Disclaimer: Not mine.
A/N: This is really long and a lot of crap happens in it. I couldn't find a good stopping point so it just kept getting lengthier and lengthier. Hopefully, you all will enjoy it. It's not the last chapter.
Was she really ready for this?
Probably not, but what choice did she have?
Grace stood in the center of her room, dressed and ready to go despite the late hour.
Or early hour, depending on how one looked at it.
The boys were tucked away in Betty's apartment. She knew that they were relying on her to bring Loki back to them.
Everyone was relying on her.
Sighing, she raked her fingers through her hair.
She didn't know how long she'd be gone, but hopefully it wouldn't be more than a few hours.
Thor walked up to her, and, when she craned her head back to look up at him, she noticed his look of concern.
"I know you must be doubting yourself," he said, "but you are making the right choice."
"I know," she breathed nervously. "I just wish I didn't have to leave the planet to do so."
"I feel that I must warn you about his condition. Physically, he is quite weak. His body is emaciated and unkempt, even his wounds have become infected, but the worst is his mind. His grief has poisoned him and robbed him of reason. It may be difficult for you to reach him."
"And your father did this to him?" she asked, horrified.
"My father has told me that he is not treating Loki as a son, but as a criminal. While I believe the idea has some merit theoretically, in actuality... there is no justice in prolonging his incarceration. My brother has learned empathy and has seen the error of his ways. I believe it would be best if the punishment ceased and the rehabilitation is allowed to blossom."
"So what happens when your father finds out we're trying to smuggle Loki out?"
"He will object."
"Then we must try to reason with him."
"And does that usually work?"
Thor's silence was answer enough.
"Great," she sighed.
"It is time," Thor said, stepping closer to her. "The trip will be disorienting. It would be best to be close."
Grace hesitated, but figured if it really was a crazy ride, clinging to him would provide some support. She just hoped if they fell, she wouldn't be the one breaking the fall.
"All right, then."
She wrapped her arms around his middle, noticing that doing so just felt odd. He wasn't slim enough, was too warm; it just felt wrong. Like putting a shoe on the wrong foot. Physically, it worked, but the instant you did it, you realize the mistake. But still, she held on, feeling him wrap his arms around her tightly, just as a blue light encircled them.
An instant later, she experienced the most nauseating, dizzying, stomach clenching, unsettling feeling in the world. Thankfully, it only lasted a moment before they were back on solid ground. Her knees buckled as she was jarred; she could feel Thor tighten his hold on her while his back collided with the wall and he leaned on it for support.
"Let me go," she groaned.
Immediately, he released her.
She took a step back from him while placing her hands on her knees. She inhaled deeply through her nose and exhaled through her mouth, keeping her eyes closed and trying desperately to keep the contents of her stomach inside her body.
It took a moment, but she finally felt herself stabilizing.
"That was certainly harrowing," she sighed.
Once she was sure she was all right, she straightened and looked around, noticing their cavernous, dank surroundings.
"Where are we?" she asked.
"Deep beneath the Asgardian castle."
"This is where Loki has been for weeks?"
"Yes. His cell is at the bottom of this staircase. I will wait for you here. Summon me if I am needed."
Grace nodded, thankful that she would be able to do this in privacy.
Taking a deep breath, she slowly started making her way down the stairs, her eyes straining in the dim lighting.
Finally, she saw the bars of his cage. She held her breath while she walked closer, seeing the inside of the grim cell. The whole area was silent and she had to strain her vision even more before she could see him huddled in the corner.
Tears came to her eyes, but before she could open her mouth to speak, the lights went out for a moment. In the pitch darkness, she heard metal scrape along metal, and then, just as quickly, the flames flared back to life and she could see again.
Grace blinked as her eyes adjusted, and it was then that she noticed that the door to the cell had opened, but Loki had not moved.
Not one inch.
A sharp spike of fear quickened her already racing heart, and she glanced towards the stairs.
Although a part of her warned not to go further, she could not help herself.
This was Loki, and he needed her help.
If this was merely a trap... well, she would just have to cross that bridge when she got to it.
Slowly, she moved forward, gripping the cold, metal door and opening it wider. She stepped into the cell and released the door, her eyes focused on the man inside.
Taking another deep breath, she approached him.
"Loki?" she whispered, heart in her throat.
At the sound of her voice, his arms tightened around his head, body curling into itself even more.
At least he was cognizant.
"Loki, please. I need you to look at me."
He shook his head, hands moving to cover his ears. With his arms out of the way, she saw that his eyes were tightly clenched shut.
"I always hear, but never can I see," he muttered quietly.
Her heart twisted at his words. Evidently, Thor hadn't been lying when he had said that Loki was haunted by her voice.
She lowered herself down until she was kneeling beside him, hesitating slightly with the thought that she might somehow make this worse.
With a fortifying breath, she placed her hands on his wrists, taking a gentle, yet firm hold of them, careful of the infected wounds. At the touch, his eyes snapped open, head whipping towards her while he inhaled sharply; the move was so sudden she almost jumped out of her skin. Grace nearly fell over at the first real sight of his face, at how the weeks had caused him to waste away, leaving him looking as if he was death itself.
It broke her heart.
It shattered it.
"Grace?" he questioned, his wide eyes zeroed in on her with blatant disbelief. His voice was hoarse and rough, but it still managed to hold his usual, elegant cadence; the mere sound of it was like a homecoming in and of itself.
"It's me," she replied quietly, tears welling in her eyes once again at his expression of tortured hopefulness.
"But you're dead," he muttered, then a brief flicker of relief flared in his eyes as he continued to gaze at her. One dirty hand rose to cup her face. "Have I finally joined you? Can I rest now?"
There was such weariness in his voice while he spoke, so much so that it caused the tears to spill over and run down her cheeks.
"No, Loki. Not yet. You have to fight a little longer," she whispered.
"I can't," he nearly whimpered, closing his eyes again, his body sagging towards her. "Please don't ask me to." His hands fisted her clothing, and, despite his emaciation, he had the grip of a drowning man clinging to a life raft. Death itself wouldn't be able to pry him away from her.
Even as her heart wrenched at his agony, anger heated her blood. How could someone do this to him? There was punishment, but this was simply cruel and unusual.
"Look at me," she urged, taking hold of his jaw and turning his head towards her. After a moment his eyes opened again, but this time, they were without hope.
"Is this a new torture? Keep me alive, but now I'm haunted by the sight of you, too?"
"No. I'm not here to haunt you. I'm here to get you out of here."
"You're dead. I saw you. I held your body and prayed that you would return to it, but you didn't. I couldn't protect you. I failed you. I'm so sorry, Grace. I'm so, very sorry. Please, don't leave me now. I will cherish your ghost, if it is all I have left, but please... don't leave me again."
Grace swallowed a sob, clenching her jaw until she could speak without choking.
"Your father lied to you, Loki. He took you away from me and made you see things that did not happen." With misery still etched into his features, he tried to turn his head, but she forced him back to her. His emerald eyes, usually so full of mirth and love, were dull and lifeless, but still, she forced him to focus on her words. "I lied to you, as well. You think that I stopped loving you, but I never did and I never will. No matter what happened in the past or what will happen in the future, I love you. I know what you've done, and I still love you with everything that I am. I can't live without you, Loki. I need you to come home. So please, I need you to dig deep, find whatever strength you have left, and fight just a little bit longer. Do it for me. Do it for the boys, but most of all, do it for yourself because you deserve the chance to love and be loved, to make things right."
His brow furrowed, gaze falling as he considered her words.
Could she be right?
Was it all a lie?
Was she not really dead?
He had had this dream too many times, of her coming to him and saying she loved him, of forgiving him of his sins.
But he always woke up.
"Grace," he said, already shaking his head. "I-"
A wave of desperation overtook her, and, with both hands, she took hold of his face, leaning over him and pressing her lips to his. It took a moment before he responded, kissing her back while his hands gripped her even more tightly and tugged her closer.
When she needed to breathe, she pulled away just enough to meet his gaze.
"I am not leaving you here," she said, her tone dripping with finality, even if her voice cracked just a little at the end.
Loki blinked, his eyes looking a little clearer.
"This," he breathed as he glanced around the cell for a moment. "This isn't a dream?"
"No. The dream has been this lie that you've been living for the past few weeks. I'm here to wake you up from it."
"But what I saw-"
"Your father made you think those things. Try to remember what happened right after I left the apartment," she urged, her thumb gently caressing the curve of his jaw.
His brow furrowed while he said, "I was heartbroken. I felt empty inside and then my knees gave out. I couldn't believe that it was over, and I was thinking when- I think the room darkened for a moment, then- there was a pain in the back of my skull, then nothing." His hands fisted as another memory came to the forefront of his mind. "That wasn't the first time," he continued to whisper. "That happened to me before I was-"
Sent to Earth...
That thing did that to him.
Brow furrowing, he tried to remember what it had been.
That cloaked creature.
Magic radiating from the shadows.
The ability to manipulate dreams.
His eyes widened as he realized what that thing was.
What was the Allfather doing associating with one of them?
If his torment was really caused by that entity then...
That meant Grace and the boys didn't die.
Everything had been a lie...
She was really here with him.
Tears pricked his eyes as he glanced over at her, wanting to pull her close and feel that she was truly alive, but he couldn't help but think that she'd recoil from his touch.
She knew everything.
Seeming to know what he was thinking, she reached forward to grip his hands tightly, pressing her forehead to his.
"Later, Loki. We'll figure everything out later, but first we need to get out of here. Okay? I need to get you home."
He felt like he couldn't breathe. Grace was really alive. She was here. With him. The boys were okay. Everyone was okay.
A lump formed in his throat at the sheer strength of his relief.
"Grace," he managed to whisper raggedly.
Tilting her head, she kissed him again. He could taste tears, but did not know whose they were. His brow furrowed, his hand cupping the back of her head while he kissed her back desperately.
She was back in his arms again. With him.
Where she was supposed to be.
But how could Odin have done this?
Could the Allfather be so cruel?
Deep down, Loki knew that he was.
"Loki!" she gasped, pulling back from him breathlessly. "Please."
He nodded, and, slowly but surely, she helped him as he got to his feet, his body swaying slightly.
Grace shifted so that she was beside him, pulling his arm over her shoulders while wrapping her arm around his waist, noticing that he had lost a substantial amount of weight as well.
With a sure grip on him, she led him out of the cell, straining just slightly as he rested upon her while trying to move.
"How did you get here?" he asked, glancing over at her, as if still unable to believe that she was there with him.
"Your brother came and got me."
"I don't know. Whirlwind magic? That's what it felt like."
Loki frowned, concentrating as they began to climb the stairs. It did not take too long before they made it to the first landing.
"Brother!" Thor cheered, smiling broadly at the sight of the two climbing the stairs.
Quickly, he moved closer to assist, pulling Loki away from Grace so that he could bear the burden.
Loki, however, whipped his arm out, gripping Grace's sweater.
She looked up at him, seeing the panic in his eyes.
"It's okay. I'll be right here," she said, putting her hand on his back. "I won't leave you."
Loki nodded, trying to let go of the anxiety before turning his attention back to their ascent.
Right now, all they could afford to focus on was their escape.
Silently, they made their way up the many stairs. Loki stumbled a few times, the weak condition of his body giving out often, but he was always caught by Thor and Grace.
Eventually, they got to main level of the castle.
"How are we to leave Asgard?" Loki asked breathlessly.
Thor cleared his throat awkwardly while glancing up and down the hallway.
"Wait," Grace said, forcing her gaze from the golden beauty of the decor to glare over at the blond. "You do have a plan to get us all out of here, right?"
"Getting you to Loki was the most pertinent part of the plan."
"That's a no," Loki said to Grace.
"How did you pop back and forth before?" she asked.
"Some creature I found lurking around the cell helped me."
"Some creature?" Loki questioned, his usual, mocking tone resurfacing from the depths of his depression. "You brought her here to break me out of my imprisonment, to openly disobey the Allfather's plan, and you did not even have a way to get her back to Midgard safely?! Do you have any idea how much danger you have put her in by your carelessness?! Did you not even recognize what that thing was?!"
"Loki!" Grace scolded. "Do not speak to your brother that way," she said in her Mom Voice. After a moment, she took a deep breath and continued, this time speaking quietly, "I would have come anyway. Thor told me that you needed me, and that was all that mattered. His impulsiveness was for your life. Do not punish him for that. Understand?"
With a clenched jaw, he nodded, albeit reluctantly.
"Now," she continued. "I'm sure that between the two of you, you can come up with some sort of solution."
"That will not be necessary," a new voice said.
A guard stood at the very end of the corridor. He must have given some sort of signal, because soon the entire hallway was filled with guards, the ones closest to the culprits aimed their spears towards them.
"The Allfather requests your presence."
The guards on their left moved forward, forcing them to move.
Grace glanced at the solemn look on the brothers' faces, and she didn't need to be told that this was bad.
They wound around some more hallways before two huge doors were opened and they were ushered inside a great hall.
Grace couldn't help but crane her head back and take in the ornate splendor as the trio made their way to the dais. There, she saw an older man with a gold eye patch.
The guards were dismissed, the door closing after them.
Loki's malachite gaze glared spitefully at the man, his entire body was tight with anger, despite barely having enough strength to stand on his own.
"What a tangled web of lies you have weaved, Allfather," he spat quietly.
"You speak as if you did not deserve it."
"You tortured me."
"I taught you the lesson of empathy, of humility. You appreciate humanity now because of what I have done."
"You had nothing to do with that!" Loki shouted.
"You, my own father," Loki said, stepping away from Thor to stand on his own, "tore me away from those I loved. You plagued me with false memories of their torment and death, fates they were forced to suffer because of who I am. I have been wasting away beneath your feet for weeks, eviscerated by my own self loathing and guilt."
"And now you know the misery that he had caused in so many on Midgard. You have experienced the pain of losing a loved one to someone else's malice and need for revenge."
"But what happens after that?" Grace asked, unable to keep the question to herself.
If standing up to her own father had been difficult, then this was down right terrifying. Odin exuded superiority and power, but Grace would not allow herself to back down.
"After, he will be imprisoned."
"That was the whole plan?"
"Yes," Odin replied, as if her skepticism towards him made her a fool.
Instead, all he managed to do was piss her off even more.
"And what exactly makes you the authority on the right way of disciplining him?"
"I am his kingly father," he said while his spine stiffened.
"No, you're a cruel, self-aggrandizing bastard."
Odin straightened even more, glaring down at her from his throne. She could feel the others staring at her, mostly in shock at her unexpected behavior.
"Watch what your blasphemous tongue, mortal. You are addressing a king and a god."
"Well you're not my king, and you're sure as hell not my god, so I'll talk to you however I damn well please," she said, her body beginning to tremble with anger.
"I will not be spoken to this way!" he said, his strong voice almost echoing throughout the hall.
"Too fucking bad," she spat, stalking closer to the platform. Thor quickly took a firm hold of her shoulders, restraining her from advancing on his father, but she continued scolding the king as if the God of Thunder wasn't holding her back. "You want to teach Loki a lesson. Fine. You are his father and his king. You've got the right to. What you did was nothing but harsh to the extreme, yet you got the job done. I'll give you that. But then to just throw him into a cell, let him rot away with grief and remorse... that's too cruel. A ruler would have put him in a cell and thrown away the key. A parent would have taught him a lesson then allow him to right his wrongs, but you!... You stabbed him in the heart and twisted the knife just to watch him suffer! You're not worthy of either role in his life, you self-righteous, sanctimonious tyrant. I might have hurt him, but you broke him, almost beyond repair. So say your goodbyes now, because you had your chance to be in his life, and I swear on my life that I'll make damn sure you never have the opportunity to do it again."
The hall was so quiet that a pin could have been heard dropping.
The Asgardians continued to stare in shock at the young, mortal woman who was openly trying to calm herself down after her rant. Thor loosened his hold slightly when he knew that she wouldn't try to approach Odin again.
"He can barely walk. How exactly do you plan to make your escape?" Odin asked with quiet, mocking fury.
"With unexpected help."
Everyone whirled around towards the harsh voice that had croaked out the response. The dark figure stood in the shadows, darkness swirling around it before it rushed forward. In the blink of an eye, it was in front of Loki, placing its corpse-like hands against his chest while its palms glowed.
Fire swept inside Loki's body, every muscle tightening, ever nerve flaring painfully. Falling to his knees, he could hear Grace shout for him but Thor tightened his hold on her again when she tried to rush towards him. Just as quickly as the being had moved, however, it had withdrawn back into the shadows, gazing at the struggling prince.
Loki panted, his body shaking. He placed his hands on his knees and inhaled deeply while the pain quickly ebbed away, leaving something familiar in its place.
Odin glanced at him warily before glaring into the shadows.
"I did not give you permission to do that."
"The contract has been fulfilled," the creature responded. "The mortal returns his love. It is unconditional, without deceit and lies. She stands by his side with nothing but his best interests in her heart. He has earned what is rightfully his."
Loki curled his hands into fists, feeling stronger than he had felt in months, his magic revitalizing his blood. Picking his head up, he met Grace's fearful gaze. He watched as she tried to free herself from Thor's grasp. Subtly, he shook his head which halted her actions. Her brow furrowed in confusion, but she did as she was told.
Gracefully, he rose to his feet, turning his gaze from his father to the being.
During his youth, he was plagued with dreams of such creatures. Odin had told him it was just his overactive imagination, but Loki had always felt it had been more. For weeks, Loki had raided the libraries of Asgard before finally finding his answers.
Legend had it that they were once a race not too different from Midgardians, except for the powerful magic that flowed within their veins. Civil war consumed their culture. Their greed and selfishness perverted their world until the entire race was cursed. Immortality preserved what was left of their souls while their bodies withered until there was nothing left but smoke and shadow. Their minds were twisted and warped, so entangled that the individual beings could not differentiate themselves from the whole. The entire race shared one collective mind. Every thought, every deed, was for the whole. As time went by, what they once were became lost to them. Their punishment consumed them. Their identities lost, they became the Scourge.
With their magic, they tormented other worlds, slipping through the darkness to terrify, to slowly cause absolute madness in their victims. So many fell to their machinations and then suddenly, all at once, they had disappeared.
"I've heard of your kind," he told the entity. "The Scourge are not known for their generosity, nor their obedience."
Slowly, it approached him, seeming to float above the ground, the darkness curling around it.
"The Scourge looks out for its own best interests," it rasped.
"And what does that have to do with me?"
"We have been watching you closely, ever since you took your first breath in that frozen wasteland."
"How is that possible? The Scourge were believed to be eradicated."
It barked out a cruel laugh before tilting its head to stare at the king.
"For a millennium, the Allfather has imprisoned us on our desolate world. Our existence kept hidden from all the realms. We could not leave, we could not reach out, but we could see. The Scourge watched as the Asgardians manipulated your mind, shunned you for the magic that they wished to desecrate. We have seen everything, your mad grasp for power as well as your fall. In the Allfather's pursuit of poetic justice, he turned to us. Never did he believe that we might not obey his every whim."
"You released these creatures?" Thor asked, still holding Grace to his side, in case he needed to protect her.
"Just this one. Once Loki was truly punished, it will return to its incarceration with the rest of its race."
"Your hubris will be your ruin!" the thing growled.
"If your kind hates him so much, why did you help him?" Loki questioned.
"For you. For us," it replied gently as it slowly crept closer. "You were told what would happen if you failed to retrieve the Tesseract. The Other warned you about its Master."
Loki's body froze. He remembered that conversation quite clearly.
"The Other died in the explosion," he replied stiffly.
"The Chitauri were nothing but rabid mongrels and deserved to be slain for their incompetence. The Other, however, was not among them when they were destroyed. He scurried back to Thanos, and now Thanos hunts for you."
Loki glanced over at Grace, seeing her stricken expression. His heart twisted in his chest before he cleared his throat and turned back to the creature.
"Why are you telling me this?"
"Thanos is the one who cursed the Scourge. Thanos is the one who forced this unending agony on us. Our salvation is dependent upon his demise, and The Scourge believe that you are the one destined to land the killing blow. We cannot exact our revenge ourselves, but we offer to reinforce and enhance your magic with our own, giving you more power, so that when he finally strikes, you can slay him instead."
Loki gazed warily at the being in front of him. The Scourge had played the role of obedient servant to the Allfather, pretending to serve his will, but must have known that Odin had no intention of having mercy on his son. It punished him, tortured him, but then it orchestrated his rescue. Without it, he would have wasted away from whatever his father had come up with. He was indebted to the Scourge, whether he liked it or not.
"Think," the being said. "Remember the pain and suffering wrought on your mortals by their own kind. Just imagine what Thanos will do to them in his pursuit."
"Brother, do not ally yourself with such creatures," Thor said, noticing that the Scourge's words were getting to him.
Loki looked over at Thor.
"If Thanos is searching for me, he will do so with many at his command. I cannot defeat them alone."
"You will not be alone. I will stand with you. The Avengers-"
"-Would rather watch me die than give aid."
"Enough!" Odin ordered. "There will be no magic transference, no escape. Loki will return to his cell and the Scourge will be sent back to its own realm."
The Allfather then pulled out a small, black metal box. Seeing it, the creature hissed at him, but Odin ignored it as he opened the top of the box. A brilliant, blue light shined from its insides. As the light brightened, the creature began to shriek loudly in pain. The shadows whirled and twisted as some unseen force slowly began dragging the being towards the box.
"Thanos will rip her apart!" it screeched. "You'll watch her life bleed out in front of you!"
Loki clenched his eyes shut, but all he could see in his mind was the image of Grace dead in his arms.
It was a false memory, he knew that now, but it still tore at his heart.
What if the Scourge was right? What if he returned to Earth only to bring a worse threat to his family than before?
What if he didn't accept the Scourge's offering?
What if he couldn't protect her?
Regardless, he needed more information.
His body was moving before his mind could even catch up to it. He forced his eyes to remain open, despite the blinding light. Rushing forward, he brushed against the creature before his hands wrapped around the box and ripped it from his father's grasp.
With a quiet click, he shut it, and an instant later, the shrieking stopped.
Loki stumbled back, his eyes trying to adjust as the creature kept moving, this time towards the Allfather. It swirled around him. The Scourge laid its hands on Odinm who grunted in pain as he tried to fight the creature off, but he was unable to grasp it. Another light flashed throughout the hall before his body went limp and fell to the ground.
Thor released Grace and hurried to his father's side to check on him.
"You put him into the Odinsleep," he accused, glaring over at the creature.
"And he will eventually awaken. We have no intention of attracting the ire of Asgard by assassinating its king, whether he deserves it or not."
Loki, however, felt no concern for his father's fate and glanced down at the box in his hands, his brow furrowed in thought until he felt a gentle hand take hold of his forearm.
"Loki?" Grace whispered, feeling absolutely shaken over everything that happened. "What does all of this mean?"
He turned his gaze to meet hers and already saw her resignation.
"I do not know. If Thanos is indeed looking for me, then returning with you will put you and the boys in too much danger."
She blinked a few times to keep the tears at bay. She knew that answer was coming, but it still hurt to hear.
"I just want you to come home."
Closing his eyes, he leaned towards her, pressing his forehead to hers.
"I will not put you in harm's way."
She raised her hands and tightly gripped his shirt. She needed him. The boys needed him. If he doubted that he could defeat this villain on his own, then maybe he should...
"Accept the enhancement," she muttered.
Loki pulled his head from her's, his brow furrowing as he stared at her.
"Grace, allowing that much magic into my body might cause me to revert back to what I was before."
"No, it won't. I won't let it," she said, determined.
"Having me in your life would be perilous. If he hurt you-"
"I trust you, Loki. I know you're haunted by that nightmare, but it wasn't real. You'll protect us. You don't even know that this guy is actually coming after you, much less going to be able to find you. It's a pretty big universe, and even if he does, with the extra boost I know you'll be able to keep us safe."
Loki still looked doubtful.
"Your brother will keep a look out," she continued, desperate to convince him. "I can try talking to Stark. We have options. Why won't you consider this? Is it really that easy for you to just let me go again?"
"You know it's not," he replied forcefully, aghast at such a suggestion.
"Then what is it?"
"I apologize for not being so cavalier with your safety. You have seen what will happen to me if something were to happen to you."
"And I've seen you with your abilities, Loki. You're terrifyingly fast and unbelievably lethal. It scares the shit out of me, but I have no doubt in my mind that you'll do everything in your power to keep us safe. We could leave the city if you want to. We'll start over somewhere else. The only important thing is that we are together."
He seemed to consider this, and, once again, he pressed his forehead to hers.
"You truly have that much faith in me?"
Loki hesitated before whispering, "This frightens me."
"What if-" his words were cut off when Grace tipped her head back and placed the gentlest of kissing on his lips.
"We're stronger when we're all together," she said quietly while pulling back to look up at him. "We're a team. Take the extra magic and then come home."
Swallowing hard, Loki finally nodded before looking over her shoulder to where the being was.
"Will that suffice?" he asked it.
"Yes," it hissed. "It would be foolish to attack Thanos preemptively. Lying in wait would give you the advantage."
"Go to my brother," Loki whispered to Grace.
Her eyes widened a bit, but she complied, moving to stand beside Thor as the creature came closer to Loki.
"And what will the Scourge do in the meantime?" he asked.
"Remain as we were, hiding. The Scourge does not want to draw Thanos' eye while we are vulnerable."
Loki nodded, relieved that he hadn't released an army of boogeymen.
"Then let us proceed."
The creature let out another vicious laugh before it began. The entire hall darkened, the lights dimming as the shadows from the corners of the room crept closer. Black smoke curled towards Loki, swirling around him until he couldn't see, couldn't breathe. The shadows encompassed them. Everything was dark; an icy cold hand press against his chest before he felt his nerves flare alive, every muscle tightening and convulsing as if he was being electrocuted. His blood boiled. The black smoke filled his lungs, making them burn. Distantly, he could hear the creature let out a ear piercing shriek.
And then it was over.
The being disappeared, as did the box that controlled it. Loki collapsed onto the ground, his body twitching. Blood spattered onto the floor as he coughed it up from his lungs, his body curling into the fetal position.
Grace held her breath while she stared at his body. Blood seeped from his ears and nose; crimson tears slipped down his cheeks.
"Loki?" she called out, trying to get to him, but Thor held her back. "Let me go. He needs me."
"We do not know if it is safe."
"Of course it is. He wouldn't hurt me."
"He would not, but the dark magic he absorbed might."
Grace bit her lip and gazed back over at Loki, willing him to move.
After one last vicious cough, he shakily took a deep breath and tried to calm himself.
One always needed to focus to control magic.
He could feel the dark energy inside of him, clawing at his insides as if it was a wild animal. In his mind, he could see it battling against him, his body, his mind, his own magic.
With another deep breath, he slowly started reigning in this raging force.
He thought of his brother, coming to his aid, forgiving him for his sins.
He pictured the boys, smiling up at him while they played and bickered.
The darkness fought against him, his body jerking as the pain flared.
Clenching his eyes tightly shut, he forced his body to calm while he brought Grace to the forefront of his mind.
He let himself remember her smile, her laugh, the way her eyes lit up with excitement. He imagined her touch, soothing him as she had when he had panicked that one night.
For her. He had to do it for her.
His body continued to relax; he pictured the darkness merging into his body until it finally became one with him instead of something he carried inside.
Finally, he felt himself breathe easily, his muscles unlocking. Opening his eyes, he slowly stretched his body out and got to his feet. He stumbled slightly. Although he did not feel weak, everything felt different. He focused his gaze on Grace. She now stood separate from his brother, her hands over her mouth as she stared back at him with wide eyes.
"Loki!" she gasped. "You're blue!"
He gazed down at his hands, noticing their true color. With barely a thought, however, he saw his skin shift back to his usual paleness.
"I apologize," he said, bowing his head a little. "I know it is unseemly."
She approached him and placed her hand on his jaw, nudging his head so he would look at her.
"Loki, I don't care what color you are. All that matters is that you're okay. You are okay, right?"
"The Scourge's magic was more intense than I had figured it would be, but I believe I have merged it into my being properly."
Sighing in relief, she sagged forward, pressing her forehead to his chest. Gently, he wrapped his arms around her.
A part of her wanted to question the blue thing, but that could wait until another day. She had just about enough of this otherworldly revelations.
"Loki," she muttered tiredly. "Can we go home now?"
He gently kissed her forehead before whispering, "Absolutely."
"How do we get home?"
Releasing his hold on her, he took a few steps away from her.
"Let me try something."
Her brow furrowed in confusion for a moment before her eyes widened in surprise.
"Loki, no!" she shouted just before he disappeared.
Her heart stopped in her chest, breath stilling in her lungs.
What just happened?
Where did he-
Loki popped back into view, his gaze looking over himself to make sure all of him made the trip to Midgard and back. When his eyes finally looked up, he noticed Grace in a frozen state of shock.
"You gave her a fright, brother," Thor said, approaching the couple. "The poor girl has been through enough for one day. You and I might be accustomed to such things, but Midgardians take a long time to accept such epiphanies."
"I apologize," Loki said to her with complete sincerity.
Nodding, she sighed before covering her face with her hands, suddenly feeling so very exhausted. She didn't move when Loki placed his hand on her shoulder and squeezed.
"I must bid my brother adieu," he said quietly.
Finally, she looked up at him and said, "Okay. I'll give you guys a moment." But first she turned to Thor. "Thank you for everything. I can't express how much I-"
"I understand. I should be thanking you. It is my honor to call you a friend, Grace Stewart."
That brought a smile to her face as she nodded and stepped away.
The two brothers were quiet before Thor decided to speak first.
"She is a remarkable woman, and those boys are extraordinary. You are lucky."
"I did not have much time with them, but Jack and Joey remind me of us as children."
A wry smirk twisted Loki's lips while he said, "Myself as well." They shared a moment of nostalgic humor, then Loki gravely continued, "Brother, what if-"
Thor's hands grasped Loki's shoulders tightly, in a hold he often took when he was trying to reach his brother.
"Do not question yourself. You have come too far to do such a thing. Grace trusts you. She has faith in you. Let that be the tether that grounds you. She will always be there for you, as will I. You only have to ask, and I will help you… That is all you have ever needed to do."
Loki lowered his gaze in shame, his vision blurring from his tears.
"I am so very sorry. My words, my actions… every deed and thought that was meant to cause you ill… I…"
"Loki Odinson, at a loss of words. I never thought I would see the day," Thor teased quietly.
Loki winced, trying to shift away, but his brother held on to him.
"I find that my silver tongue is completely useless when it comes to sincerely apologizing. My self-loathing and remorse turns the words to dust before it has a chance to leave my lips."
"Then know your stumbled attempts soften my resolve more than any carefully constructed speech could. I know you better than you think I do. I know what lies in your heart, but now I want you to know what lies in mine… nothing but love for my brother. Blood or not, violence or peace, I love you, Loki, and I forgive you. It is time for you to forgive yourself."
Loki glanced up at Thor as he said, "I am trying."
"One day you will."
Loki frowned again, swallowing hard before he could ask, "Promise me that if this all goes wrong, if something tragic should happen and I should fail… promise me you will take care of them?"
Thor hesitated, part of him wanting to brush off his brother's concerns, but he knew that he could not promise that his brother will succeed in his mission.
But he could promise this.
"I give you my word."
Loki visibly relaxed, comforted by the oath.
"Then I suppose this is goodbye for now."
"Not for too long, I believe. I know that you will be a good father, but I am quite looking forward to being a marvelous uncle."
Loki shook his head, laughing quietly before his gaze fell on his own father, still sprawled on the dais.
"The Allfather will be upset when he awakens."
Thor peered over to Odin as well while he said, "I agree, but that is my burden. Go see your family, Loki."
Loki shifted to pull away, but Thor tugged him into a tight hug for a long moment before releasing him.
As he moved towards Odin, Loki took one last glance around the hall before walking out the doors. There, he saw Grace standing awkwardly in the corridor.
"Are you ready?" she asked as he approached her and pulled her into his arms.
"Yes," he said, then kissed her forehead. "Let us go home."
And with that, they were gone.
A/N: There you have it! It was a complete bitch to write. I think it was rushed and whatnot, but I've lost all patience with it. Please take another few moments to review and let me know what you guys think. I'd really like to know. Also, thank you for hanging in there with me. Again, this is not the last chapter!