graceful legs rapidly striding across the base. In a few minutes they had arrived at the small hollow in the hills, where low cliffs encircled the precious body of natural standing water. Cockroach carefully stepped off Susan's palm and gingerly walked a few steps ahead of her towards the small lake, shining dimly in the pale light.
"Very nice. This was a wonderful idea, coming out here at night," he told her, and took a few deep breaths, inhaling the cool, crisp night air. He stood by the water's edge, looking out over the lake, which reflected the galaxy perfectly in its mirror-smooth waters. "What was it you wanted to show me, my dear?"
"This," he heard Susan say.
"The stars are indeed spectacular," he began, then his heart seemed to explode within his thoracic cavity as she moved in front of him, completely and gloriously nude. Her tall smooth body seemed to glow faintly in the dim starlight, towering above him, her hair sparkling silver against the velvet night. "By Franklin's helix," he whispered, his mouth dry.
Susan blushed. "Come on," she told him, stepping carefully into the water. "Lie with me here, floating under the stars."
After a slight hesitation, Cockroach quickly removed his clothing, and walked nervously to the edge of the water, his heart beating intensely, very glad of the darkness. Susan smiled at him, and he felt his knees go weak. If he could, he would have flushed scarlet at the intensity of the gaze from those huge blue eyes. His antennae vibrating rapidly, he walked slowly into the lake, then let himself lie back, floating near Susan's head. He lifted his gaze upwards, seeing the wide band of the Milky Way arching overhead.
"Look at that magnificence," he breathed.
"Me or the stars?" Susan asked, her tone light but nervous.
Cockroach looked over at her, her long naked body floating on the water, and saw her smiling. "The fiery heart of the galaxy itself would be cast into blackest shadow by the blinding blaze of your beauty, my dear…."
Susan felt her face flush, and was glad it was so dark that he wouldn't be able to tell. "Uh, thanks," she said, unable to hide her smile. "But you're right—the stars are amazing out here."
"A magnificent vault, indeed. Susan, see—there's Polaris, the North Star!"
"Over there, to the north, see? At the end of the Little Dipper. About halfway between the Milky Way and the horizon."
"I think I see it," Susan said. "You know, I always wondered—why is it called the Milky Way?"
"It's a very old name," he told her. "The Ancient Greeks called it the Milky Circle, galaktikos kyklos, because it looks like a pale white band encircling the sky. And the Greek myths say it was milk spilt by Hera when suckling Hercules."
"Well, no use crying over it, then," Susan joked, a little nervously. There was a short silence. "How long do you think it would take to get to the nearest star?" she asked.
"Even with the technology the Panthalassans have given us? Decades, at least," Cockroach told her.
"Hm. Couldn't they have given us the ability to travel to the stars as well?"
"Perhaps. But they deliberately didn't. It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves. We can't keep looking to others to solve our problems."
"Yeah, good point," Susan admitted. "I guess we need to walk before we can run. The galaxy is probably a bit big for us right now."
"It's far too big," Cockroach agreed. There was a brief silence. "It's humbling, however. To lie here and contemplate the infinite grandeur of the heavens…. It really makes you realise how petty, how insignificant we are."
Susan let out her breath gently. "You know, I remember, after those photos of me were released, lying down and gazing up at the stars like this with my mother. It really made me feel small."
"Did… did you want to feel small?"
The giantess turned on her side to gaze down at Cockroach. He was barely visible as a smooth, shiny dark shape floating in the inky water, the stars reflected in his huge eyes.
"To be honest… sometimes," she confessed. "Sometimes I did want to be normal. I thought that maybe if I could fit into your world, into your life… you would… well…. I… I guess I was lonely. I felt so isolated. Up there, above you, alone. Unable to properly interact with you all. Then after I… after what I did in Las Vegas... I thought I was ready to return, I really did. I'd told Mary I would be able to handle it. I thought I could. But… I eventually realised it wasn't Ginormica that was the monster, but me. I would just be running away."
"I remember," Cockroach said quietly. "And I remember how I felt when you told me you needed to return to your full size. Afraid… but proud."
"Thank you for not asking me to stay small," Susan whispered.
"I could never ask that of you, my dear."
"Were you afraid I would say no?"
Cockroach shook his head. "I was afraid you would say yes."
Susan touched him gently, stroking his smooth, warm chitin. "I would have said yes, if you had asked me."
"I know," he whispered. "That was why I could not."
"What if I wanted to be small to be with you, to make you happy?" Susan asked softly.
"No," he said emphatically. "It's your power and strength, coupled with your sweetness and vulnerability, that drew me to you, and I would prefer to admire that Susan from afar than take any of it away for my own selfish reasons."
There was a short silence as Susan let her fingertip trail down over his firm, ridged pectorals and abdominals. Cockroach gazed up at her huge form, outlined against the starry night, barely conscious of the passing of time.
"And maybe…" Susan said, her low voice barely audible, "maybe I thought that if… if I was small again, then I could have a normal life again, I wouldn't have to be alone all my life. But then… but then Mary came. And you were spending so much time with her…."
"I was? I suppose I was, at that," Cockroach admitted. "I was just so excited to have someone I could discuss science and history and literature with. It never occurred to me that I might be shutting out my other friends. To be honest, I'm not good at noticing that sort of thing. I hope it didn't upset you, my dear."
"Well, to be honest, it sort of did. It… it made me jealous. I thought she wanted you. And that you wanted her."
"Why ever would you think that?" he asked quietly.
"She was so much better for you than me," Susan told him, her voice catching. "Why would you ever want me when she was such a better fit? Age, size, intellect… What could I ever give you that she could not?"
"Believe it or not, my dear, love is not a mathematical equation. Sometimes I wish it was, but it's much more complicated. Mary was a wonderful friend. I miss her terribly. But I never felt, not for a moment, what I felt towards you the moment I first saw you. You know that you have been the sun around which my life revolves, from the moment you first arrived."
"Oh, come on," Susan said sweetly, feeling very embarrassed. "I'm not that special."
"You are to me," he told her. "When I look at you, I feel this ache in my heart that only your smile can cure. And when you smile at me, hold me, touch me, I feel a happiness and peace I never knew was possible, and never want to lose."
"Why… why did you never tell me?" she whispered.
"How could I? I'm a bug. A freakish, mutated half-insect, half-man monster. Something to hide away in the cellar. No face as hideous as mine was ever meant for heaven's light. But even more than that, I didn't want to risk losing your friendship. I lost it once, and that was unbearable. Even though I completely deserved it, and worse, for what I had done."
"That wasn't you," Susan told him. "That was a real monster; that was Coqueroche. A different person. You are not him."
Cockroach shook his head. "It's so sweet of you to say that, but I'm always afraid that somewhere inside me, the monster is still there. It is only sleeping, not dead. I need constant vigilance to ensure it never awakens."
"I am a monster as well," Susan reminded him. "I have killed innocents. I was court-martialled for it, you remember. Stripped of my rank and sentenced to six months' imprisonment back here." She sighed. "And, like you, I completely deserve it. How can I call you a monster, when I am no better? We have both hurt the innocent. And yet…. And yet, in a strange way, I'm almost glad I did. Because it helped me understand you," she finished, looking down at the man beside her.
"And forgive me," Cockroach added quietly. "For which I am glad."
"I was wrong to blame you, to hate you. I guess I was just taking out my frustrations about my limitations." She sighed. "If only I could forgive myself so easily…."
Suddenly Susan found herself weeping bitterly, her emotions overwhelming her. All the love, loss, hope and sadness of the last few weeks filled her heart, and she could no longer keep them bottled down. Everything that had happened over the past fortnight suddenly crashed down on her, and the giantess sat up, bowing her head on her knees, and let the pain flow, undammed.
"Grief is the price we pay for love. And if I could weep with you, my dear, I would," Cockroach said with feeling. He stood up and held her finger tightly. "I'm afraid I might not be quite the rock you see me as. I've seldom been as calm as I pretended to be. Sometimes I've been scared, terrified beyond reason. And sometimes… sometimes I've had to fight to keep my feelings in check. There's been so many times I've wanted to tell you what I feel… how I feel…."
"About what?" Susan asked, raising her head to look down at him, her heart loud in her chest, her blood roaring in her ears.
Cockroach looked shyly up at her, then away again, as if he could not face the sight. "I've never been good at expressing my feelings," he admitted. "Sometimes I've tried to pretend I don't have any. It used to make dealing with people's rejection and hatred easier. But… the truth is I'm afraid of emotions—afraid of their power, afraid that they'll take me over, destroy my rationality, which I used to prize above all else. Until… until I found a greater treasure, something I prize even more," he finished, turning his huge amber eyes on her.
"What is it you prize most now?" Susan asked, her throat suddenly dry.
"Do you really need to ask?" he whispered softly.
Susan shook her head slowly, her heart pounding. She curled her fingers around him, gently scooping him up as she stood up straight, the water cascading off her tall bare body. Gradually she brought him closer and closer to her face, to her lips. His antennae tickled her nose as she kissed him as close to his mouth as she could. She could just detect his own mouth on her bottom lip, feel his hands stroke her skin. She let her lips trail up the side of his face, gently brushing it, then gently touched his mouth with the tip of her tongue.
"For I am dying of such love," he whispered, " or so it seems to me…."
Susan wiped a tear away. "I want to be with you. No… I need to be with you."
"You know we can never have a normal physical relationship," he told her sadly.
She nodded, tears of happiness flowing unchecked down her cheeks. "I know," she whispered. "For so long, I thought being… being a giantess would mean I could never love. And every time I thought I was falling in love with you, I tried to tell myself it wasn't happening. That it was crazy, wanting a love I could never physically have. But now, I know… the physical side, making love— that's not so important: the important thing is to have someone to love. You mean so much to me. I… I just want to be able to be in love. And nothing else matters."
Susan kissed him again, holding him carefully as she gently stroked him with the fingertips of her other hand, feeling the smooth, firm curves of his body. This was as physically intimate as she would ever be, and yet, somehow, it was enough: they were bound by the far deeper, richer, stronger ties of emotional love, finally giving her a love she truly could possess.
A FEW NOTES: Well, that's the last chapter, finally. I hope to add an epilogue soon, a sort of dénouement, and set up a few threads for the next volume in the Susan Saga, though there are a couple of one-offs I want to write before any sequels.
There aren't really any factual notes to reference here, other than that Cockroach's explanations about the Milky Way and his use of Milton are accurate. His last line, about "dying of such love," is the continuation of the Sapphos poem I had him quote when he saw Susan a giant again, taken, this time, directly from the Xena poem. "Franklin's helix" refers to Rosalind Franklin, who was instrumental in discovering the structure of DNA.
Anyway, while the epilogue is yet to come, this marks the end of the main story. I hope the ending does not disappoint, and that the effort required to plough through all 160,000-odd words was worth it. Comments, critiques, and even complaints are welcome, as I'd love to hear what people think does or does not work. And to everyone who made it this far, thanks for reading!