A/N: I cannot believe it's been five years since Saving Grace was first published. I promised a sequel back then, and then had to deal with a whole mess of personal and health-related things - but now that Endgame is upon us, I can't help but be inspired. I'm so excited to bring back Grace, Loki, and Amy - and I'm excited to develop a new story for all of you. I'm hoping I'll be able to update this fairly regularly, but until the bar exam in July, this may be the only chapter that gets published. I hope you guys enjoy this, and of course, for those who haven't read Saving Grace, I highly recommend you do so, or this fic won't make sense.
Song: "From The Ground Up" by Dan + Shay
Grace didn't know how many times she had packed, unpacked, and re-packed the two suitcases in front of her, but she did know that doing it again would only make her more nervous. She had only been on this trip once, six months ago, and that had been, well, unexpected. Having two weeks' notice, she thought she would be prepared by the time Loki arrived to pick them up, but somehow, there didn't seem to be any good way to pack. It's not like there was a Zagat's Guide to Asgard, and Loki had been away all this time, so she couldn't very well ask him. Finally, she had settled on a suitcase of clothing each for her and their two-year-old daughter, Amy, along with a smaller bag of the little girl's toys and books. While she was fretting over whether she'd accounted for all types of weather (who knew what the climate in outer space was like?), Amy played with a doll Loki had given her. The doll, actually, looked precisely like her, but almost appeared to have an ethereal glow around her, like she had spent some time playing in the atmosphere herself. She checked her watch. Loki should have been there already. It wasn't really anything to worry about—traveling from space took time, after all—but she was antsy. It had only been two weeks, but this was the longest they'd been without seeing each other in months. She missed him, which surprised her. Two years ago, she never thought she would have anyone to miss.
When she first met Loki, he had given her a name that was not his, a fictional story, to hide who and what he truly was—the madman who had tried to conquer Earth but was only stopped because a group of superheroes had intervened. In the chaos of that battle, a man had broken into Grace's apartment and raped her. That was, in fact, how she came to be a mother. As if that wasn't crazy enough (superheroes? Really?) through a series of very odd coincidences, Loki ended up living with Grace, under that assumed identity. Everything changed then; he had helped her feel alive again, softened her heart, loved her child. And when the trial came, when she was forced to testify against the man who tore her apart, Loki was the one to bandage the wounds. In return, he had changed over that year, from a bitter, angry, selfish soul to a man so full of empathy and warmth that she trusted him with the most precious thing in the world to her.
And then, it almost fell apart. She eventually discovered who he was and was ready to cut him out of her life entirely—a decision that he later acknowledged would have been completely justified. But after some convincing by several people, including a few that didn't particularly like him, she had realized that even gods aren't perfect. She had forgiven him in spite of herself, with the promise of a new beginning on a balcony in Asgard as he held the daughter that had gone from "hers" to "theirs" in his arms. So it was that memory she held in her mind's eye as she answered a knock on her door, wondering why he wouldn't simply come into the home they shared. Amy dropped the doll as soon as Grace opened the door. Expecting to see tall, dark, and lanky, they were surprised to be greeted by strong, blond, and muscley.
"Thor!" Grace exclaimed. "What in the world—?"
Before he could answer, Amy pulled herself to her feet and ran toward him. It seemed, despite having only seen him once, she remembered that he was, in effect, her uncle. She grabbed onto one of his enormous legs as he gave them both a devilish smile.
"Lady Grace." He kissed her hand as he always did, even though she had told him a hundred times that his formality was unnecessary. Then, he reached down and picked up Amy as though she weighed as little as the wind. "And to you, young Amy." Amy looked delighted.
She stepped aside to allow him in. "What are you doing here?"
He set his umbrella—a magical disguise for Mjolnir—down on the bench near the doorway and Amy next to it. "I apologize for the change in plans, Lady"—he stopped as she shot him a look—"uh, Grace. But Loki had business to attend to, urgently. He asked me to apologize, and to assure you that he will be waiting for you on your arrival." She attempted to hide it, but Thor could sense her disappointment. He gave her an encouraging smile. "For what it is worth, I have never seen my brother as impatient as he has been these last weeks." Somehow, he always knew the right things to say.
She returned the smile. "I'm glad I'm not the only one," she said, grabbing her purse. "I imagined he was too busy with the tournaments to think much about us."
"Hardly," Thor replied. "Loki's duties in that regard were purely ceremonial, while Father and I were occupied on Muspelheim. The tournaments are indeed a great tradition, but not nearly all-consuming."
Loki had been called home to assist with the Warrior Tournaments, an annual tradition in Asgard, during which the greatest fighters in the realm compete for a handsome reward—a golden sword made by the dwarves of Svartenheim, and a modest sum of silver. She knew he hated the tournaments, and only agreed to preside over them because Odin and Thor could not. After his exile had ended, he was determined to show his gratitude, including performing ceremonial duties like this, no matter how boring or annoying he found them. She suspected there was another reason, however. He had come so close to losing his families, both the one that adopted him and the one he'd built with Grace, that he wanted to make up for all the ways in which he had taken them for granted.
"Well, that's good to know." She helped Amy into her jacket. "God knows I've gotten so used to being a two-parent household that I need him to have the energy to handle this one for a while. I need a nap!"
Thor laughed and picked up the suitcases and his umbrella. "I'm quite certain your particular god does know."
Grace gave a last look around the apartment, making sure the coffee maker was off, the thermostat down, the candles blown out. Once she was satisfied that the apartment wouldn't explode while they were gone, she grabbed Amy's bag of toys and slung it over her shoulder. "Okay," she said to Amy, taking her hand, "ready to go see Daddy?"
The trip was as bumpy as Grace remembered it, although Amy seemed to enjoy herself as much as last time. Grace loved traveling, but she decidedly preferred to do it by plane. At least they stuck the landing this time; she managed to enter the observatory upright. Heimdall, the gatekeeper of Asgard, smiled warmly at them, his golden eyes alarmingly bright against his dark skin. "Welcome back to Asgard, Lady Grace," he said.
She didn't really think there was a chance of stopping him calling her that, even if she asked politely, so she returned his smile and nodded. "Glad to be back." She then took Amy up in her arms so that they could cross the Bifrost to the palace without risking her falling over the unguarded edge. "How are you, Heimdall?"
He seemed slightly taken aback by the question. Grace supposed it was rarely asked of him. "I am well. I pray you enjoy your visit here."
"Shall we make our way to the palace?" Thor asked, having somehow changed from his "earth clothes" to his Asgardian garb, including Mjolnir in place of the umbrella. He picked the suitcases back up with ease, and carried them on his broad shoulders, Mjolnir secured on his belt somehow.
"Sounds good. I'm exhausted, and it is way past this one's bedtime. We have about half an hour until a meltdown."
As they walked, Thor told her of the arrangements that had been made for her time here. She and Amy would share a chamber, but that there was a separate nursery in the chamber so she could sleep alone. She would have a servant for any need she might have, although he knew perfectly well that she would not use a servant if she could avoid it. There would be an elaborate feast the following evening in honor of her visit. Then, from the corner of his eye, he noticed an odd look on her face for just a moment.
"Grace, is something troubling you?"
"No. No, why do you ask?"
"You seem displeased."
She scolded herself. She usually had better control of her face. "Oh, Thor, I'm sorry. It's just all a little strange for me. The last time there was a feast in my honor, it was my bat mitzvah."
His brow furrowed. "I'm not familiar with that feast."
"Nevermind. I'm just tired. We both are." She gestured to Amy, who had fallen asleep on Grace's shoulder.
He smiled. "It won't be long now."
They walked the rest of the way in relative silence, as Grace took in the details she had missed on her mad dash to the palace the last time she had visited. Contrary to popular belief, there were places near New York City where you could see stars, but even the darkest, clearest sky wouldn't give you the starlight that Asgard held. Everywhere around her were twinkling lights of all sizes, set against an inky sky. The bridge itself was surrounded by a vast sea, which ended in a waterfall draining into space near the observatory. She wondered if that was where Loki had fallen into the abyss that had warped his mind but knew better than to ask. Ahead of them, there were dozens of mountains with buildings and columns seemingly built right into them. Although it was completely dark this far out, the sun was still setting on the horizon, giving the city a gauzy haze around it, bouncing the dying light between shining pyramids of gold. And, at the very center of the city, there stood a towering, golden palace that looked very much like an organ you might see in a Catholic church. This, she knew from the book about Norse mythology that Loki had given Amy, was Valhalla.
After what seemed like an entire day's journey, they arrived at the palace. The guards at the grand entrance immediately stepped aside, and no sooner had they walked through the doors did two servants appear, taking the luggage and carrying it away. She was finally, mercifully, able to put Amy down, and immediately the little girl took off down the long, marble hallway, not stopping until she tripped over her own feet.
"She is quite spirited," Thor observed with a smile. "No doubt a trait she gets from her mother."
"Actually, I think the klutziness is me. The self-confidence, well, she gets that from Loki." She chased Amy down—not difficult, as the girl had stopped to admire herself in one of the gold pillars that lined the hallway—and by the time she turned around, Thor had caught up.
"Shall I take you to your chambers, then?"
"Of course," she replied, "but isn't that someone else's job?" She meant a servant, but he took it another way.
"Ordinarily, I would say yes, but my brother appears to have been delayed further. I will be happy to walk with you in his stead."
"Okay." She detected something in Thor's voice that told her he knew exactly why Loki was late, but she elected not to ask. Whatever it was that had kept him, she imagined, there was a reason she was not being told.
They walked through endless hallways and around several corners as they made their way to the living quarters. She hoped she would be able to remember the way back, trying to take note of any kind of "landmark." There was a suit of armor here, a tapestry there, a balcony overlooking a vast garden, but when they arrived at a grand staircase, she knew they were close. Upstairs, she found herself staring down yet another long corridor, but the walls here were dotted with enormous doors instead of lined with gold. It was also dimly lit, as if to suggest a permanent evening.
"Yours is the first on the left," he said. "Your belongings should be there already."
He passed by her, cape billowing behind him without any wind at all, and pushed open the door. She followed him in, again carrying Amy, who was, after the long walk, back asleep. Immediately, she was awestruck. This room was even more beautiful than she remembered Loki's being. The first thing she noticed was a roaring fireplace, and a plush fur rug in front of it. Just like a movie, she thought. There was also a thin, clear grate in front of the flames, one that did not obstruct their ambiance but still provided protection. It was just like Loki to think of their daughter's safety first. Speaking of that, she desperately needed to put Amy down. The sleeping girl's weight was becoming more difficult to bear by the second.
Sensing this, Thor gestured to an open door next to the fireplace. "Through there. There is also a bath chamber if you would like to refresh yourself." Then, he excused himself, leaving her and Amy to retire for the evening.
"Thank you," she whispered, although he was already gone. Passing through the large bathroom on her way to put Amy to bed, she made a mental note to return to see if there was any Asgardian approximation of bath bombs in any of the cupboards that lined the far wall. Upon entering the nursery, she was awestruck. Someone had taken the time to set up a beautiful, oak crib with gauzy, silver drapes hanging around it, suspended from the ceiling. The lights were already dimmed, as if whoever had done this had predicted Amy would be asleep by the time they arrived. The sound of running water, like a waterfall, was coming from somewhere unknown. When she laid Amy in the crib, Grace pulled her tiny shoes and coat off, but didn't try to undress the girl any further. She wasn't about to wake her up and fight to get a cranky two-year-old into pajamas, especially not by herself. So, instead, she pulled the thick, crimson blanket over the sleeping child, leaned down, and kissed her forehead. Amy barely stirred, exhausted as she was, and Grace whispered, "Goodnight, my little love. I bet you Daddy will be here to wake you up tomorrow." As she closed the door, she completed her thought. "At least, he better be."
Stepping back into the now-empty main chamber, she was finally able to take it all in. The fire was still brightly burning, warming the room just enough to be comfortable. There was a beautiful desk in the far corner of the room, made, it seemed, from the same wood as the crib, with an oversized, padded armchair in front of it. The walls were carved with ancient battle scenes, intricate stories she was sure Loki would be able to tell her, because she remembered that his room had similar carvings. This room didn't have the picturesque view of Asgard that his room had, as it was deep within the palace, but it did have a bed that looked just as comfortable. Actually, it looked even more comfortable than Loki's bed, but probably only because she was more exhausted than she had been at her last visit. Even though she didn't want to fall asleep, she thought there would be no harm just getting off her feet until Loki decided to make an appearance. Her luggage was only a few steps away from the bed, but she was so tired that unpacking anything was out of the question. So she just kicked off her sneakers, slipped off her socks, and hopped—literally, because the bed was so high off the floor—onto the bed.
She laid down on top of the royal purple duvet, sinking into the feather pillows under her head. The blanket was so soft, sort of like velvet but not as fuzzy, and the mattress was almost made for the lines of her body. But when she looked up at the ceiling was when it truly hit her that she was in another world. Directly above the bed was an image of a night sky, just like the one outside, but this wasn't a still image. The stars were actually twinkling, some of them appearing to burst into existence before her eyes. She was mesmerized, and felt peaceful, still, and warm. And just as she thought she was going to drift off under the blanket of this little universe above her head, she heard footsteps, and then a slightly annoyed, familiar voice with a lilting accent.
"I asked them to give you a room with a view, but since I was apparently ignored, I decided to create one for you."
"Loki!" She couldn't get into his arms fast enough, and he laughed as she nearly fell off the bed in the process.
"I have missed you, my love," he said, pressing her against him.
She didn't realize how much she had missed him, truly, until she felt his hands on the small of her back and smelled the sweetness of his skin, like almonds and honey and a hint of icy mint. He wasn't wearing his full Asgardian "battle suit," but he also wasn't wearing what he wore on Earth. It was a hybrid of the two, a black coat with a high collar and black slacks. Underneath the coat, however, she could see the hint of a forest green button-down shirt she'd bought him when he first came back to live with her. It brought a smile to her face to know that he had taken it with him and worn it in the presence of his family, who, other than Thor, she had still not met.
"I missed you, too," she said.
It occurred to him that his first instinct was not to kiss her, although he wanted to desperately, but to simply hold her, smell her hair, feel her body curved against his. He sometimes tried to pinpoint the moment when he had begun to favor these intimacies over the pleasure of sexual release, but the truth was that it did not much matter. He loved Grace well before he ever bedded her, and that love had only grown in the last year. She pried herself away from his shoulder to look into his eyes.
He took her face in his hands, then, and finally did kiss her, deep and hard and full of lust. He had almost forgotten how soft her lips were. But he heard her sigh, one of sleepiness rather than passion. He pulled back, glancing at the indentation on the pillow. "You must be exhausted. Was your trip uneventful?"
"Relatively," she said, "as trips to outer space go."
"And our child?"
Whenever he referred to Amy as "their" child or "his" daughter, Grace felt her heart pound just a little harder. She was once extremely possessive of her daughter, and never wanted to share the job of "parent" with anyone. But when she watched Loki with Amy, tender, patient, and kind, she couldn't help it; she gave up the piece of herself she held most precious and sacred. "She's asleep in the nursery. I think she might actually sleep through the night!"
He laughed. "Well, that would be a miracle. Would you mind—"
"She's yours too, Loki," Grace said, a smile on her lips. "You don't have to ask my permission."
He kissed her gently this time and headed toward the room where Amy lay sleeping. He opened the door as quietly as he could, trying not to wake his daughter from what he was sure was a deep sleep. The room was just as he had prepared it. The sound of water was as soothing to him as it was to her, bringing back memories of time spent as a child by the river near the edge of the realm, conjuring snakes to throw at Sif. The drapes around the crib shimmered, even though the light was dim. He wondered if Grace had figured out that his "important business" that had required him to stay behind had actually been completing this nursery. He crept toward the crib, taking every step as lightly as his six-foot-seven frame would allow.
Amy barely stirred. Her curly, red hair fell carelessly around her face, lips barely parting as she snored quietly. He stood gazing at her for a moment, wishing he could freeze time as easily as he could freeze anything else he touched: at will. When, he wondered, had she gotten so big? Surely, she couldn't have grown so much in just two weeks. He thought back to the infant she had been when he met her. She had the smallest hands, even by Midgardian standards, and he reached into the crib to take one in his own. Again, she didn't stir.
"My darling," he whispered, little more than a breath, "have the sweetest dreams." At this, she moved, but only barely, as if to assure him that she fully intended to.
"Is she still asleep?" Grace asked when Loki returned to the main chamber.
"She is." He removed his coat and draped it over the armchair. "I am surprised that you are not."
At that, she climbed off the bed and met him in the middle of the room, pulling him to her. She kissed him, sweet and slow and full of longing, and put his hands on her hips. "I am tired," she agreed, "but not that tired."
"Good," he said, winding his hands through her hair, knowing what she wanted. The first time they made love, he had been almost afraid to touch her, worried he would hurt her in some unintended way. Since then, she had opened herself to him, in a million ways, including under his touch. She would grab him in the hallway in their tiny apartment and run her hands down his spine, her way of telling him she needed him. Sometimes, he would take her to the bedroom and make love to her as tenderly as he had that first time. He would take his time, kiss every single inch of her, worship her as if she were a goddess. She would, without fail, come undone for him, arch her back, moan so softly that he almost couldn't hear her when she whispered his name. His name. Not the name created for him when he was deceiving the universe about his true nature, when he had first met her. Nothing ever sounded more beautiful to him than the first time she spoke it.
But sometimes? Sometimes their sex was simply feral, full of desperation and need and lust. He still couldn't look at their kitchen table without becoming aroused. Oddly, it was those moments he knew she loved and trusted him completely. That she allowed him intensity, even roughness, in their lovemaking, given all that she had been through, meant everything to him.
She hesitated. "What if we wake her up?"
He grinned a sly smile and led her to the bed. "Are you worried"—he kissed from her shoulder to her jawline—"that you will not be able to control your moans, darling?"
"You're cute when you're trying to tease me. I'm not saying she'll see us or even understand what we're doing, but…"
"But I don't want to be interrupted!" She felt a measure of guilt at this admission, placing her physical desires over her child's needs. But with his mouth moving across her collarbone, the guilt melted away second by second.
"Well"—he straightened himself, to her surprise and disappointment—"I can surely understand that concern. I suppose, then, that we are both lucky that I am a proficient sorcerer."
With a wave of his hand, a gold stream of light shot into the air toward the illusion of night above the bed. Suddenly, the stars fell from the ceiling and melted together to form a sheer, silver barrier between them and the rest of the world.
"This," she replied, "is why I love you."
He took a step back toward her, pushing her back onto the bed. Then, he took her calves in his hands, lifting them to link her ankles around his hips and back. "Are you sure that is the only reason?"
With that, she pulled him forward with her legs so that he came down on top of her. He braced himself with his hands to keep his weight off her, but that didn't stop her from feeling other parts of him pressed against her. "Oh," she sighed as she drew him into a deep, slow kiss, "I suppose there are probably other reasons…but I might need a reminder."