“You really don’t remember him?” asks Classic Loki doubtfully.
Mobius stretches his hands out toward the campfire he and the three Loki Variants are sitting in a loose circle around. “I mean,” he says, “the TVA arrested a lot of Lokis, but no, I don’t remember an alligator.”
Alligator Loki huffs and snaps his jaws.
“He says that you clearly have a favorite,” Kid Loki tells Mobius.
“What?” says Mobius.
“You Midgardians. I suppose you are Midgardian?” says Classic Loki. He beams tolerantly. “Always so transparent. Although I do believe your Loki is rather fond of you as well.”
“What– I– he’s not my Loki. But. Er. He is?” Mobius almost bites his tongue. He hadn’t meant to say that last part out loud. He clears his throat loudly, hoping that he hadn’t sounded too desperate.
Kid Loki laughs suddenly. “For a Loki, he’s really not subtle about it,” he says.
Alligator Loki growls.
“He wants to know how you two met,” Kid Loki translates.
“Er, the TVA arrested him.”
“Oh, we know that. How’d you end up working together?”
Mobius blinks. “Loki was sentenced to be pruned. I recruited him to help me track down Sylvie.”
“Ooh, saved him from certain death,” chirps Kid Loki. Alligator Loki tilts his head in approval.
“Lovely,” agrees Classic Loki.
“You guys are so weird.” Mobius sighs.
“And you’re not so bad, I suppose,” Kid Loki tells him.
“Thanks, I guess?” Mobius says.
“So?” Kid Loki asks. “What was it like working with him? All those long hours researching Variants together…” He grins.
Mobius scowls at him.
“What is this, the third degree?” he grumbles. “I feel like I’m meeting my in-laws for the first time, or something.”
All three Lokis stare back at him silently. Alligator Loki looks particularly smug.
“No, no, no, no, hold up,” Mobius says. “That’s not what I meant–”
“Too late,” Classic Loki says. He smiles at Mobius benevolently, with the air of a teacher looking at his star pupil.
“No take-backs,” Kid Loki adds triumphantly.
Alligator Loki snaps his jaws loudly. He still looks intolerably smug.
“So,” Sylvie says. “Mobius.”
“What about him?” Loki says. He and Sylvie are sitting side-by-side on a gentle grassy slope a little ways from some dilapidated stone ruins where the group of them had taken shelter.
“He likes you,” Sylvie says.
“I’m very likeable,” Loki tells her. He conjures a blanket over his own shoulders, deliberates briefly, then takes one end of it and tucks it around Sylvie so that the blanket covers both of them.
“Hmm,” says Sylvie. Her lips curve up ever-so-slightly. “You’re being deliberately obtuse.”
“Me?” says Loki. “Never.”
Sylvie eyes him sidelong. “You know,” she says, “if you’re set on coming with me to face Alioth–”
“I’m not changing my mind,” Loki says.
“–then this might be your last chance,” Sylvie continues, ignoring the interruption, “to tell him how you feel about him.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Oh, please.” Sylvie rolls her eyes. “You do realize,” she says, “that I’m you. Or close enough, anyway, that it’s futile for you to try to fool me.”
Loki grimaces. “Fine,” he says. “But this isn’t some trite romance novel. And even if it were…” He shrugs. “Even if it were, you know as well as I do that Lokis are the villains of the story, not the dashing romantic heroes.”
“Well.” Sylvie shrugs one shoulder. “Isn’t that why we’re here? All of us.” She gestures at the ashen wasteland around them. “We’re here because we refused to be the villains.”
Loki squints at her. “That’s…a remarkably positive attitude you’ve got there. Are you quite sure you’re one of us?”
Sylvie scoffs lightly. She turns to face Loki, then quick as a flash, she conjures a dagger out of nowhere and whips it straight up, the razor-sharp tip a hair’s breadth from Loki’s chin. Loki doesn’t flinch.
“We’re on a tight schedule, Mister Love-is-a-dagger,” she says. She taps Loki’s cheek lightly with the flat of the blade, then nimbly flips the dagger around and hands it to him, hilt-first. “It’s only a weapon if you choose to use it as one.”
Loki grins back at her and takes the dagger, dematerializing it. He stares out at the horizon, ash and dust and desolation, then glances back over his shoulder at the ramshackle stone building serving as their temporary home base, thinks of the man sitting in that building with three other Lokis. The man who’d trusted him when he shouldn’t have; the man who’d cared about him – and, against all odds, still does.
“Eugh,” says Sylvie.
Loki looks at her. “What?”
“That’s the soppiest smile I’ve ever seen,” Sylvie says. “Oh my god.”
“Shut up,” mutters Loki. He takes the half of the blanket that was draped over his shoulders and scoots out from under it, tucking it carefully around Sylvie instead.
“Well?” Sylvie’s voice is warm. “Go on, then.”
Loki gets to his feet, brushing dust off his trousers. “If this goes badly,” he says, “I’m blaming you.”
“If you’re not back before the next nexus event, I’m leaving without you!” Sylvie calls after him as he strides away.
“Hi,” says Loki. “Er. May I have a word?”
Mobius looks up from where he’d been sitting and chatting with the other three Lokis around a crackling campfire – or, well, from what Loki had seen when he’d approached the group, it’d been more akin to Mobius frozen in awkward silence while the other Lokis – yes, even Alligator Loki – smirked at him. It’s a little odd, to say the least: Mobius is a chatty fellow even at the worst of times, and the Lokis are, well, Lokis.
There’s an expression of undisguised relief on Mobius’s face. “Loki!” He glances around at the others, then back up at Loki.
“Me?” he asks. “You wanted to talk to me?”
“Go ahead,” says Kid Loki encouragingly. He leans forward, elbows on his knees, resting his chin in his hands.
“Alone,” Loki says pointedly. “Please,” he adds. The other Lokis look disappointed.
Mobius gets to his feet with alacrity.
Loki looks around. There really isn’t anywhere to have a private conversation: they’re in the middle of a wide grassy field, the decaying ruins they’re using as their base open to the elements. Making the best of it, he leads Mobius some distance away from the campfire. They sit down facing each other in the shelter of a crumbling stone wall, out of sight from the curious gazes of their companions.
“So,” Loki begins. He clears his throat awkwardly.
“So,” Mobius echoes. He’s looking at Loki expectantly.
“Er,” Loki says. “So. Given that in the very near future, I will be accompanying Sylvie to endeavor to enchant Alioth, and there’s – well – frankly, a fairly sizeable chance that I may not survive that encounter, I wanted to express my gratitude for your…friendship and my…esteem for you, and, uh, I really– ”
“Can I kiss you?” Mobius blurts, then promptly blushes tomato red.
Loki grinds to a halt in the middle of his impromptu speech, mouth open.
“God, I’m so sorry, I– ” Mobius begins at the same time that Loki says, “god, yes.”
They stare at each other for a shocked heartbeat, then Mobius is grabbing Loki’s shoulders and pulling him in, pressing their lips together. Loki groans and parts his lips eagerly for Mobius, scooting even closer and wrapping his arms around Mobius’s waist.
“You’re – mmph – so damned infuriating,” Mobius mumbles in between kisses. “Couldn’t stop thinking about you, want to do so many things to you – o-oh–”
“Show me,” Loki demands, almost ripping Mobius’s suit in his hurry to remove it. “C’mon, Mobius–” In a fit of impatience, he uses his magic to dematerialize Mobius’s shirt and tie. Mobius’s eyes go very wide.
“Nngh,” says Mobius, and flings himself on a smiling Loki.
Some time later, Loki starts awake to the sound of someone banging loudly on the stone wall he and Mobius are sheltering behind. He’s still lying naked in Mobius’s arms, their clothes scattered nearby. The winds are picking up ominously around them, clouds low in the sky and the air growing ever more oppressive.
Both men sit up, hurriedly gathering their clothes.
“Nexus event!” Sylvie shouts from the other side of the wall. She bangs on it again.
Loki pauses in the middle of putting his clothes back on. He turns to look at Mobius.
Mobius grabs Loki’s shoulders. “You come back to me alive, you hear me?” He leans in to kiss Loki, gentle and lingering. “I haven’t done even half of what I wanted to do to you yet.”
“I will,” Loki says, and believes it. He smiles. “We’ll have time.”
“All the time in the world,” Mobius replies, and it sounds like a promise.