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From the Void, With Love

Chapter Text

This is not how you thought your week would go.

No, this was a little much.

You started your Monday with Loki, God of Mischief, crash landing through the lab you’d been completing your summer placement at, brainwashing your boss (and the nice agent guy who watched over the glowing nuclear cube), and, finally, stealing the one thing you’d been studying for the entirety of summer 2012 for your first official research journal outside of undergrad while pursuing your doctorate.

By Thursday, Midtown had been reduced to debris, aliens were confirmed real, the Avengers were a household name, and you were desperately trying to wrangle a stir-crazy Erik Selvig off the rooftop terrace of Stark Tower in the aftermath.

“Erik, where are your pants?!”

“They were burnt.”

His eyes aren’t a milky blue anymore, so you suppose that’s a good thing — he is, however, off his metaphysical shits and you’re really trying to get him to calm down in the Stark Tower lobby when the aforementioned Avengers pull a glorified perp walk for the reporters clamoring outside.

You try not to stare — but it is a little bit hard when he stalks by.

It’s not because you’re aware of the future implications your friendship and, in turn, relationship will have on the proper flow of time. No, it’s because you’re lucky enough to say your previous encounter in the week with him left you unscathed (if not a bit traumatized), which seems to be the exact opposite case for the majority of Downtown.

As someone who knew Thor — and decently well at that — you found it difficult to see the two Gods being related at all. It’s as if one was born by the sun, and the other the moon, and while everything about Thor seemed like a thunderstorm in July, his brother clearly lacked the warmth and gilded personality of his Avenging counterpart.

You suppose that, maybe, that’s the whole point.

Y’know, age-old storytelling and all that.

Swathed in the colorful team of superheroes, the infamous Loki towers over them all. His cape, emerald and tattered, follows him like a shadow and you have to fight the urge to snarl. He’s tall, a little bit like a shade, and regal in a way that’s totally different from the other Asgardian royalty you’re familiar with. He’s imposing and even when he’s muzzled, you can see the cunning flash of a smirk when he spots your manic, half-dressed boss by the lobby’s main desk.

Loki looks less sickly since you last saw him – he’s all sharp angles and split lip now, though.

It’s funny that, in about an hour’s time, everything about this moment will be different.

It’ll hold different weight, different context.

The God is smug.

Erik notices.

Annoyance bites at your nerves as Erik begins to slip into a Norwegian diatribe directed at the fallen Silvertongue. You groan, deciding right then and there that you’re exhausted beyond comprehension and that today has been all too long. You move quickly. You let out a curse as you push yourself between the now stopped group of Avengers and the angry, pants-less astrophysicist.

“Erik, c’mon, why don’t we go for a walk—”

“Yep, go ahead, pal,” Tony Stark, clearly just as exasperated as you are, chirps, “Walk it out. Half a’ New York has a bone to pick with Hot Topic over here.”

“He is a disgrace! A-A cosmic buffoon!”

You’re pressed between Tony and Erik, feeling the eyes of the God bore into your skull as you try to save him from the delirious verbal smackdown your boss was looking to serve. You can pretty much confirm that Erik definitely has a head injury. Or… You dunno, he’s always been weird. But, in the last hour you’ve heard a little bit too much about Ufology to call this Erik’s normal baseline.

You plant a hand on his tattered dress shirt, pleading quietly with a mildly horrified look at the realization that people are staring, Erik.

“Can’t we do this somewhere else?” you grit out with a sense of urgency.

It’s at that moment that you do a double-take at the doors of the lobby. There’s a bustle. You note the sudden appearance of Alex Pierce – the resident member of the World Security Council who, no doubt, had a bone to pick with Stark. Judging by the tightening of Tony’s grip on the briefcase in his hands, he’s aware. The man is parading through the doors of the lobby, surrounded by agents in crisp suits.

This is a nightmare. The clowns are running the show.

Right now, you could go for a glass of wine.

And ice cream.

And maybe some more wine on top of that. It’s a whole bottle kinda day.

You blink around Erik, deciding no, no fucking way, this is so above your pay grade, before exasperatedly groaning, “Why don’t we go get Starbucks — you like those frappuccino things they have, right, Erik?”

At this point, you’re just desperately trying to not discredit you and Erik’s research journal with his antics being broadcast by the Newsweek and CNN cameras lurking outside alike. All in front of the World Security Council. And S.H.I.E.L.D.

…This is bad.

Meanwhile, Loki can’t help but think this is all so very curious… Midgardians are quite cute.

He’d been made aware, from eavesdropped pieces of Romanoff’s and Barton’s conversations, that the hierarchical food chain is quite complex when it comes to cosmic interferences like the one he’d so wrought upon New York. So many acronyms… S.H.I.E.L.D. and S.T.R.I.K.E. and W.S.C., he’s sure there’s probably about six more, but he’d be lying if he said he’d bothered to listen.

Loki, absentmindedly, wishes he’d maybe done this whole world domination bit 200 years sooner – certainly there wouldn’t have been much stopping him then. No Iron Men, at least.

(He doesn’t know it yet, but if he’d done this 200 years earlier, he would have never met you. Not that it matters right now. He doesn’t know the future, that’s more of his mother’s bit. Somewhere in the stars, Frigga is painfully aware of you, a fiery comet, dodging her son’s orbit at this moment.

But, Scott Lang’s verified Time Heist is about to send you both careening towards one another like a boomerang. And… well. The Time-Keepers won’t be happy about this part of your story.)

“Not to interrupt—”

“Great, more suits,” Stark chirps, “Here for the case? Too bad.”

“Mr. Stark,” Pierce begins, “This is a matter of global security. We’re here for the case and… the prisoner.”

Pierce is like a vulture. You decide quickly you don’t like him.

Erik, then, sees it as his turn to verbally maul the next person in line — the words that fly from his mouth don’t make sense and you’re trying to pry him away from Pierce as Stark’s voice escalates and Thor booms out a deep: “Woah, woah woah!” as Nat tries to step up and shove off the rogue S.H.I.E.L.D. agents clambering for the case. It’s a shit show, an absolute mess, and you’re being jostled in the middle, trying to pluck the agents away from your summer research project with an irritated look.

And then Tony Stark drops to the floor.

Panic quickly floods the space that anger had created and the case is long since forgotten. It clatters to the floor and skids away from Tony, and, consequently, the huddle forming around him as he convulses on the pristine tiles of the lobby.

Your eyes follow the case from your spot knelt beside Tony, mirroring Loki’s exact motion – you’re both trained on the case sliding across the room and… into the hands of a man posted by the door to the stairs.

Then, you see her.

There’s no words to describe the way it makes you feel — it’s like looking into a sad, broken mirror. It’s you standing there, albeit a little older and a little wiser. This other you is frozen at the sight of the towering God to your left. Her face is set in something mournful and there’s no doubt in your mind that that’s you. You know your face. Your cheeks, your eyes, your chin.

You go rigid, mind running 99mph down the interstate of confusion. The other you… Her hair is a little different, and she has glasses settled on her face. She’s posed in a lab coat and heels, looking like she belongs. Like… Like the path you’d set out had come to fruition. All your hopes and goals, staring you right in the face.

With a broken sound, she suddenly calls out:

“Loki.”

She’s looking at him like she knows him.

Loki is… Well. He’s also confused. Not that he would readily admit it but — something else is happening. It’s clear from the chaos and the magical slide of the tesseract that someone is trying to write a different story entirely on this day.

This woman, however, is the most confusing part.

It’s rare to hear someone say his name so kindly.

So… gentle.

Loki looks at her, then behind him. His brows raise, chained hands moving to gesture at himself.

…Me?

You gawk. What the fuck.

“No, no,” calls the agent gripping the case; the voice is familiar and he moves to stop her – er, you – as she moves forward, “No, c’mon kid, don’t—”

From your spot on the floor, you blink, exchanging a look with the God of Mischief who’s currently also riding the mind-fuck train.

He realizes that’s… you. Not the current you, but you.

Curious.

You jump six feet in the air when suddenly Hulk makes his appearance — he slams the door to the stairwell open with a ferocious roar. It clocks the agent in question, sending the other-you to the floor and shattering the briefcase on its hinges.

You watch it all with wide eyes.

The cube, hot and azure and pulsing, slides back across the floor like a terribly dangerous game of air-hockey and your breath catches in your throat as it collides with the towering God’s boot adjacent to you.

Another exchange of glances between the two of you.

And then, Loki bends to snatch it up.

You yelp, spitting out an embarrassing mosh of Thor and Tony’s name at once, and launch yourself after your summer research project. Your fingertips brush the cool, smooth surface of the stone and suddenly, everything is blindingly blue.

In a blink, you tumble into a roaring, glittering, dizzying tailspin through time and space.

Your yells mingle with Loki’s as the balance of the travel is thrown off, rocketing you both across the stars in a haze of panic.

Then, black.


Quiet.

A breeze tickles your nose.

…Birds?

You don’t know how long you were out for — or even where you are. All you know is that your head is pounding and, from your spot on the forest floor, you can see hints of the blue sky through broken branches when you crack open your eyes.

It’s humid. There’s a slow roll of thunder calling out somewhere over the horizon.

… Is that a fucking toucan?

It takes you a second to wade through the mental fog, but… when it clicks, you sit up straight, and you’re greeted by a crackling batton being held at your throat.

You come eye-to-eye with a man in some sort of militarized armor — and three men surround you. One has some sort of spectrometer, and the others are posed to taze the everloving soul out of you. At least… Those things look like tasers.

Your breath catches and you immediately raise your hands.

The man eyes you for a long drawn moment, then looks down at a device in his hands.

“Standard split from the timeline. Slope is stable, the branch is strong.”

You blink at the people around you. Your head is pounding.

Hoarsely, you speak up.

“I’m sorry,” you ask gently with a bit of an anxious bite, “Who the hell are you?”

The bearded man spares you a look that mingles between pity and amusement. He pointedly ignores your question. So do the others. You look around at the lot of them with a biting sense of paranoia. Were they some sort of militant police force?

What the hell is ‘TVA’?

…Who designed those jumpsuits?

“Variant identified.”

Before you can ask one of the seventeen questions floating around in your head, you’re being ushered to your feet. You comply — apologizing, even, when you accidentally stumble into one of the agents on weak knees. Your whole body hurts. Like you were stuffed into a washing machine with the spin cycle speed set to spin-me-right-round.

It’s like you were a goose and the tesseract was a Boeing 474 engine.

It had, rightfully, chewed you up and spit you out.

You have to admit Loki was sort of your last thought. Staying alive and not pissing off the armored men with jabby sticks was sort of at the top.

“Hands at your sides.”

Suddenly, there’s a strap in his hands. You stiffen.

He pauses and gives you a look that stills you completely — it means business. And it measures you up. You find, between your crippling headache and mental fatigue, you lack the capability to even possibly cop an attitude with this dude. You find, frankly, you don’t think you’d want to anyways.

You do, however, snap an angry sound out when a literal collar is strapped around your neck and you’re muscled around.

“Excuse me—”

“Reset the timeline.”

There’s a low whir, a howl, and a satisfying little sound — then, what looks like a fogged glass door materializes in front of you.

That’s… new.

You put the brakes on, digging your heels into the dirt floor of the forest, as the myriad of men begin to drag you toward this thing like it’s just a normal Thursday. But, today is not a normal Thursday and honestly, you’ve had your god damn fill of cosmic travel. If that’s even what this was. Could very well be a souped up guillotine for all you know.

So, yeah, it’s a little embarrassing when you’re shouldered through and — and, yeah. You’re standing there, wincing tightly and screaming, when you realize the acoustics have changed and you’re in… a lobby?

A lobby.

There’s a man behind a desk. Someone else in the same collar as you — a… not a human. That’s… Okay. Sure. Blue skin. That’s cool. Either way, everyone is staring and now you feel like a fucking fool — so you clear your throat and place your leg down, uncurling from your standing attempt at a fetal position.

You offer a sheepish look to the staring gaggle.

“… Sorry.”

Quiet,” sighs the man who has a grip on your shoulder, “Step forward.”

“Sorry to… y’know, keep asking questions, but,” you try your best to remain amicable as you look over your shoulder at him and the surrounding lobby, “Where the fuck am I?”

You can’t help but stare at the decor. It reminds you of… What does it remind you of? The 1960s? Mad Men? Grandma’s living room?

“Welcome to the Time Variance Authority!” comes a voice from behind the desk. It’s a man, younger, who is dressed in an outfit you’d place for a normal office job. He seems chipper enough and your terrified expression does little to dissuade his welcome, “Oh, hey, I know who you are…”

Your brows knot themselves in confusion.

However, before he can give an explanation or a directive on the paperwork being slid your way, the sound of boots on burnt-orange tile floor distracts you from the unsettlingly bright disposition of the man behind the desk. You stare, when out pops Loki on the opposite side of the room. He’s being muscled around by a woman in matching attire to your own personal guard — and he’s got a collar on, too.

Instantly, your jaw drops.

“You.”

Loki’s eyes snap to you, recognition and fear dissolving for a facade of irritation — if only for a moment — before he’s ushered forward.

“Lovely to see you again, bug,” comes the sardonic drip.

Your eyes snap to the pen on the desk in front of you.

Quickly, and with a stale expression on your face, you unceremoniously throw the pen directly at Loki’s forehead.

Thwack.

“Ow…?”

“This is all your fault,” you hiss as Casey (as his name tag reads) groans, digging into his desk for another pen so your booking papers can properly be filled out.

“You’re being childish,” Loki gripes with mild surprise at your sudden outburst; he rubs his forehead before snarling at you from across the desk, “How dare you—”

“How dare I?” you snap back, “How dare I? Me?”

“Yes, you—”

“You’re the one who got us into this mess—”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he battles back, “I don’t even know where we are!”

“That makes two of us!” you yell, only to be muscled away by the guard after he seems satisfied with the information he’s processed on your paperwork.

Loki, now, is beginning to feel a bit of guilt. Not an enormous amount. Enough, though, that it’s nagging at him. His eyes widen for a moment when he realizes you’re being whisked away to some sort of… elevator? You, his only reference point to where-you-were-before you were here. You, insignificant, but also his real only compatriot in this whole ridiculous charade.

His voice is tight with fear.

“Now hold on,” he steps forward, moving to follow, “Where are you taking her?”

You wince as you’re shoved, rather roughly, towards the door — and throw a look over your shoulder at Loki.

…Only to see him quite literally rewind through time.

What.

On.

Earth.

Your eyes snap from him to his guard to him once more — and you watch as he tries to near you again, only for the same outcome. You spy a little device in the woman’s hands. The saaaaame one your guard is holding in his left.

Oh, today was weird but it just got weirder.

“Move along—”

“Hold on—”

Ding!

The doors swing open, you’re shoved into the tiny room, and all you see as the doors close is the panicked expression of the God of Mischief.

The next ten minutes (or, so you think? Time is weird here) are a complete and total blur. You, really, can only comply to the best of your ability — and apologize profusely along the way for every inconvenience your confusion begins to cause. You can’t help your curiosity because… well, normal was thrown out the window when you were signed onto the Avenger’s science roster, it seems.

Your jumpsuit isn’t exactly comfortable, and that stack of everything-you’ve-ever-said-ever was frighteningly small when you were confronted with it, and you’re still seeing stars from that temporal aura device the shorter man urged you through. The doors part, and once more you’re faced with another room in the never-ending pantheon of a maze this place is.

A little ticket holder with TAKE A TAB stares you in the face. There’s a maze of rope, two kiosks, and televisions on the same faux-wooden walls from the other lobby. You stare up at the sea of lights on the ceiling as you step forward and toss a frightened look at a stern faced guard in the corner.

There’s another man in here, making a fit, and you watch as you move around him to take a little, orange ticket.

God, this is one weird dream.

Then, the doors behind you ding.

You’ve never been more relieved to see Loki in the short span of minutes you’ve known him.

“Nice outfit.”

He stands there as you tuck your ticket neatly into your pocket — and stares with a deadpan expression. The guard nudges him, tells him to take a ticket, and he does so without breaking eye contact from you.

Loki ignores the kid weaving his way through, only to loudly proclaim halfway through the maze of rope: “There are only three of us in here! What’s the use?”

He meets you halfway through the maze. You cross your arms. His nostrils flare as he sizes you up.

Pointedly, he speaks. “Where are we?”

“Oh, let me just pull out Google maps — oh! I can’t, because the smiling robot melted my clothes and my phone with a plasma beam. So! Sorry!” you snark as you turn on your heel and continue to weave through the maze of rope.

Loki follows, starting after you with a confused look. “This has to be a mistake—”

“Oh, you’re perceptive—”

“It’s in your best interest not to mock me, bug,” he growls.

Loki is, frankly, a little surprised when you turn on your heel and rear right up in his face. He staggers backwards, startled by your tenacity. You follow him, backing him up against the ropes.

“It’s your fault we’re here,” you bite, raising your finger and prodding him roughly in the chest, “Honestly, I shouldn’t have even tried to stop you — then, maybe, I wouldn’t be stuck here with you. So, get over your massive, miserable ego and let’s just do what we need to do to get out of here.”

Oh.

Oh, he misjudged you. You’ve got a bit of fire in your spirit.

Then, as he picks his jaw up from the floor, you turn back around and eye him haughtily.

“I also hate the color green.”

Loki’s brows twitch and you move through the ropes.

This is exhausting. This is… This is ridiculous. It has to be some cruel joke. Punishment, maybe? Is his mother at the root of this? No, no, maybe not. Why would you be here?

Frustrated and put in his place, the raven-haired God balls his hands tight and groans.

“This is a mistake! I shouldn’t even be here!”

Then, the PA chimes alive.

You jump, eyes widening.

“Hi there! You’re probably saying ‘this is a mistake, I shouldn’t even be here’—”

You turn, sharing a confused look with Loki as the televisions bloom to life.

“—Welcome to the TIme Variance Authority. I’m Miss Minutes, and it’s my job to catch you up before you stand trial for your crimes!”

Hold on… What?

“What?” you shake your head, looking panicked at the guard in the back, “Hold on, ‘stand trial for my crimes’?”

Loki moves past you, staring at the television as you loudly proclaim: “I was never even read my rights!”

The television program does little to quell your fear — in fact, it furthers the dawning realization that whatever happened with the tesseract was, in fact, worse than you initially thought. You had a basic understanding of the stone’s ability to alter space around it; and even more so, you had extensive knowledge of the subject at hand. But… concepts like this, like multiverses and time travel were all theory. Speculation. Unknowns ruminated about on lunch breaks with cohorts.

Variants, sacred timelines, and TVA, oh my.

Then, like the icing on the cake, that asshole yelling about how his dad works at Goldman-Sachs and wait until he hears about this is evaporated before you and Loki’s eyes.

You both procure your tickets at the same time, holding them in the air.


As it turns out, Miss Minutes was being completely truthful about the whole ‘on trial for your crimes’ bit. The courtroom’s decor matches that of the entire TVA’s scheme — but over a single judge, beyond the pews and murals, are three heads of those supposed ‘Time-Keepers’. It’s imposing, and despite your hesitation, Loki seems keen on getting the ball rolling.

You’re both ushered up at the call of: “Next case!”

The judge, from her high spot overlooking the drab court, begins speaking as the two of you approach the bench.

“Variant L1130 and Variant X1131 — both charged with sequence violation 7-20-89,” she says, voice crystalline in the quiet room, “Approach the bench, please.”

You both share a look, then step into the small booth.

“How do you both plead?” she asks, flipping closed her notes on — apparently — your case.

“I’m sorry, there must be a misunderstanding,” you say quickly, gesturing between you and Loki, “We… We are not… Not pleading together, your honor.”

Loki leans over, waves you off. Quietly, he says: “Let me handle this.”

You glare.

Leave it to the self-proclaimed Silvertongue.

And sure enough, he tries. You’ll give him that. It’s almost impressive.

Even trying to pin it on the Avengers impresses you — because his little quip about them time traveling somehow connects all the dots in your head about that other-you… But still leaves you feeling like you’ve picked up a book half-way through and begun reading. You’ve missed a few chapters.

Then, Loki tries to… conjure magic? In the middle of the court?

You watch, mouth falling open, as the folks in the pews watch with amusement and scoff.

When the judge questions it, and Loki’s guard explains he’s trying to use his magic, you’re quick to swat his arms down. You give him the millionth unamused look of the day, in a very pull-it-together way, and tilt your head to the side.

What the hell?

Loki’s face falls. He slams his hands on the stand. You shake your head as his outburst, like clockwork, begins — and then the threats, and then the yelling, and then the guards are muscling him away as you rub your forehead and try to find out a way you can recover this absolute blunder.

“Your honor—”

“Yes?”

“I’m sorry,” you say tightly as you find her gaze, “This… All of this, to Loki’s point, was a genuine mistake — our intention wasn’t to… disrupt the Sacred Timeline.”

“As reassuring as that is,” she chirps as she moves to raise her gavel after sparing the now in-custody Loki a look, “Intention does not matter, Variant. It’s the crime itself.”

You deflate.

“That being said, that court finds you both guilty and I sentence you to be reset.”

“Reset?” you ask, eyes wild with fear.

“What does that mean? ‘Reset’? Is that bad?” Loki asks, being pulled towards yet another room, “Hey!You ridiculous bureaucrats will not dictate how my story ends!”

You step down, letting the officer who had originally apprehended you lead you to an opposite door from Loki.

“It was never your story, Mr. Laufeyson — It never was.”

“You have no idea what I’m capable of!”

Enter Mobius M. Mobius.

“I… I think I might. Both of them, actually.”

You don’t know it now, certainly not as you stare wild-eyed at the chaos unfolding with a creeping sense of doom, that he will become some sort of friend in this new world. But, when he steps up, file folder in hand, you’re not sure how you’ve managed to skirt yet another brush with whatever the end of this system has in store. Somehow, the mustached man with the crooked nose says the right thing.

The judge’s eyes soften when they land on him.

You watch, trying to parse through the hushed discussion but — then you’re released.

And this man waves you on with a smile.


This man is kind — or, so far he is.

You aren’t exactly keen to trust him, nor is Loki from his apparent scrutiny of everything the man does and says.

And while he weaves you through the facility that has so many more rooms and elevators and doors than you can begin to understand, you’re in awe. Everything is… Complex. Intricate. Like woven-time itself.

Then… the skyline.

Loki finds himself staring at you.

You step up to the railing, face bathed in pure awe.

…It’s rather… cute.

Loki crosses his arms tightly. He grits his jaw, pulls his eyes from you and the skyline, and stares at the grey-haired man looking on at the both of you with a knowing smile.

“I thought there was no magic here.”

Mobius continues watching the two of you. There’s half a smile there.

“There isn’t.”

“It’s not real,” you breathe out, “It can’t be.”

Mobius’ hand is gentle on your shoulder. “It is. And so is the paperwork. C’mon, both of you.”

“This place is a nightmare.”

You look back at Loki, measuring his palpable disgust for the place. “…I sort of like it.”

“I figured you’d say that,” Mobius says with a wink as he pushes open the door to another set of elevators, “It’s that science brain of yours.”

You try to hide the offputting feeling that knowledge strikes you with. How does he know you? You don’t even know this man’s name. You scoff. “…Well, I like magic, too.”

“As you should,” Loki deadpans with a displeased expression, “Magic is supremely powerful.”

“Not here,” you chirp back, “God of Jazz Hands.”

Loki ignores the jab — and, like he has for the last handful of hours, lets these people parade him around. Going from one custody to another has little to no appeal. Already, the God is trying to figure out how to leave this place… But, it isn’t an easy concept to parse.

The elevator dings.

“I’m Agent Mobius, by the way.”

While Loki ignores the handshake, you take it. It’s hesitant.

“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you,” Mobius says, nodding as he shakes your hand.

You’re uncomfortable. He’s the second person to act as if… as if he knows who you are.

Loki watches.

“Are you taking us somewhere to kill us?” he interjects with his skeptical glare driving a wedge between you and the grey-haired TVA agent.

“No, no,” he exhales, shaking his head, “No, we’re going somewhere to talk.”

“Talk?” you ask, shifting on your feet in front of the two men. You eye the jumbled letter on the panel of the elevator and wonder what sort of system this place uses to organize their departments. This place, the TVA, is vast. The view outside the balcony proves that much. You watch the floors zip by on the overhead panel as you speak, “Sounds ominous.”

“Talking, and killing us, then.”

“No,” Mobius tucks his hands into the pockets of his slacks, “That’s where you just were. We’re going to have a little chat about some things I’m curious about.”

“Then what?” your brows furrow. You and Loki share a look of worry.

“We’ll see.”

“I don’t like to talk,” Loki offers up, defensively.

You almost scoff.

Mobius, however, does. His amusement is clear as day. “But you do like to lie, which you just did.”

“—How long have you been here?” Loki asks quickly, derailing the introspection into his behavior like it’s second-nature.

Mobius sighs, looks at you, then the elevator floors. “I dunno know. It’s hard to say, y’know, time passes differently here in the TVA…”

“I noticed,” you mumble.

Mobius’ eyes light up.

“What does that mean?” Loki looks between the two of you.

You shrug. “Think about it, how long have we been here?”

Loki squints down at you.

“Hours? Minutes? For a place that’s keen on managing the proper flow of time, I haven’t seen one clock.”

Mobius waggles his fingers in the air as the doors slide open — and he’s smiling at you with a look that reminds you of professors you’ve had in the past. It’s a blend of pride and interest and… near affection. “Nice catch, doc.”

You snort quietly. “I’m not a doctor.”

“Not yet.”

You spin, and stare at Mobius.

“I’m sorry?”

“Don’t be,” it’s cheeky, “I’ll explain later.”

Loki distrusts this little interaction immediately. He steps between you and Mobius as the three of you enter a new floor. This place is the most crowded you’ve seen yet — and though the workers here are all fitted with the same monochromatic uniform schematics, you can understand that there are indicators for different roles. Officers, guards, office clerks, judges… A whole workforce bustling around you.

“So you’re a part of the TVA’s dedicated and courageous workforce?” Loki spits out as Mobius leads the way through the hall. His tone is mocking, and his swagger is pronounced with an annoyed slump of the shoulders.

“Yes.”

“And you were created by the Time-Keepers—”

You fall behind, brushing past agents. You eye their armor, and those batons on their belts.

“Yep.”

“—To protect the Sacred Timeline.”

“Correct.”

You speed up, matching pace with the two men as they begin to round a corner toward some sort of amphitheater. Over the door, it reads Time Theater.

Loki lets out a cynical laugh as you eye your surroundings.

“You think it’s funny?” asks Mobius, holding his two stacks of manilla folders under his arm. His eyes are curious. You try to find any maliciousness there… But you fail to see anything other than genuine wonder.

“The idea that your little club decides the fate of trillions of people across all existence at the behest of three… space lizards? Yes, it’s funny. It’s absurd.”

Mobius, at the bottom of the stairs, squints.

“What about you, doc?”

Loki’s gaze turns to you at the top of the steps. You open your mouth, close it, then exhale tightly.

“Honestly?” you say, after a beat of a moment, “I don’t know what to believe.”

Mobius rocks on his heels.

“What about coincidences? Do you believe in those?”

You puff out a haughty laugh from your nose. “I prefer synchronicities.”

“Because they’re more analytical,” Mobius probes, tilting his head, “Right?”

“It depends who you ask,” you falter down the steps as you cross your arms, “To me, coincidences are random. Synchronicities hold logistical bearings. Purpose.”

“Sort of like fate?”

“If fate was a math problem,” you grin, “Maybe.”

Mobius nods. There’s a twinkle in his eyes.

“C’mon. Both of you. Come inside.”

Loki spares you a long look — one that’s laden with mild surprise and interest. For a Midgardian, you’ve proven to be able to handle yourself rather well. Again, you certainly aren’t his first choice to be trapped in this time-maze with, but he supposes you will do. You could prove useful.

You meet his eyes for a flash of a second. You ignore it. You follow Mobius.

“For the record, this does really feel like a killing-us kind of a room.”

Loki’s right. It does. You watch Mobius move to place his belongings on a table in the center of the room with three chairs gathered around it. There’s some sort of wall that begs to operate as a screen, and once more the patterned lighting choices make the space seem eerily symmetrical. It’s large, mostly empty, and your attention is fixed to the little device on the table that reminds you of an early Macintosh monitor.

“Not big on trust, huh?”

“Trust is for children, and dogs,” Loki scowls, stalking past you and moving to the table, “There’s only one person I can trust.”

“Her?” he asks as he gestures to you in a moment of genuine questioning.

Loki falters. Mobius smirks. You frown.

“No. No, myself—

“Sure, sure,” Mobius smiles, “Come on. Both of you, sit down.”

But, Loki isn’t finished. “If the TVA truly oversees all of time, how have I never heard of you until now?”

“‘Cause you’ve never needed to,” Mobius says as he leans and turns on the projector, “You’ve always lived within your set path.”

Loki’s tone rises sharply. “I live within whatever path I chose—”

You interject, raising a hand as you step between Loki and Mobius. Your brows are knotted tightly as you shake your head. “Hold on… But, when Variants break from the Sacred Timeline — you reset the Variant, and the timeline. So, who’s to say we haven’t met you before?”

Mobius stands up straight. Again, another sly smile.

“Y’know, doc,” Mobius pulls his chair out, and presumably one he intends to be yours, “You’re impressive.”

Time is impressive,” you volley back, sitting down, “And finicky. And… weird. And, if I’m being completely honest here? I have a headache.”

“Understandable. And, now I’ve gotta know,” Mobius says as he takes a seat and gestures, once more for Loki to sit down beside you, “How would you reason that repeated instances of the same Variants occur?”

“…As in the same person?” you ask as you cock a brow and lean back in the cold, steel chair.

“More like the same two people.”

Oh.

Mm. There it is. You got it. Mobius sees it.

He inhales, and leans forward.

“You two are what we call Recurring Variant Anomalies,” Mobius says pointedly, “It’s rare that we find Variants that break from the Sacred Timeline twice — even rarer when it’s the same two people both times, at the same time. Causes quite the hiccup. Lots of mental math. Time stuff. It’s a lot.”

You and Loki connect gazes.

RVA’s, or… y’know, you two,” Mobius continues as he waves between the two of you, “Are, uh… Think of it like soulmates. For whatever reason, you two are tied together in time. Variant or not. Sort of comforting, right?”

“Not at all—”

“Hardly,” Loki chirps as he crosses his arms.

“…Riiiiight,” Mobius says slowly, gaze dancing between you as he spins some sort of tuning dial on the monitor, “So… 2012… That’s… You two have just met.”

Suddenly, there’s an image on the wall. It’s conjured with delicate palettes of light building into a background, painting a picture you recognize almost immediately.

It’s the lab. It’s you, it’s Loki, it’s the Tesseract. It’s last Monday.

“What is this?” you ask, leaning forward in your chair as the projection begins to fast forward through the week, through each time you and Loki’s paths seem to cross — and in the lobby. It stops.

“Think of it as your greatest hits,” Mobius shrugs, “This tape is dedicated to you and him, and I’ve got two others here that are independent reels of your time alive.”

“This is all a load of bunkum,” Loki snaps with a scowl as sharp as a blade.

“… If looks could kill,” muses the TVA agent as he cracks open a cola can and takes a sip.

You let out a long sigh as Loki sharpens his gaze even farther. He speaks with the hissing vibrato you’ve come to know well in however long you’ve spent tied to his hip through this whole process. He’s irritated. “What do you want from us?”

“How about some cooperation to start?”

“Not my forte.”

“Speak for yourself,” you mutter, rubbing your face.

“I specialize in the pursuit of dangerous Variants,” Mobius says after another long sip. He moves through the manilla folder on top and you notice your photo there.

“Like myself?” Loki asks.

“No, no — particularly dangerous Variants. Like her, maybe,” he nods your way and you blink, “Not you, Loki, you’re a little pussycat.”

You can feel the anger rolling off the God beside you without even looking.

“I’m confused,” you say, cutting through the tension with a wave of your hand, “Why us?”

“Why you, indeed!” Mobius nods, scrubbing through time to… you’ve never seen this before. This is — well, it’s like watching a movie. A movie of someone you know.

“What is this?” Loki asks, squinting at the projection, “This never even happened. This isn’t real.”

“This,” Mobius explains, “Is what would have happened if the two of you hadn’t disrupted the Sacred Timeline. Loki, you’d be being escorted back to Asgard for imprisonment, and Doc, you’d be back to that tiny little apartment of yours — but, Loki, it’s this part that’s important.”

Suddenly, there’s a woman.

“Hello, Mother.”

Your eyes widen by a mile.

Mobius sits back and crosses his arms.

“Pause it.”

Loki’s longing look is pulled from the screen and it drifts to you; you’re standing — the recognition that burns in your gaze is hard to ignore and Loki follows your figure across the room with his eyes.

“…Who is she?” you ask after a long moment.

That,” Mobius says as he points, “Is Lady Frigga — right, Loki?”

“It’s my mother—”

You blink back at the screen.

You know her.

Not — I mean, not like you’ve met, but you know her from your dreams. You’ve had dreams about a woman with that face, with that voice, with that kind look for years; ever since you were a child, actually. You always assumed she was your father’s mother or a distant aunt you only had the bones of a memory of. You figured your brain had made the connection, filled in the gaps. But… That’s her.

The back of your head tingles.

“You’ve seen her before,” Mobius says. It’s less of a question, more of a statement of a fact.

“That’s impossible,” scoffs Loki with a roll of the eyes.

“In my dreams,” you whisper, far-away and taking in the beauty of the woman, “I have.”

Loki’s tone is sharp like a whip when he stands. “What’s the meaning of all this? To lie to us, to craft illusions?”

“I’m just trying to understand you two.”

“Why?” you ask, turning on your heel and shaking your head. It’s a bitter sort of anger that rises in your voice — and you can’t help but feel like you’re being toyed with, “There isn’t even an ‘us’. He’s a narcissistic, self-obsessed liar who thinks he was born to rule the galaxy in cheap leather—”

“—I beg your pardon—”

“Then beg!” you snap at Loki, throwing your hands at him before turning back to Mobius with a scowl, “What’s the point?”

“I’m trying to understand you,” Mobius says, “And how much you mean to him. And vice versa.”

Your gaze meets Loki’s. There is a shared irritation for this game Mobius is playing with the two of you.

“You don’t know anything about me,” Loki drawls, low and threatening, “And you’re proving such by insinuating I’d be emotionally attached to some lowly human. Midgardians are a pest. Ants to be crushed by a boot.”

You ignore the dig. You can’t really say you expected much more than that from him. It’s in character.

“Maybe I’d like to learn.”

You circle Loki, and plant your hands on the back of your own chair. You don’t sit.

“Listen, I’m not trying to make this difficult — for either of you,” the TVA agent in question leans back and looks between the two of you, “I am trying to understand what makes you both tick. Let me ask my questions, and I’ll show you why it’s so important for me to figure this out. Then, I can get you both out of here. After all, that’s what you both want, right?”

You exhale tightly.

Loki blinks. Dark lashes kiss his high cheekbones. He chews the inside of his lip, irritation bleeding into the bouncing of his leg.

“Fine.”

“Right.”

You sit down.

“Let’s start there, Loki — should you return, what are you gonna do?”

Mobius puts his head down and readies a small piece of notepaper in a flipbook. You can see the tattered, yellowing scraps of past-notes flipped behind this one. The pen has the TVA logo emblazoned on it in that same burnt orange that followed you through every hall.

Across from him, Loki tightens his jaw and straightens his posture. He then leans back, with his arms crossed, and answers.

“Finish what I started.”

“Which is?”

He wet his lips. “Claim my throne.”

Mobius nods. “You wanna be… king?”

Suddenly, there’s a sneer on the God’s lip. “I don’t want to be, I was born to be.”

Whether or not that admission was purposeful, you find your brows raising a bit in the tiniest of microexpressions. It’s surprise. The way he says it makes it seem like it’s the only right answer there is — like it’s been practiced.

“I know, but… King of what exactly?”

Loki, frustrated and clearly exhausted already with the line of questioning, scoffs.

“You wouldn’t understand.”

“Try me.”

The veneer of irritation melts — if only a little bit.

“…Midgard.”

You roll your eyes. He notices.

“AKA… Earth…” Mobius notes as his pen moves quickly across the paper, “Alright, now you’re the King of Midgard, then what? Happily ever after? All on your own?”

“I don’t need anyone to help me fulfill my purpose.”

“Must be lonely.”

“I can assure you,” Loki snaps like a wounded dog in a trap, “I do not care.”

“But, there’s the thing — you do,” Mobius raises a finger, “That’s one thing I know about you, Loki, that you do care. That being alone does bother you. I know that — and I’m not trying to belittle you. Listen, I’m a fan. I’m just trying to understand how this big picture falls into place.”

Suddenly, the tape is being scrubbed once more. Light and picture dances on the wall adjacent to the three of you, and suddenly it’s a still image of what looks like… a library? No. No, that’s not right. It’s an older building, and Thor is there, and you’re holding a spectrometer and looking horribly out of place.

Mobius presses play.

Suddenly, a black-clad Loki falls from some sort of sparking portal.

“I have been falling! For thirty minutes!”

The visage of you on the screen yelps; hand flying over your mouth at the sudden appearance of the man you now know well. He hits the floor with a resounding thud! and looks… less imposing now, flat on the floor with wild black curls flying about. He’s swathed in a well-tailored black suit and you can’t help but think he’s the exact opposite of Thor. The God of Mischief pushes himself upwards, eyes wild with anger.

Thor, on screen, hides a chuckle at his brother’s expense.

That future-you blinks with wide eyes between the unknown man and Thor, wondering why the hell no one seems to be as off-put as you are.

“Do you just…?” you make the same sort of gesture the… — wizard? Right, let’s go with wizard — had just done in order to open the portal Loki had fallen out of with a confused look on your face, “Do that normally?”

Your voice crackles from the speakers. It’s eerie.

The wizard shrugs.

He turns to Thor then, shaking hands and gesturing once more to sling open another portal.

“I trust you can handle it from here,” he says to Thor, “Good luck.”

This portal, unlike the one Loki had fallen through, overlooks the ocean. You feel a bit like you’ve opened a book in the middle of a chapter — you’re not sure what the hell is going on and before you can ask, Loki is honing in on you like a predator at his next meal. He’s standing before you, leering with an angry look that should have probably sent you for the hills.

Instead, you pull another face.

“What is this? A wretched little pest, here to help?”

“Brother—”

“Have we met?” Loki sneers, lip curling as he hisses, “Or do you simply bear resemblance to every other disgusting worm on this planet?”

You push your glasses up again. Suddenly, you’re aware of the behavioral tango you’re locked in. It’s like a psychological game of chess. You decide to move your pawn.

“We have, actually,” you chirp with an uncanny amount of unamusement. Thor’s eye twitches behind you, “You tried to blow up my lab station…?  But, uh, I doubt you probably remember that, huh? Yeah, you were, uh, kinda busy terrorizing my boss and half the other staff on call… No, no, I get it. I’ve gotten a haircut since, so—”

“Doctor, please, ignore him—” Thor tries, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“Oh, you’re one of Selvig’s wenches then.”

That doesn’t get the rise out of you that Loki had predicted. You frown, hands in your pockets. Your body language is guarded. Loki’s lip twitches.

“That’s an awfully misogynistic thing for you to say.”

There’s a glimpse of a recoil in his eyes at that. He takes a step forward, as if to challenge you – to which Strange clears his throat. The game is stopped, if only for a moment, and Loki’s anger is redirected towards the wizard with a new-found malice.

“And you must be the second-rate sorcerer—”

Mobius pauses the tape.

You blink.

“This never happened.”

“Not to you, not yet,” Mobius says, “Had you not broken from the Sacred Timeline, yes. It happens and it happens again, and again, and again. You two meeting again is the proper flow of time. Everytime.”

“How…?”

“The TVA doesn’t only know what should happen. We know what does happen — on these tapes I’ve got both of your lives from start to finish, all according to what the Time-Keepers have willed to happen in accordance with the Sacred Timeline.”

“Do you believe this?” Loki asks you suddenly as he narrows his eyes, “This is completely and utterly ridiculous.”

“Is it?” Mobius asks, “Because, frankly, I think what is a little ridiculous is your frequent belittling of those around you. I mean, c’mon, you’re the God of Mischief. I’ve got hours worth of footage on here of you hurting others. Invading cities, killing innocent people, plucking eyeballs out. I mean that right there is a prime example. Why are you being so cruel to her? She’s done nothing to you.”

“She’s a human.”

“Is it because you think she’s pretty?” Mobius plucks at the God like he’s some sort of child, “She is — we all know it — but, c’mon, really? She’s very far from a worm… That’s just plain old mean, pal.”

You feel sheepishness prick at your cheeks. You stare ahead at the screen.

Loki growls. “Your commentary is useless.”

“Because I’m right,” Mobius battles back with a wave of his finger, “You know it. I can see it — between this, and the murder and the torture and the general atrocities? I don’t see anything mischievous about how you act, Loki.”

Loki’s lip curls.

“No, I don’t suppose you do.”

“And neither does she!” Mobius says, wagging his pen your way, “I mean, really, she’s the love of your life—”

“I am not—”

“She is no such thing—”

“No?” Mobius leans forward, “You don’t believe me?”

“No.”

It comes out of both your mouths, stressed and unamused.

So, Mobius scrubs again. This time, through a long stretch of time. There’s colors, people, space, and…

A penthouse apartment.

Suddenly, as the grey-haired man presses play, Loki’s voice fills the room. The cadence is warm and gentle. It’s unlike you’ve heard him speak before. There’s a timbre to his words that makes your heart involuntarily flutter.

“I haven’t been completely honest with you.”

On the screen, his voice rouses you mid-chew and you blink up at the dark-haired God over the dinner the servants had brought you mere minutes ago. You swallows, knotting your brows. You can see worry on your own face.

You’re not wearing something Earthly. It doesn’t look Asgardian either. It’s black, with a deep neckline and your hair is intricately done. You can’t place where this is. It… doesn’t seem like Earth. Not New York City, for sure.

“What is it?” you ask, eyes scanning Loki’s face. The lie-smith opens his mouth but nothing comes out. Your face falls. “You’re married already, aren’t you—”

“What?” Loki blinks, nose scrunching in distaste, “No, I’m not married—”

You seem to deflate with relief. Loki would have laughed had his chest not felt like Mjolnir was resting atop it.

In his seat in the TVA, Loki squirms.

“Then what haven’t you been completely honest about?”

He stands, disregarding his dinner and folding his hands behind his back. He then begins to pace. Your eyes follow him with every step.

“I… I have never found myself in a position where I have grown to trust someone as much as yourself. You have gained my affections in a way I had never seen possible,” he offers. It’s slow. The other-you smiles at him and it spurs him to continue, “And because of this, I must apologize for behavior at times. I can be rude and crass… and yet you still sleep beside me at night.”

Oh.

“In all fairness, there is only one bed and I am not sleeping on the floor.”

On the screen, Loki laughs, quick and breathy, as he drops his head and sighs.

“But, I am… not who you think I am.”

You give him a look as you stand, abandoning your plate. “I am well aware of that much, Loki. You’re infuriatingly complex, and just when I think I have you pegged, you sock another wrench into my calculations.”

“I think I might be about to do exactly what you just said.”

“Spit it out, Loki.”

“You remember the story I told you of Jotunheim?”

“That’s… the ice planet?” your eyes fleet about as you rack your brain, “Jötunns were the frost giants, right? With blue skin and red eyes? That book you showed me had beautiful illustrations –”  

And suddenly, the pale face of the God on the screen is gone and his skin has an icy hue. Those green eyes you know faded away to fiery red orbs. Markings of a foreign kind swirled about his skin and you couldn’t help but yank your hand away. He looks just like the illustrations from the book on Asgardian history Loki had given you. You regret pulling away nearly instantly.

In your seat, you wince. You feel like you’re watching some soap opera on daytime television and… you’re invested. For fuck’s sake, you’re the lead star.

The hurt is visible on his face.

“I’m sorry,” he mutters, “I should have not shown you—”

Suddenly, Loki to your left, speaks up.

His voice is rough.

“Shut it off.”

Mobius raises his hand. “Shh. This is the good part.”

You blink between Loki and the screen.

On the screen, Loki is trying to quell the growing rage in his chest. He turns and knots his fingers in fists. Curse Odin. Curse Frigga. Curse them all. He was a monster. They should have just let him die on Jotunheim as a baby.

“Loki.”

Your voice is so warm it snuffs the anger in his chest out almost immediately.

You weave around him, eyes wide with a different type of admiration – one he hasn’t seen on you before (is this love?) – as your hands reach to ghost along his now pastel cobalt cheek bones. Your fingers feel like freshly smelted metal against his skin. He loves it.

“You look like sapphires,” you breathe, “I never thought blue was your color, and yet here I am. You’re – Why do you hide it? Why keep this beautiful secret hidden?”

“I am a monster.”

“Loki, no.”

Your eyes are so full of affection he wants to cry. He drops his gaze to the floor only for you to pull it back to your own gaze again. Your fingers curl along his jaw.

“It hurts me when you say that, you know. I don’t think you’re a monster. Not before, not now. You cannot be so cruel to yourself, Loki.”

He’s silent. You speak again, your voice stern.

“You’re not a monster. You’re my husband, remember?”

Mobius pauses the Time Movie.

He’s smug. “That is love. That’s what I’m trying to figure out here. You two.”

You stare at the sight on the screen. The two of you curled close.

Loki, on the other hand, feels like crawling out of his skin.

This isn’t possible. This is — this is some cruel, cruel joke put on by the powers that be. Perhaps that punishment he considered earlier. There was no way this could possibly be true.

No, he can’t even look at you.

Anger, bitterness, and fury takes over his tone as he pushes himself back in his chair.

“I know what this place is.”

“Oh?”

“Oh, yes, it’s an illusion.”

He moves to stand and you notice Mobius’ hands twitch on the Time Twister — however, the TVA agent remains interested in Loki’s reaction and less on reprimanding the sudden movement.

“It’s a cruel, elaborate trick conjured by the weak to inspire fear,” he hisses as he stalks about. Pointing at the screen, his voice runs hoarse as he shakes off the possibilities implied by the sight of the two of you, curled into one another, in love, “My mother taught me plenty of them.”

“Your mother, right,” Mobius says, raising a finger, “That’s a great point to circle back to — y’know, since you were the one who led the Dark Elves straight to her. Why?”

The woman with the kind eyes and golden hair is back once more, but this time she’s speaking to Loki — and immediately the God in the room steps forward. His expression is marked with confusion, with fear.

“What?”

“The Dark Elves,” Mobius continues as he sips his cola, “You think you send them to Thor…—”

“—You might wanna take the stairs to the left.”

“But instead, you send them…”

“—I’ll never tell.”

Your heart stops when the dagger is run through Frigga, when she gasps, and when she crumples in a heap of gilded armor and skirts. The ache you feel in your heart is tight and sharp and vengeful.

You can see the tension rising in Loki’s posture. His breath shudders.

“Shut it off,” you snap at Mobius before Loki interjects.

“Where do you have her?” he is beginning to sound panicked, “Where is she?”

But Mobius stands, and with ill-timed nonchalance, he waves his hands as he shrugs and watches Loki.

“You lead them right to her.”

“I don’t believe you,” Loki’s voice rises as you stand, “You’re lying. It’s not true.”

“It is true. That’s the proper flow of time and it happens again and again and again because it’s supposed to. Because it has to. The TVA makes sure of it—”

“Where is she?” Loki is almost like a wild animal now, ignoring the way you completely block his attempts at nearing Mobius. He’s blinded to you completely.

“—Now, why don’t you tell me, do you enjoy hurting people?”

“—I don’t believe you,” he says as he stalks from foot to foot, “I don’t.”

“Do you enjoy killing people?” Mobius is nearly yelling now.

“I’ll kill you—” Loki snaps, as if a reflex.

“What, like you did your own mother?”

Then it all falls apart. Loki breaks for Mobius, and you’re shoved out of the way. You stagger back, catching yourself on the table as the God of Mischief unceremoniously whips the chair in the agent’s direction with a flick of his wrist. It sends the image of Frigga scattering in dancing particles of light that quickly rearrange. An image that cannot be erased.

Mobius flicks the Time Twister.

In a blink, you’re back in your chair and Loki has landed, hard, on the ground.

He hisses in pain and you press your fingers to your temple. The vertigo is brutal — only for a second — and then you resettle into the current flow of time.

“Sorry, the Time Twister loops the both of you — not the furniture.”

You ignore Mobius as he rounds back to the holoprojector in favor of offering up a worried glance Loki’s way. His gaze is far away from here. Shame and guilt have replaced his anger.

“You weren’t born to be king, Loki. You were born to cause pain and suffering and death. That’s how it is, that’s how it was, that’s how it will be.”

The agent presses a button, and the Avengers roll on into the room. They paint it all sorts of heroic colors as the Chitauri hiss in the background.

“…All so that others can achieve the best versions of themselves.”

There’s a beat of silence, and then you push to stand.

“Enough.”

It’s stern.

Mobius watches as you turn to the God on the floor and offer a tentative hand.

If you’re being honest with yourself, you don’t know why you do it. Maybe because you suddenly feel for the God — maybe because in this flash of a moment, you can see the downtrodden regret pouring from his eyes as he shakes his head from his place on the ground. He’s a fallen God; yet, so horribly human.

Loki’s eyes follow the delicate hand offered to him with genuine surprise.

He is, however, incredibly thankful. He can feel it in his heart. He will hide it, of course.

He takes your hand and you lean back, helping the tall God off the floor as the TVA agent watches. Mobius finds it curious how the two of you have natural inclination towards one another already despite strong opposition to nearly everything about one another. But, that’s fate he supposes.

And this little interaction tells him a lot about Loki, about you, and about what either of your Variants might do without the other.

Suddenly, the doors rattle open.

Loki looks down on you for a moment. You hold his gaze. Then, he nods, and you pull away from him.

“What are you doing?” comes a voice you recognize as one of the officers from before. She’s the one that had apprehended Loki — a tall, strong woman with piercing eyes.

Mobius deflates. “My job. Is it yours to interrupt?”

“We have a situation.”

“There’s always a situation,” he grumbles as he pushes off his feet and moves toward the doors. He turns back, raises a finger and gestures to the two of you, “Don’t go anywhere.”

He calls out over his shoulder again as he nears the doors.

“Take a look at those tapes. I mean — It’s all there. I’m not lying about any of it.”

Then, the doors close.

And you’re left alone with Loki, the holoprojector, and two lives worth of film.

The silence is heavy.

Finally, when you turn around from the door, you let out a long sigh and settle your attention on the God in the center of the room. He’s looking at his hands, back turned to you. The sharp angles of his face are lit with the image from the Time Movie. Golden and mournful.

Your voice is gentle. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, bug,” he snaps without even turning to look at you, “You need not busy yourself with worrying over a God.”

It’s scathing.

You scowl.

“I’m trying to be nice,” you explain as you cross your arms tightly over your jumpsuit and tug at the collar around your neck, “Or is that such a foreign concept to you?”

That earns you a calculated glare over his shoulder.

You watch, keen on measuring his reaction.

“Why?” he asks, voice hot like a knife held over a fire — it’s reactionary, “What does being ‘nice’ get you in the end, bug?”

When your face falls, however, Loki realizes that you just made a rather painful point. Your eyes go soft — and the God recoils in discomfort at the sight of pity. It makes him turn away once more and ignore the delicate frown that sweeps across your features.

Behind him, your tone is soft. “Nevermind then.”

Loki steals another glance. He watches as you begin to pace — your white sneakers follow the line in the tiles as you move back and forth across the room. His brows are twisted in a horribly curious way. He despises himself for it.

“…I am a God. Words of mortal men mean nothing to me.”

He says it like he’s trying to convince himself. You pause midstep.

“It doesn’t matter who says something,” you mumble before gesturing to the holoprojector, “Words are the oldest weapon in the book.”

“Oh, please,” Loki chirps, cocking his head to the side as he, like a snake, shows his fangs to deter a threat. His words are a desperate attempt at a stinging bite, “I don’t need your pity. You’re a pest. A soon-to-be-subjugate.”

There’s hurt, there. You can hear it in the subtle crack of his words.

“You’re the Silvertongue,” you shrug, “You’d know.”

Hm.

He’s quiet for a while longer and you trade in your pacing for settling in on the steps before the exit to the theater. Your gaze is rooted on the film sitting neatly atop Mobius’ files. There’s one there with your name on it. The canister glimmers in the light.

“…Do you believe what Agent Mobius says about me?”

It’s a quiet question.

You watch Loki.

His posture is sharp. It’s the way he asks it that betrays his intention.

You fiddle with your fingers.

“…I don’t know if I believe anything Mobius says,” you begin, tucking your knees close and leaning forward, “But, I know you’ve done terrible things.”

“You think me to be a monster.”

“Is that a joke?” you chirp as you scoff, “Please, continue to berate me, and weave along your little manifest destiny monologues about ruling my planet — and do you want me to ignore the last week? The failed attempt at leveling New York? I thought you said you didn’t want my pity.”

“Enough,” Loki hisses as he is beginning to even regret pushing you for an answer, “You’ve said your piece.”

No,” you stress, raising a finger to signify you aren’t finished; anger settles into your words, “I haven’t. But it doesn’t matter because you’re so self-absorbed you can’t even listen to what I’m saying.”

In truth, it’s shame that’s making the God’s fingers tremble, not anger. In complete honesty, it feels easier to let you believe it’s some self-aggrandized notion and not the dawning realization that he may not be able to keep up this illusion forever. He… He never meant for it all to end up like this.

His back is still to you. He’s glad. He doesn’t want you to see the crack in his stalwart composition.

“This is ridiculous.”

His whisper bears an inkling of his frustration. You watch him.

“Yeah,” you mutter to yourself as you stand and rock on your heels, “Worst Thursday of my life.”

That earns you a scoff.

He stops his fiddling long enough to trace your figure with his eyes and realize that, yes, that woman from before in the lobby of the Avengers tower was indeed you — and from the films Mobius had shown, he can see why you would have called out to him like that. It’s clear that in this other time, in the ‘Sacred’ flow of time, the two of you weren’t meant to find one another.

It’s… laughable, almost.

By Odin’s beard — not for lack of trying, his mother and father had never been able to find him a suitable match. Thor was easier; he wasn’t so critical of companionship. Loki yearned for intellectual connection even as a young boy, and found it harder to play with kids his age. Perhaps that’s why he so readily threw himself into magic, into Frigga’s teachings. She had insisted that fate was a beautiful thing. That it was wound like ribbons of silk in the stars, falling into place with every rise and fall of the moon.

He rather liked the image.

…And if you were being truthful about seeing his mother? In your dreams?

Well, she always did seem one step ahead of everyone else.

Was this how it was written all along? Did he not have any say in how his life panned out? Was this detour a part of his ascent, or… or was it all in vain? Was he supposed to find you now? Later? Has he gone and ruined what time had set in motion for him?

Suddenly, Loki finds his heart aching for something he cannot have:

That life. The one that rolled by like a movie.

And yet — he’s angry.

It’s not possible. No, he’d never find himself falling in bed with a human. Not for life, not for love, not for… some unending thing that has supposedly transcended time. You are beneath him. Unworthy of even the simplest of his affections. Frigga was wrong.

His mother was wrong.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

He didn’t need this clouding his intent, either. He had one goal — the same goal that has remained since falling from the Bifrost. It’s glorious purpose, a burden he’s carried since he was a boy.

Odin’s burden.

The burden of a forgotten son.

“If you don’t mind,” when he turns around, you notice that he wasn’t looking at his hands at all. Infact, he’s got a disassembled Time Twister in his hands. Confusion consumes you when you realize you have no idea how he even managed to snag that thing off Mobius — or when he could have — but… that’s mischievous, “This little talk has been lovely, but I’m not intending to stick it out.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Hardly,” Loki chirps as he takes a step forward, “I’m going to find the Tesseract and leave this place.”

You mimic his stride and step up beside him. “They’ll fry you before you even get the chance—”

“Oh, please,” the God croons with a horribly charming smirk, “Watch me, bug.”

And, just like that, he’s gone.

And you’re left alone with the tapes.

When Mobius M. Mobius returns to the Time Theater, he has to admit he’s a little surprised to find you there, sitting in a chair you’ve pulled right up the holoprojector’s screen. You’re alone. He watches you there, curled tightly in the chair with your knees to your chest, and Mobius realizes you look younger than before.

Hunter B-15 scowls. She moves to step forward but — Mobius stops her.

The scene unfolding before you clearly holds some sort of sentimentality.

Your father follows you closely as you begin to pedal, to push, to venture farther from his balanced grasp as you fly from the safe confines of training wheels and into the world of balance — it’s the first time you’re riding that electric blue bike he’d gotten you for your fifth birthday. It’s the brightest time in your life; before the academic pressure to keep up, before the ever increasing weight of expectations, before the denial to Cornell, before hearing the words ‘I am so proud of you’ became a rarity.

Mobius lets out a quiet sigh as the man on the tape booms with laughter and hauls you into the air.

“Great job, kid! Look at you!” he’s laughing, and Mobius notes the gentle quiver of your figure in that chair, “I’m so proud of you!”

Mobius pauses the Time Movie.

You don’t notice. You’re too busy furiously wiping away the tears, trying to regain your composure and sniff back the homesickness.

He speaks gently. “He is proud of you, y’know.”

Mobius isn’t making it easy.

You blink up at the ceiling.

Then, the grey-haired man rounds the chair and kneels.

“Look at me, doc.”

“I’m not a doctor—”

“You wanna know how I know who you are?” he asks urgently, before gesturing to the stack of paper, “And not because of this whole fiasco — I knew who you were before this.”

Oh, be still his heart. Mobius’ heartstrings tug at the sight of you, broken-hearted and alone.

You,” he says, pressing a gentle finger to your heart, “Are one of the brightest minds to ever mark life on Earth. You are one of the ones that helps unlock the key to Time Travel. You’re — Look at me. You’re incredible. And I know that man is proud of you. I know he is.”

You swipe at your face with the back of your hand.

“Time Travel?”

“Sure puts a bit of a wrench in our lives in the TVA,” Mobius jokes, “But… Yeah, doc, Time Travel.”

Your mouth falls open. Then, you laugh. “That’s impossible.”

“It’s not,” he chirps as his hand lands on your knee, “Actually, Loki plays a — hold on.”

Mobius’ eyes snap around the room.

Loki… Where is Loki?”

You drop your face into your hand. “I wish I could say I tried to stop him but — honestly, it was just nice to be away from him for five minutes.”

Behind the two of you, Hunter B-15’s calm demeanor snaps as she snaps her taser to life. “You let him escape?!”

You exhale and let your eyes fall shut. “I know, I know — but, he’s going for the Tesseract. I knew he wouldn’t get far.”

Mobius is busy feeling his pockets, digging through and trying to find his Time Twister but… you offer up the one tied to your own collar with a regretful look. Mobius looks at it, then you, and turns back to Hunter B-15.

“C’mon, doc.”

“No — no way,” the hunter says, “She is a liability. She’s extremely dangerous—”

You stand, and toss her the Time Twister. “Here. I step outta line, you get to — y’know. Do that weird time thing you do.”

She catches it, looks at you with a bit of shock, and then pockets the device. In one smooth motion, she’s radioed for back-up. Like clockwork, troops in the same outfit as her arrive outside the Time Theater. You slip Mobius one more apologetic look as he barks out orders to track Loki down.

“Prune on sight —”

“No! No pruning, no resetting!” he snaps, leading you back to a set of elevators, “He can still help us!”

As the doors close, you let out a sigh. “Where the Tesseract is, he’ll be. It’s his only plan.”

“How do you know?”

“He did the villain thing. Y’know, where they announce their plan before they do it.”

“…God damn debutant.”

You wave an unimpressed hand through the air as the elevator drops. Mobius snorts. He tucks his free hand into his pocket. The other holds that… scary baton. The elevator doors swing open and you follow Mobius as he begins to sweep the… storage rooms? Or, at least, that’s what you can gather from the rows and rows of shelves with marked TVA boxes. Some are glowing, some are tattered, some items catalogued are too big to fit in the boxes. You spy a set of armor, Hulk-sized and emblazoned with a red mohawk, on a back shelf in a room labeled H 1999-3000.

A man in a suit and tie carries by a box that hisses.

You flinch.

“You really don’t like him, huh?” Mobius asks, preoccupied with his search into each room but still keen on conversation.

You follow him closely. “Can you blame me?”

“Not really,” he shrugs, “But that’s not how it always is with you two. There’s, uh… a connection.”

“My fist to his face, maybe.”

“Good one.”

“Thanks.”

You reach the end of the floor and Mobius ushers you up a stairwell to an additional floor labeled Storage, but this time it’s a narrower hallway with less people milling about. It’s quiet up here.

“Really, though, you’ve gotta see something in him. I mean — you do. Later on, maybe, but it still happens.”

You wince. “I still don’t believe you.”

“Oh, you think I went and wrote a winding tale of romance, huh? All for you and the God of Mischief? Seriously, doc, you see how busy I am trying to make sure this place doesn’t implode?” Mobius chirps with a smile as he flicks on the lights to a room, peaks around some shelves, then ducks back out, “You saw your life. That was all real. Why would I fabricate the rest?”

You frown.

Mobius eyes you over his shoulder. “Did you see how it ends?”

“My life, you mean?”

He nods.

You scowl. “No — I don’t want to know that.”

Before Mobius can reply, the radio on his hip crackles to life. You recognize the voice as the woman from before, the hunter. She sounds angry. Livid. Nearly unrecognizable amidst her tirade.

“He’s in Time Theater 5.”

You and Mobius share a look, and back you go.

She isn’t wrong — Loki is still there by the time you and Agent Mobius burst through the doors. But, this time, the reel that rolls by reads END OF TAPE. You can see that it’s the one Mobius had shown you before — the one where you and him and your lives have played out. It’s been finished, alongside the one with his name on it.

Mobius slows up. You linger behind him.

Against the far wall, Loki has his head in his hands. He doesn’t look up when either of you enter — nor does he reach for the Tesseract at his feet. Instead, he pushes his hands through his hair and exhales.

“Loki?” calls Mobius, “Nowhere left to run…”

“I can’t go back, can I?” he asks suddenly, looking up and clasping his hands together. He leans on his knees, posed on the tile floor, “We can’t. Back to our timeline?”

Mobius’ gaze lingers on Loki, then moves to you. There’s sadness there.

He doesn’t need to speak for you and Loki to know the answer.

You close your eyes and shakily exhale.

Loki presses his palms to his eyes.

There’s quiet between the three of you for a while then. You move through the room, settling in the chair Mobius had claimed in the beginning. You pick up your tape, inspect it, and then remove the one labeled with you and Loki’s names, with the start and end year, from the holoprojector.

He’d watched it all through.

When you look up, he’s staring at you.

His expression is mournful.

“I don’t enjoy hurting people,” he struggles out, head shaking as if to refuse the words coming out of his mouth. He sighs, “I… don’t enjoy it. I do it because I have to, because I’ve had to.”

He holds your gaze.

“Okay,” Mobius says quietly, nearly whispering, “Explain that to me, to us.”

Loki exhales. He gestures, then, with delicate hands to himself. “Because it’s part of the illusion. It’s the cruel, elaborate trick conjured by the weak to inspire fear.”

You place the film reel down carefully.

Oh.

“A desperate play for control… You do know yourself.”

Loki’s fingers rub his lips. You see now the echoes of sadness etched into his face. He sniffs, rubs his cheeks, and then drops his hands.

“A villain…”

He scoffs. He shakes his head with a cynical expression of frustration; all with himself.

Mobius frowns. “That’s not how I see it.”

You watch Loki reach for the cube. It warbles, shimmers and glitters with power — but does nothing. No puffs of smoke, no disappearing acts, no cosmic happenstance. No, Loki holds it up to the light and it simply glows.

Like an overrated paper weight.

“You try t’ use that?” Mobius asks with a smirk, lowering his baton.

“Oh, several times,” Loki nods as he turns it over in his fingers, “Even an Infinity Stone is useless here.”

He spares you a disappointed look, then tosses you the cube. Best to give you a chance to admire the very thing he’d stolen from up close before it’s, no doubt, reseized and tucked away. Maybe that Casey character will decide he’ll use it as a glorified coaster.

You catch it. Immediately you’re surprised at the weight.

You turn it over in your hands.

Loki watches.

“The TVA is formidable.”

“That’s been my experience,” Mobius replies, “But, listen, I can’t… I can’t offer the two of you salvation, but maybe I can offer the two of you something better.”

Your attention turns to Mobius.

Loki stands.

“Two fugitive Variants have been killing our minutemen.”

You push back from the chair, toss the cube in the air, and step forward.

“And you need the God of Mischief and a little scientist to help you stop them?” Loki cracks, tilting his head as he speaks.

Mobius smirks. “That’s right.”

“Why us?” you ask, for what feels like the thousandth time today.

“The Variants we’re hunting are you two.”

Loki’s eyes snap to you, and yours snap to him.

The look you share is one that, suddenly, makes sense.