Author's Note: This is it. The final chapter. I want to thank every single one of you readers and reviewers for your support, love, kindness, thoughts, suggestions, and help on this beautiful story. I could not have continued without you. I hope you've enjoyed this ride as much as I have, and if you give me a couple months, I hope to be back with the sequel. It's just going to take me a while to plot it out. Until then, dear readers, enjoy the final chapter of Saving Grace.
Chapter Thirty-Five: After All
Song: "After All" by Michael Buble and Bryan Adams
He blinked hard a few times to make sure he was not imagining her. His mouth hung open in stunned silence as he tried to plan his next move. Instinctively, his body longed for her, for the warmth of her touch against his skin, for the slickness of her glossy lips pressed to his. But he knew better, and once again found himself afraid to move, as though she might vaporize if he did.
"Grace," he finally croaked out, his throat suddenly parched. "How…?"
"Jane and I have become… rather close the last few hours," she replied, glancing back toward the hallway. Although Jane was nowhere in sight, Loki made a mental note to thank her later.
Thor cleared his throat. Loki jumped and realized he was expecting an introduction.
"Oh, ah, Grace, my brother, Thor. Thor, my… this is… Grace Lawson." Loki felt his face reddening, realizing he had no idea what to call her now. He was still flummoxed by this sudden turn of events, and had about a hundred things to say and do and ask but no earthly idea where to begin. Thor took Grace's hand and lifted it to his lips, smiling.
"It is a pleasure to meet the lady who has so enchanted my brother, Miss Grace," he said.
Grace returned his smile and did a small curtsey.
"Well, now it makes sense," she said. Thor raised an eyebrow. "Your brother called me the same thing before I made fun of him for it." Thor looked at Loki with amusement, causing Loki to turn yet another shade of red. Thor turned back to face Grace and bowed his head.
"I suspect you two have much to discuss. I shall take my leave." Then, he turned to face his younger brother.
"Thor, I…" Loki began. He could not find the words, and there were the faintest tears forming behind his eyes.
"No need, brother. Simply remember all you have learned, for you still have much to teach." Loki looked at Thor quizzically, but before he could reply, Thor had vanished, closing the door behind him and leaving Grace leaning against it. For a long while, neither of them said anything.
Grace stood with one leg bent at the knee, foot propped up against the door, looking anywhere in the room except at him. She was herself at a loss for words, surrounded for the first time by Loki's belongings, his comfort zone. The room was expensive-looking, with high vaulted ceilings and wood paneled walls, carved with old Norse gods and beautiful mermaids. One entire wall was bookshelves, full of thick books, across from a huge fireplace with a bearskin rug laid in front of it. On the other side of the room, behind Loki, was a set of tall doors which opened to a balcony and next to them, an extraordinarily comfortable looking bed with luxurious green drapes hanging from the posts.
Loki remained at arms' length, running a hand absently through his raven hair, trying to look at her without actually looking at her. In truth, he was still terrified that this was some sort of hideously beautiful dream from which he would awaken at any moment, more lonely and in more pain than the night he had that terrible nightmare about her rape. But then, if this were a dream, would he be able to smell the scent of her rosey shampoo as the breeze from the open doors behind him wafted past?
The breeze seemed to awaken her from a daze, because she lifted her head and looking toward the doors. As if seeking permission, she took a step in that direction and, for the first time since her arrival, looked him in the eyes. He nodded, unable to find his voice to save his soul, and watched as she crept out into the open night air. She stretched her arms over her head, flexing all the muscles in her body at once. Her silhouette was illuminated by the city lights expanding out before her and he found himself awestruck. He never expected to see her again and now he was witnessing her at the most beautiful he had ever seen her - fully herself, completely aware of her body and her surroundings, shrouded in the beauty of the galaxies themselves. The stars reflected on her auburn hair, which she absently pulled back into a ponytail.
Then, suddenly, she turned to face him. He hadn't realized until then that he had been staring.
"So, here's what I know," she began. He carefully walked toward her to join her in the night. He stood next to her on the balcony, facing her but not looking her in the eye. She put her hands on her hips, a power stance. It was not something he had seen her do before and he considered how much stronger she was now than when he had first met her. He couldn't help but want to smile, almost proud of her for her anger toward him, for not being afraid to confront him about his deception. "Your real name is Loki, of both Jotunheim and Asgard, if we're splitting hairs. You're about a thousand years old, which makes the idea of a May-December relationship even more ridiculous. You can use magic, at least now. You're a really good liar, you once tried to take over my planet, and you could have killed me in the process."
Loki's heart sank. She clearly had not forgiven him as he had so naively hoped.
"Why did you come if you have not forgiven me?" The question came out much more accusatory than he had intended.
Grace shushed him, ignoring the question entirely. "I think, in light of recent events, I get to ask all my questions first."
He dropped his head, properly chastised, biting his lip.
"Now, here's what I don't know," she continued. "How much of it was a lie, Loki?"
He wasn't prepared for that question, at least not at the moment she had asked it. He tripped over his thoughts.
"I do not know what you mean."
"I mean exactly what I'm asking. I know you lied about who you are, and I'm pretty sure, thanks to Jane, that I have my head wrapped around the reasons. Although I still can't believe magic is actually real. But I'm talking about me and you, specifically."
"Oh," Loki said, understanding. "You wish, then, to know if my feelings toward you were real, or if I said what I thought would get me what I wanted?"
"Yes," she replied. "That is what I'm asking you." She crossed her arms, the wind blowing by. It took every ounce of his strength not to go to her, warm her.
"Well, then," he said. "The answer is yes."
She sighed. "How can the answer to that question be yes?" She was slightly frustrated at the game, but almost relieved for it. At least that part of him hadn't been a lie.
"I said nothing that I did not feel, Grace. What I felt was no lie, but what I felt, or at least part of it, was related to what I wanted." He approached closer now, taking a leap of faith that buried somewhere within her heart was still the faintest hint of compassion, of care, perhaps even love. "What I wanted, Grace, was to be with you. Once I became aware of my feelings for you, there is nothing I would not have said or done to make that happen."
Grace fought back tears, refusing to allow him to wear her down so easily. She turned back toward Asgard, the sparkling city beneath her. If Rachel, Stacy, and Leah could see this, they'd be the first ones telling her to forgive him, just because she might get this view for the rest of her life. It really was magnificent, more stunning than she could ever have conjured in her dreams. But all the beauty in this or any other galaxy could not reassure her that she could trust him. She didn't know how she could ever again be sure, even with a million apologies and explanations. But then, as he always did, Loki took her by surprise.
"How is Amy?" His voice seemed to quake, uncertainty and fear masked by the concern of a father. For a moment, she did not respond, and he feared she would leave him wanting, unwilling to share that part of her life with him any longer. But his heart longed for words of the child he considered part of himself. Suddenly, he understood how it was that Odin and Frigga might have truly loved him after all, despite his not being their own flesh.
"That damn book," she finally whispered. He did not hear her, however.
"That goddamn book you got her. She won't put it down."
Loki smiled, relieved that Grace had not shut him out completely. "Which one? As I recall, there were several. She is a voracious reader, our - your little daughter."
"The one with your picture in it," Grace replied, still staring at the stars. She began to count them, trying to keep her voice steady. "The stupid drawing of you in your-"
As she turned back to face him, her voice cracked. She watched as his clothing transformed before her eyes into the exact replica of the suit he wore in the book, right down to the great horned helmet.
"Princely?" He suggested.
"Ridiculous," she said, stifling a laugh. A look of feigned annoyance played across his face, but he was content. At least she was smiling. "I'm sorry, I'm just so used to seeing you dressed normally."
"Here, this is 'normally,'" he replied.
"Fair enough," she said. Then, curious, she found herself walking toward him, her legs moving on their own accord. "Can I - "
"Of course," he said, finishing her thought. She crept closer, as if they had never before touched, and Loki stiffened so that he would not take her in his arms and hold her to him, armor be damned. She came toward him slowly, each step feeling like a year in his life, until she stood just before him, brow furrowed, taking him in from top to bottom and back again. She placed her hands on his shoulders, feeling the top of his soft cotton cape, running them down his arms over the hard leather and metal bindings encircling them. Grace felt entranced, trying to force herself to believe what was before her eyes.
Then, she raised her chin to look at him, tilting her head just so. Her eyes penetrated him, searching for something unknown to him. She stayed that way for a long while, and he dared not move or speak a word. He wanted to absorb every one of her lines, her beautiful features under the Asgardian sky, commit them to memory in case this was truly the last he would ever see of her.
She swallowed hard. And then she suddenly walked past him, off of the balcony, and headed back toward the chamber door. To have come this close and to lose her again was more than he could take. He felt he might literally shatter before her. But as she put a hand on the door handle, she looked back at him.
"I wanted to be mad at you forever, Loki. And really, I still am. You lied to me, and you hurt me, and it's going to take a while before I can really forgive that."
Loki nodded sadly, bracing himself for a final goodbye. He turned back toward the balcony, unable to watch her walk out his life again. He heard the door open and shut behind him. He didn't move, just continued to stare at the sky. Perhaps if he begged hard enough, The Other would come for him, kill him as he promised. It would hurt so much less than this.
A few minutes passed.
He heard the door open again. He assumed it was Thor, coming to comfort him. He didn't even have the heart or energy to turn around and tell him to leave.
But then, a voice:
"If I'm going to call you out for not being honest, then I'd better be honest myself," Grace said, and Loki whipped around, his cape almost hitting him in the face with the force of his turn. She was standing just inside the door, Jane and Thor behind her, tears streaming down her face. And in her arms was Amy, looking all around, bright eyed and curious, until she locked eyes with Loki. Then, she struggled against her mother, all but begging to be put down.
"Amy," he said, his voice cracking. Grace blinked and more tears fell, and she kissed Amy on her temple.
"So if I'm being honest… your daughter misses you. I said it once, and I'll say it again. You're her father. You always have been. And I could never hate her father."
With that, she set Amy down, and the little girl immediately toddled off to Loki, who bent down to receive her. When he wrapped Amy in his arms, his cape billowing in the wind, he could hardly believe the unbelievable elation overtaking his body. The little girl glowed at him, hands wrapping around his neck and over his cape,and it was all he could do not to let himself cry when Amy repeated the word "daddy" over and over. Grace wrapped her arms around herself and looked back at Thor and Jane, who were standing in the doorway still. Jane looked close to tears herself, and Thor was simply beaming. She mouthed a thank you to them, and both of them nodded, taking their leave and shutting the door behind them once again.
Grace looked out at Loki, who was holding Amy close and whispering something to her which Grace could not quite make out. Loki's careless hair fell across his face, and Amy laughed as it tickled her nose. If Grace had any doubt about her decision, it fell away when she saw the happiness on her daughter's face as Loki cuddled her, obviously the first time he had felt happiness in weeks. Jane was right: he might have once been a monster, but this? This could not be a lie.
She stepped toward the two of them carefully, not wanting to interrupt the moment, but Loki saw her coming and rose to his feet, Amy still pressed to his chest. His chest felt heavy and light all at once, and a large lump formed in his throat. His silver tongue turned to lead and he could not think what to say to thank Grace for this.
"Grace, I… I know I am not worthy of your forgiveness. I know that I have destroyed your trust in me, and that I shall never be able to earn it again. But for this, for… her…" He nodded toward Amy, who, well past her bedtime, was falling asleep against his frame. Grace shook her head.
"There's something else I need to ask you," Grace said. "And you'd better not lie to me."
"Anything," he said. Grace took his free hand and put it around her waist. Before he knew what was happening, she put her hand around his neck and brought his lips to hers, stealing a kiss full of so much passion and purity that it could have sent sparks into the sky that would have lit the Nine Realms for days. He had never tasted anything so sweet in his life, but felt anything but empty when she pulled away and smirked.
"Do you think you could get used to living on Earth?" Her eyes flashed a brilliant blue, and he raised an eyebrow. "Well, I know it's Asgard and all, but I bet it'd be hard to find good hot chocolate up here."
And for the first time in nearly a century, Loki Laufeyson, once all deception and rage, laughed with a heart as light as the wind and as free as the truth.