It takes Loki weeks, months, maybe longer, of running through the same set of disappointments on repeat: steal another TemPad, dodge another army of agents, open another gateway, step into another TVA. There must be thousands of them, sprawled through the multiverse, each defending its own timeline and each worshipping its own god(s).
Each with its own Mobius. Loki finds them all.
It might be funny, if he were younger, less desperate, less lonely; neither feeling is new, not to him, but what wears him down now is the lingering. Because he’s a Loki, after all—he’s supposed to get beat, get up, and move on. Lose one fight only to start a worse one. Persistence, at least the noble, virtuous sort—the sort that called for accepting one’s own pointless death to save a clever Midgardian, or refusing to give up on one’s traitorous little brother no many how many times one has been stabbed—was a trait he had always gladly left to Thor.
It’s a small victory, really, to break the pattern. To care. He thinks often of the old man Loki as he searches through another TVA—another Mobius’s office, another Mobius’s locker, another Mobius’s table at the library. Truth be told, I missed my brother, old-Loki had admitted in the Void. Then, Loki had only nodded vaguely, eager to learn without feeling; now, outcast from his own universe, he feels something disgustingly akin to empathy.
Sylvie had not understood this fear. He exhales sharply as the memory resurfaces again, pauses in his perusal through another dim library’s bookcases to lean against the shelves. He had thought being alone for so long would let her understand the woes of the outcast better than any of them; but perhaps she had been alone too long to yearn for anything else. Loki never had asked about her version of Thor.
It came to nothing, anyway. Like it or not, they always ended up alone. He shakes off the thought.
He remembers some version these shelves. They’re more familiar than some—this library has the right statues, at least, but that much meant little; he’d found a dozen sets of familiar marble timekeepers in the past two dozen stops alone. No, these shelves felt familiar because, in some version of the timeline, Mobius had pulled the Kablooie from one of the lock boxes of evidence before him with that small smirk of triumph and asked about candy. No wonder you’re so bitter.
Loki sucks in a breath—this keeps happening as he retraces his steps through the corners of the TVAs: echoes of Mobius’s voice lurk where they have no right to, reaching out to taunt him whenever his focus slips.
He means to keep going, but the sweat on his palms and ringing in his temples insist on a break. He turns slowly and drops to the floor, back to the shelves, concealed enough for now. It’s unwise to linger in these new TVAs, he knows this; now that he carries as many TemPads as he can find on his person, the consequences of being pruned are significantly less dire, but it still takes the air out of him every time a not-his-Mobius comes at him with a stick.
He wonders what Sylvie is up to, now. If she can see him. If killing the Conqueror was all she had hoped it would be.
He knows it wasn’t.
His stomach twists, thinking of her in that castle alone. He never did know quite what to make of his variant, and the conflicting feelings after their sudden goodbye have only grown with time—betrayal and pity, guilt and grief, curdling in his gut and sapping the magic from his fingers. Her actions so deeply familiar and so utterly unbelievable. If he hadn’t been in the middle of expressing one of the first genuine feelings of his life, if that kiss hadn’t been so startlingly weird, he’s almost certain he would have seen it coming. Would have stopped it.
Not that he didn’t find her attractive, of course—she was him, after all, and he was glorious—or even that he hadn’t entertained the notion. But he’d… he’d finally done it. Spoken genuine, selfless truth to her in those last moments even though he could have lied, even though it would have been easier, safer. Better.
It had just been so long since someone had touched him like they loved him.
But I just want you to be okay, he’d said, and meant it, and she had answered with a stab in the back.
He groans, forehead pressed into his palms. Loki’s really were despicable creatures then, weren’t they? He’s seen too much supporting evidence since this madness started to really defend himself. And such pitiful creatures, too; he’d always rejected pity, always hated it, spat it back, unable to comprehend where it came from. But crouched on the ground with a head full of memories and yet another timeline likely full of only strangers, he feels pity for the both of them: her, alone in the hell she’d released at the end of time; him, alone in the hell she’d released in the thick of it.
You are alone, and you always will be. A truth he ought to finally accept.
Loki folds his hands carefully together in front of him, bracing his elbows against his knees to steady the faint tremble in his grip. The increasingly frequent desire to open up a new time cell and just disappear keeps returning; he wouldn’t set it to a happy memory, no, those hurt too much now, but maybe just a quiet one. Perhaps that honeyed garden beside Frigga’s window that smelled so achingly of home.
“Loki?” someone asks, breathless, from the end of the bookcase. Familiar.
Loki is on his feet in a heartbeat, jolting back and snatching a book from the shelf at random—not exactly his weapon of choice, but he could buy time with a good throw if needed.
Rumpled brown suit, crooked brown tie, ruffled grey hair. Loki’s breathe hitches as this timeline’s Mobius M. Mobius meets his gaze.
And yeah, it took Loki weeks, months, maybe longer; but this timeline’s Mobius M. Mobius is the very first one he’s found who looks relieved to see him.
“Loki?” he asks again, louder, stepping suddenly forward and lifting a hand and—Loki means to respond, he does, but his mouth is dry when he opens it and he’s jolting backwards as Mobius approaches because—because it’s a trick, it could be a trick, it must be a trick. Right?
“Hey, woah,” Mobius says, stopping on his toes and looking Loki up and down with those warm grey eyes. Loki already has a TemPad in the hand that isn’t proffering the profoundly unthreatening book like a sword, knuckles white and ready to send himself to the next godforsaken TVA, but that’s—it’s wrong.
“Do you know me?” Loki manages to ask, voice low and raspy from disuse.
Mobius lowers his arms further, the crease in his brow growing deeper. He waits a beat, perhaps hoping for more explanation, before replying carefully. “Why are you asking, Loki? Where have you been?”
Loki bites his lip—fighting himself to stay and listen, fighting to neither accept the inevitable disappointment and vanish into the TemPad now before it’s too painful again, nor to throw caution to the wind and leap forward to confirm that this is him, really him, that it’s real.
Every Mobius has been kind, after all, but every Mobius has also been cunning; he thinks he knows this one, he does, but, “Prove it. Prove that you know me.”
With a deep, perplexed inhale, Mobius stands back, reaching into his pockets and narrowing his eyes. Loki tenses as his hands disappear, but Mobius pulls the right one out only a moment later, fingers cupped closed.
Jerking backwards again, Loki squints at the contents of his fist. Dirt? Sand? “What is that?”
“Ravonna’s desk,” explains Mobius simply. And winks, the bastard, as he opens his fingers to let the little heap of ashes flutter to the floor.
What will you do?
Burn it to the ground.
Loki laughs, loud and startled. Mobius smiles back, cautious, dropping his hand. Loki has the presence of mind to shove the TemPad pack in his pocket, but the book hits the floor with a bang; his whole body shakes like a leaf, and he’s still laughing, maybe, but he seems to be crying, too.
His Mobius edges forward, eyes wide, even as Loki startles back again—involuntary, stupidly afraid, so scared for this, so scared for his last hope to break him. But Mobius comes quietly, inevitably, breathing out, “Loki, Loki,” in that same frightened tone that had come out of Loki’s own mouth as he whispered Sylvie, Sylvie, over their clashing blades, as he begged her not to do this, not to have him hurt her, not to hurt herself, not to fall apart.
He will not repeat that scene. Not even with the roles reversed.
So he lets his Mobius reach him. He lets his Mobius catch his shoulder and wait; just steadying, just present, neither pushing forward nor pulling away. Loki takes a long time to look at him—fleetingly, seeking familiarities, avoiding his eyes—and can’t help but reach out to straighten this man’s utterly hopeless tie.
Mobius chuckles at the familiar gesture, fingers tightening ever so slightly on his arm. “Loki, buddy, what happened to you? Where’ve you been?”
Loki risks a glance at his face through half-lidded eyes; he sees nothing but candor and honest concern across from him.
I deserve to be alone, and I always will be.
Do you really believe that?
Swallowing past the lump in his throat, Loki whispers, “Looking for you.”
They visit the room with the holographic television first, the one where Mobius had shown Loki the greatest hits of his own miserable life however long ago. This new memory is not an experience Loki wants to share with him, not really; but Mobius needs to know, and Loki doesn’t have it in him to recount it manually.
Mobius watches the whole scene in unblinking silence: Loki and Sylvie proceeding into the castle, the temptations offered by Miss Minutes, the meeting with He Who Remains. Loki and Sylvie absorbing the choice, dueling, kissing, betraying. Loki, thrown to the TVA, retracing his and Mobius’s steps through the halls and the stacks, finding the wrong gods and the wrong Mobius.
Loki sits on the floor beside Mobius’s chair for the whole show, glaring away from the screen and focusing on the weight of the agent’s hand curled loosely in the collar of his shirt—it should feel controlling, that grip, but Mobius has always been strangely physical and Loki is honestly glad for the reminder that both of them are present and real. He has to listen, though, face going red as he remembers his foolishness before the clock, the conqueror, and, finally, Sylvie.
Mobius doesn’t make a sound throughout, but his grip tightens as he watches Loki fight with her. His hand jolts when Loki utters the truest words of their encounter: Because you can’t trust, and I can’t be trusted.
And oh, how Loki wishes they could skip what comes next. But Mobius needs to know.
The reel stops when on-screen Mobius asks Who are you? What’s your name? Present-Loki schools his expression towards indifference before present-Mobius can see the effect of that moment in real time.
A beat of silence. Loki braces for the impact.
Mobius releases his shirt and smooths the crease down before slowly standing. He pivots towards the demigod, who cringes internally and stares resolutely ahead.
“How long?” asks Mobius above him—hands on his hips, not looking down.
Mobius points to the screen—at his own face, empty of recognition. “How long ago was this? For you?”
Loki looks at him sideways, confused. “I don’t—know? Time is weird here, remember?”
“So you’ve been—what? Jumping between the TVA’s in each different timeline, blindly looking for the one you came from? After that whole scene?”
Ah, there’s the anger. Of course, he’d done something wrong; he knew that already, but he hadn’t been sure which part would be most disappointing. Loki looks back at his hands, says as flatly as he can manage, “What else could I have done?”
Mobius drops his hands; Loki visibly winces at the quick movement, hears his companion sigh in response. “You know, you’re the only Loki I’ve ever come across that could’ve done that.”
Loki glances up at the words; Mobius looks, of all things, rather amused. His stomach sinks. Anger is an easier burden to bear than mockery, at least for him. “Done what?” he asks, striving for nonchalance and achieving only petulance.
“Trusted me. Trusted her,” says Mobius, and Loki flinches, recoils away, lungs tightening and breath snaring in his ribcage. Not this, not from Mobius, he can’t—
“Woah, hey, hey. Loki, stop,” and Mobius is in front of him, suddenly, kneeling on the cold floor. “It was a compliment. Take a breath, you’re okay.”
He is not okay. His breath is too shallow, his thoughts too scattered; the room spins around him and he wonders faintly if he’d somehow been injured without noticing and is just now feeling the effects of the blood loss.
Mobius’s hands on his shoulders. He jolts to attention.
“Loki. Deep breaths, you’re okay.” So infernally calm.
“I’m sorry,” Loki whispers back, barely in control. Pitiful.
And Mobius just keeps shaking his head. “You don’t need to be—hey. I’m sorry I said that. You don’t need to be sorry; you didn’t do anything wrong,” and Loki has to laugh at the absurdity of that, the cruelty of this trick. What fool could find him like this and possibly believe he didn’t do anything wrong?
Loki just shakes his head, still panting, still shaking, and tries to pull away from Mobius before he’s pushed.
Mobius curls a hand around the nape of his neck and pulls him into a hug instead, other arm looping around Loki’s ribcage to keep him close, palm circling gently across the small of his back. Loki doesn’t remember wrapping his arms around Mobius in return, doesn’t remember burying his damp eyes in Mobius’s shoulder or curling forward as close as he can get instead of running far, far away, but he finds himself there all the same.
And Mobius doesn’t push him away. He just keeps rubbing at Loki’s back, tilts his head to keep murmuring calming words against the shell of Loki’s ear (“I’ve got you, you’re okay; just keep breathing, that’s it, good boy; you found me, you’re okay, you’re not alone, I’m not leaving”), and Loki knows it will end, knows he should end it, but he gets to keep so very little and he wants for nothing but this.
When Mobius reaches for a TemPad, Loki panics, simultaneously redoubling his grip on Mobius’s back and trying to leap away from the portal—but Mobius was ready for it, already had a good grip on him, and has pulled the two of them sideways through the golden doorway before Loki registers what he’d murmured a moment before: “We’re just going back to my place, okay? I’m not leaving, I promise, I’m not leaving.”
The floor under his knees changes to carpet.
“Loki, I’m sorry, it’s okay, we’re still here, okay?” and Loki can only nod and squeeze his eyes shut in reply. “I’m so sorry you went through all that,” Mobius says beside him, sincere and out of place.
It is so very loud inside his head.
Distantly, he feels the changes—warm hands tugging him forward and up, a blanket over his shoulders, water on his lips. Then warm beside him, around him, urging him to quiet, urging him to sleep.
So he does.
But I’m not you, she whispers, and he snaps awake, shouting, clawing, reaching for a lifeline.
A bleary-eyed Mobius catches his flailing hand, entwining fingers thoughtlessly and pulling Loki back to him—Loki blinks rapidly, taking in the dimly-lit sight of a mostly-dressed Mobius sprawled on top his bed with no small measure of confusion.
“Hi,” Mobius murmurs as Loki meets his gaze, holding their clasped hands close to his chest.
“My apartment. Looked like you hadn’t slept in about year.”
Loki looks him over again, eyeing the scene more shrewdly now. “Do you typically sleep fully dressed and above your blankets?”
The attitude earns him a tired grin. “I’m not typically entertaining at this hour, to be honest.”
Loki tries to cross his arms before remembering Mobius has one of them captive; this instantly becomes an enormous distraction, not in the least because Mobius’s thumb is tracing careful circles on his palm.
He ends up with his left arm resting crookedly over his midsection, instead. Not quite the same effect. “This does not strike me as very restful,” he replies with a scowl, trying to focus on anything but Mobius touching him, anything but the fact that this is, in fact, Mobius’s bed. When in doubt, go for bravado, right?
Mobius eyes him and shrugs. “Okay, Loki. Have it your way.” He kisses the back of Loki’s hand nonchalantly before releasing it and standing to unbutton his shirt.
Loki gapes for a moment before remembering to pretend to look away as he slips out of his suit and slides under the blankets in his boxers.
Mobius smiles innocently up at him from his pillow. “Better?”
“Much,” Loki purrs back—in his most over the top seductive voice, naturally—and, not to be outdone, kicks off his own pants and tosses them aside with his button down. “Mind if I join?” He tries to hold onto the purr for the second sentence, but only because he’s a coward.
Mobius nods anyway and offers no snark in reply; annoyingly, this makes Loki blush. He shoves under the covers a bit petulantly in response.
As soon as he’s settled, Mobius reaches for him—nothing major, nothing fast, just the curl of his fingers against Loki’s wrist.
“Are you okay?” he asks softly, hesitant and serious, and Loki knows they’re talking about something else entirely now. Because it’s Mobius—his Mobius, the one who’s studied him for a lifetime—so of course, they are.
Loki ducks his head in reply, exhaling slowly into the pillow. Yes, he could say, because I found you; no, he could say, because look what I’ve lost.
He ends up just breathing another miserable little breath and looking up forlornly into Mobius’s steady gaze. The man across from him demands no answers; he just bites his lip and runs his fingers from Loki’s wrist up his forearm, stopping at his elbow and repeating the motion—back and forth, soft nails on thin, fragile skin.
Loki can’t help but lean into it, body curling around Mobius’s touch. The agent makes a soft noise in response, extends his other palm to Loki in an open invitation; Loki, so maxed out on fear that if this is going to go south, he thinks he might as well enjoy it first, pulls himself forward immediately, slotting his neck over Mobius’s arm and curling his head into the increasingly familiar hollow of his shoulder.
Mobius sighs deeply at the shift—in relief, Loki thinks, but he might be projecting—and curls his arms around his back again, this time running the fingertips of one hand up and down Loki’s spine and tracing the nails of the other lightly through Loki’s scalp.
Loki audibly whimpers at the sensation, then jolts when he realizes the small noise came from his own mouth—but Mobius doesn’t laugh, doesn’t push him back or retract the offer. He merely hums in response, curling his arms closer and repeating the motion more confidently. Mobius’s knee brushes his own and his breath catches, but in for a dime, in for a dollar, right? Loki lets their legs tangle, lets Mobius tug him close, even rests his own hands against Mobius’s sides in response and nearly whimpers again at his ensuing hum of approval.
“This okay?” Mobius whispers against Loki’s ear, grip achingly gentle, and Loki can’t understand why he’s asking until he feels himself quivering again.
He nods shakily. “Yes, it’s—yes.”
“Alright,” Mobius answers, soft and relieved. Loki can’t fail to notice the hand on his back drifting over to rest against the pulse point in his wrist for a few moments, can’t fail to be a bit amused at the mortal checking his heartrate, of all things, to confirm his words. Apparently his vitals pass the test, because Mobius’s hand trails back to the bare skin on his back without preamble as he turns to brush his lips sleepily against Loki’s cheek.
Loki gasps—only a little, Mobius never would have noticed if they weren’t nestled so close together—but they are, and it’s enough for Mobius to blink his eyes back up with a flicker of concern. Loki glances away quickly, embarrassment already coloring his cheeks, and tightens his own grip on Mobius ever so slightly—hopefully enough to tell him not to leave, not to go, not to regret a single soft breath between them.
Mobius seems to get that; at least he doesn’t ask again, doesn’t release his gentle hold on Loki’s body or pull farther away. In the quiet, Loki braves meeting his gaze once more, hungry for its sincerity. He notices for the first time that he isn’t the only one who looks not to have slept in a year.
But as always, Mobius is the kinder one. “You’re sure you’re okay to sleep here? I can arrange something else if you’d prefer, but… I’d like for you to stay, if you’re comfortable with that.”
Loki shakes his head before Mobius finishes the sentence, fighting a whisper of panic at the thought of losing sight of him again. “No, I’ll—I’ll stay.” He bites back the ‘please.’ Mobius offers a tender smile in response, still looking exhausted and tugging Loki closer all the same. Swallowing a fresh wave of guilt at not thinking of it sooner, Loki murmurs, “I didn’t even ask what you’ve been up to this whole time.”
Mobius’s grip tightens marginally, the hand in his hair coming around to cup his jaw for a warm, brilliant moment. Loki blinks at him in awe, lets Mobius tilt his chin up ever so softly. The man looks at him like something worthy, something dear, and to his surprise, Loki sees that his question puts a small smile on Mobius’s tired features.
“Looking for you, of course.”
And oh, how simply he says it—as if that were not the single most astonishing sentence ever uttered to or about him, Loki, the God of Mischief and Outcasts and Lies. Loki, the always alone. Mobius catches the tear that escapes the corner of Loki’s eye on his thumb without comment and gently pulls him closer.
And oh, how easy it is to let him; how easy it is to finally, finally, rest.