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It should have been a standard, routine bit of field-work. So uneventful, in fact, it could hardly be classified as a mission.

Then again, Mobius considered, his first mistake was probably assuming that anything involving Loki might have been “uneventful”.

Though, in his defense, a short jaunt out to the California coastline in the late 1970s to investigate a minor blip in the timeline really should have been as uneventful an event as it sounded.

In fact, Mobius himself usually didn’t go out of his way to supervise similar investigations-- he trusted B-15 and her team enough to allow them to handle things without him or another analyst watching their every move, after all.

However, it had been a good excuse to get a restless Loki out of the office for a bit - train him on some mindless fieldwork before they really got into the bigger stuff - and the immediately brightening expression on the variant’s face at Mobius’ offer had been more than worth the effort it had taken to get B-15 to agree to the arrangement.

True to form, Loki had leapt to his feet with unbridled enthusiasm, a grin already stretching across his face even as Mobius turned on one heel to begin striding out of his cubicle toward where the team would likely already be debriefing, by now.

Unsurprisingly, hardly a moment passed before Loki was following just behind, chatting animatedly as he followed Mobius out of the room.

“Where are we going?” Loki inquired, speeding his steps a bit so that he was within Mobius’ line of sight. “Is it a variant? One of your particularly dangerous variants?”

“Not necessarily.” Mobius replied, and had to fight to keep a small smile off of his own face when Loki seemed to wilt briefly at the information.

Briefly being the key word, however, for he recovered himself quickly enough, a bounce returning to his step as a familiar gleam of interest began to sparkle just behind his eyes.

“The timeline, then?” he pressed, “Is it in danger? Are we being sent to fix it? How--”

“Okay,” Mobius interrupted when they’d reached the door just outside the locker room, raising one hand and spinning around so that Loki had little choice but to slow his own steps or collide directly into him.

Luckily for Mobius, he chose the former.

“Let’s slow down.” Mobius instructed, when he was sure that he had as much of Loki’s attention as was possible, at the moment. “Take a breath.”

Loki nodded distractedly, though rather than comply he began to bounce slightly in place, gaze flickering distractedly between Mobius and the door over his shoulder.

Unimpressed, Mobius raised his brows pointedly. “Okay?”

Loki, seeming to realize that Mobius expected an answer, stilled himself and cleared his throat before nodding several times in quick succession.

“Okay.” he repeated, before obediently sucking in a long breath through his mouth, pausing, then allowing the air back out of his lungs in a quiet whoosh.

“Better.” Mobius quipped, allowing himself to huff slightly when Loki raised both arms in a gesture that seemed to ask, ‘see?’, clearly awaiting Mobius’ approval.

“Yeah, good job.” Mobius tacked on, if only to see the small, pleased smile crease Loki’s features-- as well as the fine dusting of pink flushing across his nose and cheekbones.

It was probably - definitely - a step outside the lines of professionalism Mobius typically liked to operate within, though he couldn’t quite find it within himself to care.

Not when Loki was watching him as if ready and eager to hang on his every word.

Forcing his attention back to the present moment, Mobius shook his head slightly and cleared his throat pointedly.

“Okay, this is just a routine field mission. No particularly dangerous variants--”

“Well, just one.” Loki interrupted, crinkling his nose slightly as if irritated at having been looked over.

Mobius blinked, allowing the silence to stretch on for an additional few moments before he continued, “No particularly dangerous variants. This is more like--Well, think of it as a routine safety walk.”

“Safety walk.” Loki repeated blankly, a small furrow appearing between his brows.

“Yeah.” Mobius nodded. “Our facilities team does them once a week here. Think of it as something like that.”

“Like--” Loki’s nose did the crinkle-thing again. “I don’t--Facilities?”

Mobius bit back a sigh, grimacing slightly as he took in Loki’s bewildered expression.

It was easy to forget, sometimes, that Loki was still struggling to rapidly understand and adjust to what was, in all honesty, an entirely foreign set of cultural norms within the TVA.

A task that was made all the more difficult by his ever-present reluctance to admit when he happened to stumble across something he was unfamiliar with, or simply didn’t understand.

“We’re going to check in on a variance hot-spot.” Mobius explained, when it seemed that Loki wasn’t going to continue. “There are certain spots on the timeline that have seen more variance activity than others. This is one of them.”

“But there’s no activity there now?” Loki guessed, his expression still somewhat dubious.

“Correct.” Mobius agreed. “But we like to pop in from time to time. Make sure everything’s looking good.”

“Is that your job, though?” Loki questioned, his head tilting curiously. “I thought you were meant to track down dangerous variants.”

Ah. Mobius bit back a wince.

He should have known that Loki would have caught on to that fact fairly quickly, in all honesty.

Particularly dangerous variants.” he corrected absently. “And correct again. You got me.”

“So it is more dangerous than you’re letting on?” Loki inquired with a wicked smirk. “I knew it! Who are we after? Are they--”

“Noo,” Mobius interrupted before Loki could get too excited. “It really is just a routine field-check.”

At that, Loki frowned, his shoulders dropping ever so slightly.

“Then why…”

“I just wanted to sit in on one for a change.” Mobius dismissed, tucking his hands into the pockets of his slacks with a lazy shrug. “Getting a little stuffy in the office. Wanted to stretch my legs.”

It was, for all intents and purposes, the truth-- at least a fraction of it.

Nevertheless, Loki’s eyes narrowed at the words, and he seemed to study Mobius closely, as if attempting to sniff out a non-truth.

Then, unexpectedly, his eyes widened slightly, and he took a small, barely perceptible step back.

“Where are you taking me?” he questioned, his tone pitched suddenly low and cautious.

Mobius saw through the flimsy charade for what it was quickly enough, though he fought to keep his own expression as neutral as possible in the face of the sudden shift.

Loki didn’t trust easily, he knew, and Mobius withholding even a fraction of the information concerning their unanticipated shift in routine was a veritable recipe for setting him on high-alert.

They’d made progress, certainly, though that didn’t mean that Loki was going to follow Mobius blindly out onto the field when he felt as if something was being hidden from him.

With this thought in mind, Mobius took care to keep his body language open and casual as he reached for the doorknob behind himself.

“California,” he informed, “1979. You’ll like it there. Big landmark. Really nice spot.”

“Nice spot to be disintegrated, you mean?” Loki fairly spat, though the heat of the words was somewhat doused by the uncertainty lingering behind his gaze. “Or perhaps dropped and forgotten?”

“Okay, one,” Mobius held up one finger for emphasis. “If we wanted to prune you we’d do it here at the TVA. Way less messy.”

When Mobius only received a glare for his efforts - rather than the wry appreciation he was aiming for - he decided it was probably best to move on.

“And two, no one’s leaving you anywhere. Got it?”

If the words came out slightly more heartfelt than Mobius had intended, well, nobody but Loki was around to call him out on it.

Loki, who was continuing to eye him warily, his shoulders squared and jaw held rigid.

Scared little boy. Mobius reflected, something startlingly close to protectiveness surging to life within his chest.

And, as much as Mobius would have liked to continue the conversation - continue relentlessly hammering the information into Loki’s head until he finally understood that not every living and breathing being was out to get him - he knew that they were on a limited schedule.

“The team is about to leave, though.” he told Loki, jerking his head over his shoulder toward the door. “If you want in on the mission, we should go now.”

For a moment, it seemed that Loki was going to decline, his wide and ever so slightly watery eyes continuing to flicker over Mobius’ face for another brief moment.

Then, seeming to come to some unspoken conclusion, he nodded, his gaze skittering away even as he took a small step further into Mobius’ space.

“Alright,” Mobius nodded, a little surprised that Loki wasn’t babbling again, though recovering himself quickly enough. “Let’s join the team.”

---

Hunter B-15 was, unsurprisingly, less than amused that the two of them had missed a majority of her briefing, though Mobius - having attended similar routine field-checks more times than he cared to count - wasn’t particularly concerned.

Loki too, it seemed, was unbothered by the glare B-15 had shot his way the minute he and Mobius entered the locker room.

In fact, to any outside party Mobius assumed he appeared cool and collected, unhurried and hardly interested in the mission ahead.

Mobius, however, could see the tension still running along the lines of his shoulders, and carefully noted the way he was sticking to Mobius’ side just a touch closer than was typical.

Not that Mobius particularly minded, and he made a point of shooting Loki a small smile as they prepared to step through the time door B-15 had pulled up in hopes of conveying the sentiment.

“You’re gonna do great.” he stage whispered, watching as the rest of the team disappeared through the door. “Just listen to B-15 and stick close, okay?”

The slightly sour look on Loki’s face was enough to let Mobius know exactly what he thought of the first suggestion, though he didn’t offer a verbal protest.

Mobius huffed, and muttered, “Well, it was worth a shot.” before moving to follow the last Minuteman through the portal, acutely aware of Loki following directly on his heels.

The first thing Mobius noted as he stepped out into the California evening was that B-15 had deposited them directly onto the walking path of the Golden Gate Bridge, rather than in the parking lot across the street where their team usually set out from.

The second was that they had stepped out directly into what seemed to be the peak of a raging thunderstorm.

“Couldn’t have picked a better time?” Mobius called over the howling wind whipping about their small team, one hand coming up to ineffectively scrub rainwater from his already soaked hair.

“The TemPads don’t give us a read on the weather.” B-15 shouted back, standing resolute even as a truly copious amount of rain began to drip down her helmet and into her face.

“Coulda done some research.” Mobius replied, the words more a mutter than anything, and sighed wearily before turning back to face his companion. “Alright, Loki?”

Only then did Mobius register that Loki had gone entirely still, his eyes wide and jaw clenched tight as he took in their surroundings.

Mobius frowned slightly at the sight, dimly acknowledging B-15’s gaze lingering on the two of them and subsequently forcing himself to refrain from reaching out to tuck one watery strand of hair back behind Loki’s ear from where it had adhered itself to his sharp cheekbone.

“Loki?” Mobius called again, when it seemed that he wasn’t going to receive an answer.

Immediately, Loki’s somewhat wild eyes snapped to meet his own, and he seemed to take an almost automatic step closer.

“It’s the middle of the night.” Loki blurted, then made a face as if he hadn’t quite meant to say the words out loud.

Mobius faltered, a little taken aback himself.

“We try and schedule field-checks for after dark, yeah.” he explained, a little apologetically. “Draws less attention.”

“Ah.” Loki nodded once, twice, and swallowed thickly enough that Mobius could fairly see his throat working, even in the dark. “Quite.”

“Is there a problem?” B-15’s voice carried over the sharp wind and rain.

“We’re fine.” Mobius reassured, not bothering to glance back over his shoulder at the hunter.

He felt more than saw B-15 roll her eyes, though after a moment she addressed the rest of the group.

“Fan out.” she commanded. “The sooner we’re done with this, the sooner we can get back.”

It would be a cold day in hell before she apologized for the weather mishap, though Mobius thought that he heard a hint of remorse in her tone, regardless.

That, or they were all just ready to have the field-work over and done with.

Seeming to confirm his thought, Loki swallowed again, his gaze flickering warily over the bridge-path as his hands flexed at his sides in a familiar, nervous gesture.

“Loki?” Mobius prodded, allowing his voice to drop into something softer, now that B-15 and the remaining Minutemen had begun to move away. “All good?”

Loki’s breath stuttered visibly, and he offered Mobius a somewhat startled look before shifting ever so slightly closer to his side.

Or, no. Not to his side, Mobius registered distantly.

Further away from the edge of the bridge.

Something at the back of Mobius’ mind clicked into place, then, and he found himself having to fight the sudden urge to drop his face into his hands and groan aloud.

A bridge. He had really thought that it was a good idea to bring Loki - this Loki - to a bridge for his first step outside of the TVA in weeks.

This, Mobius realized, had been a phenomenally stupid idea.

Not quite sure that addressing the issue head-on was the right move - as it so very rarely was, with Loki - Mobius cleared his throat and allowed himself to take a small step forward, effectively moving between Loki and the rail that overlooked the waves churning in the wind below them.

Briefly, his mind flashed, unbidden, back to a particularly unsettling snippet of footage from this Loki’s life-reel.

(Loki, dangling over the edge of the Rainbow Bridge, his hand gripping the end of the Allfather’s staff as he gazed up at the man he had until recently known as “father”, expression tight with poorly disguised longing).

(His grip loosening…)

Almost without thinking about it, Mobius took another step closer to Loki, noting the way the man had begun to tremble faintly, his breaths quickening as they hissed in and out through his nose.

“This is only gonna take another fifteen minutes or so.” Mobius informed, just loudly enough to be heard over the wind. “Then we can go back to the TVA and get you dried off.”

He paused, then added, “I’m sorry. I know you hate getting wet.”

Seemingly caught off-guard by the direction the conversation had taken, Loki blinked, his brow furrowing slightly as his previously wayward gaze finally settled on Mobius.

“It’s fine.” he dismissed, shaking himself casually in an effort to shrug off his discomfort-- in a way Mobius had seen a hundred times before.

“You sure?” Mobius pressed. “Y’know we can always go back. Leave the team to sort this out.”

At that, Loki hesitated, his expression smoothing out into one of tentative consideration as he glanced first to the edge of the bridge over Mobius’ shoulder, then to where Hunter B-15 and her team were already beginning to scan the area.

Then, he shook himself a second time, and offered Mobius a bland smile.

“It’s fine.” he repeated, at length.

And, though the words were somewhat hollow, Mobius forced himself to nod along.

“Okay,” he agreed, reaching out to clasp one hand loosely around Loki’s elbow in a brief gesture. “I’m gonna help B-15.”

Loki nodded - the movement only a little stilted - and, unsurprisingly, followed immediately when Mobius turned to catch up with the rest of the team.

“Anything?” Mobius called to B-15 as they approached.

“Not that we can find.” The hunter replied, pausing briefly to shoot Loki an assessing look before returning her attention to the TemPad in her grasp. “Zero unauthorized energy detected, and it looks like it’ll stay that way.”

“Great.” Mobius replied, deadpan. “At this rate we can pack it up--”

“Hey!” B-15 cried, effectively cutting Mobius off as she shot an alarmed expression across the expanse of the bridge. “What do you think you’re doing?”

Immediately, Mobius turned to follow her gaze, and felt his stomach drop when his eyes found who was undoubtedly being addressed.

A Minuteman - one Mobius didn’t know the name of, and wasn’t even sure he had ever interacted with - standing, his back to the team, on the opposite side of the bridge’s rail.

“R-40!” B-15 called, already moving to stride across the bridge. “Report!”

R-40, Mobius dimly recognized the name. A new hunter. This was one of his first field missions…

“R-40!” B-15 repeated and, before he had quite registered his intent to do so, Mobius was sprinting across the bridge to catch up. “Report, now!”

“I know this place.” R-40 finally replied, his tone so low it was almost impossible to hear over the whipping wind.

They did hear it, however, and Mobius watched out the corner of his eye as B-15 faltered, briefly, before continuing her increasingly speeding trek toward the man.

“Somebody grab him.” she whispered, almost to herself, then turned to shout at the group of Minutemen stood behind them, watching the scene through wide eyes, “Somebody grab him!”

Before Mobius could so much as blink, one of the hunters was across the bridge, their strong arms around R-40 as they hauled him back over the railing.

To Mobius’ great relief, R-40 came willingly, almost limp in the other’s grasp.

“I know this place.” he muttered again, almost breathlessly. “I--I know this place.”

It wasn’t the first time Mobius had seen a hunter lose their cool on the field, though it usually happened during more strenuous missions.

And never quite like this.

“Let’s get him back.” B-15’s voice broke through Mobius’ quiet reverie, the pinnacle of stoic professionalism, once more. “We’re done here.”

“Commander!” Another voice cut in, so suddenly that Mobius found himself startling slightly where he was still stood, motionless in the middle of the bridge.

It really was good that they’d done this in the middle of the night, he reflected humorlessly.

At the call, he and B-15 turned in sync to face the hunter that was jogging toward them, a TemPad clutched in one hand and an almost harried expression on her face.

Oh, Mobius considered. There was no way that this could be anything good.

“What is it?” B-15 demanded.

“It’s--” The hunter faltered, her gaze flickering briefly to Mobius before she straightened, jutting out her chin as if awaiting a reprimand.

“It’s the Loki Variant, ma’am.” she informed them, promptly. “He’s gone.”

Immediately, Mobius felt his stomach bottom out, and he turned to frantically scan over the figures scattered across the bridge, desperately searching for a familiar mop of dark curls.

Unsurprisingly, the search was in vain, and Mobius found himself having to swallow back a sudden surge of panic as it rose to life within his chest.

How could he have missed this? Loki had been right behind him— like he always was.

His unwavering presence had become predictable. Comfortable, even.

Had Mobius truly grown so complacent?

What?” B-15 was snapping at the poor hunter, now. “Where?”

Not over the edge, Mobius thought - practically prayed - semi-hysterically. Please, please dear God, not over the--

“He used a TemPad, ma’am.” The hunter informed, bringing Mobius’ thoughts to an abrupt halt.

Once the words registered, however, he felt himself wilt in relief, fairly staggering beneath the weight of it.

Then, a nagging sense of dread began to tug almost immediately at the very back of his mind.

Loki had still disappeared. Had recognized and seized the brief moment of distraction for what it was. Had taken a TemPad, and—

And disappeared.

Through a somewhat distant gaze, Mobius watched as the hunter levelled B-15 with a look of poignant, unequivocally professional remorse.

“He--When R-40--” she swallowed. “He took it off me when I wasn’t paying attention. I apologize, ma’am.”

“He was supposed to be under your supervision!” B-15 cried, rounding on Mobius to shoot him a furious gaze.

“He is!” Mobius protested, though it was more of an automatic reaction to the accusational tone, than anything.

“And look where that got us!” B-15 snapped back. “A dangerous variant - your variant - missing. Wreaking havoc--”

“You don’t know that!” Mobius cut in, irritation beginning to bubble up from within his chest before he could stop it. “We don’t even know where--

“Wreaking havoc!” B-15 repeated insistently. “With a TemPad! I have half a mind to report this to--”

“Actually, ma’am--”

Abruptly, Mobius turned to face the source of the interruption, feeling B-15 do the same beside him.

The hunter before them seemed to falter, her eyes going wide at the twin stares of anticipation trained on her.

Then, she cleared her throat, before taking a step forward to extend the TemPad still within her grasp.

“This is the TemPad.”

B-15 blinked, though Mobius managed to recover himself first.

“The TemPad Loki used?” he pressed after a beat, watching warily as B-15 took the device from the hunter’s hold.

“Yes, sir.” The hunter confirmed with a nod. “He dropped it before entering the portal.”

At that, Mobius himself blinked, not quite comprehending the turn the conversation had taken.

Before he entered the portal?” he repeated-- admittedly somewhat stupidly. “You mean he left it here?”

“I believe so, sir.” The hunter nodded.

“Okay,” Mobius whispered, fighting to keep his tone level even as his mind began to fly through an extensive list of possibilities as to Loki’s motivations. “Alright. Check the history.”

“I’m already--” Hunter B-15 began, before faltering, her face screwing up into a scowl as he studied the screen of the TemPad.

“This can’t--” she sputtered. Then, “It’s broken.”

“Broken?” Mobius frowned, already moving forward in an attempt to view whatever the screen was displaying. “What do you mean?”

“It must be water damage.” B-15, before raising a hand to smack at the side of the device irritably. “It’s not displaying correctly.”

“O--Okay,” Mobius soothed, before taking another step closer to scoop the TemPad out from the hunter’s grasp. “Let’s just make sure--”

He broke off, then, a furrow creasing his brow as he took in the history report on the screen.

“The TVA?” he read out loud, not entirely sure what to do with the information displayed before him.

After all, if what the TemPad was reading was true, it meant that Loki had only utilized the device to return to the confines of the Time Variance Authority’s walls.

Hardly a characteristic move, but…

“See?” B-15 demanded, “It’s obviously displaying our last location. A glitch. If you ask me, your Loki is probably--”

“I know where he is.” Mobius interrupted, before B-15 could continue.

He wasn’t entirely sure what had prompted him to make the declaration. As far as he knew, B-15 was right-- Loki was long gone, and they were already following an entirely cold trail.

Regardless, the second Mobius’ gaze had landed on the report displayed upon the TemPad’s screen, he could not quite deny the flutter of suspicion that had flared to life at the very back of his mind.

If he was wrong, of course, B-15 would never let him hear the end of it.

In fact, Mobius considered, it might be the last thing he ever heard, as a well respected analyst.

Nevertheless, he could not find it within himself to simply give up. Not considering the circumstances.

Not when it came to Loki.

There was a heavy pause following the declaration, the only sound the wind continuing to whip rain between them.

Then, B-15 let out a short, exhausted groan.

“Mobius,” she began, “Just because you think you know this variant--”

“I do.” Mobius interrupted, registering distantly that he sounded far more confident than he currently felt. “You’re gonna have to trust me on this one.”

“Trust you?” B-15 repeated incredulously. “After you lost--”

“Commander?”

A brief expression of irritation flickered over B-15’s features at the call, before she turned to face its source.

“We’re taking R-40 back to HQ.” The hunter - the one who had hauled R-40 back onto the bridge - reported, hovering just at the edge of the freshly opened time door.

They seemed to hesitate, then added, “Renslayer will want a report, ma’am.”

From where he was stood, Mobius could just make out the muscles of B-15’s shoulders tensing, before she seemed to deflate, her jaw working visibly.

“I’m behind you.” she told the hunter, before turning to shoot Mobius a dark look.

“You’d better be right about this.” she hissed, then. “Ravonna won’t be happy, otherwise.”

“I am!” Mobius reassured, raising one hand in what he hoped was a placating gesture.

Hope I am, anyway. He thought, somewhat dismally.

After all, if his hunch wasn’t right…

Well. The idea of facing Ravonna following such a blunder wasn’t a pleasant one.

Seeming to understand the gravity of Mobius’ line of thought, B-15 nodded solemnly, once, before turning to stride through the time door over her shoulder.

A moment later, the portal flickered out, leaving Mobius alone in the dark and incessant drizzle.

Right.

With little humor, Mobius huffed, before raising his free hand to punch dejectedly at the screen of the TemPad he still held, squinting a little when a time door illuminated the space before him not a moment later.

Little else that could go wrong at this point, at any rate.

Unsurprisingly, Mobius considered as he took a step forward into the portal, the thought was not exactly a comforting one.

---

Mobius shivered slightly as he landed back within the TVA, the warm air hitting the rain still clinging to his skin and clothes resulting in an unpleasant stickiness.

Nevertheless, he grit his teeth, and forced his next few steps into the dark of the room he had entered to remain light and careful.

After all, if his hunch was correct, the last thing Loki needed was an unanticipated startle.

The room around him was silent, Mobius noted distantly— almost stiflingly so, and dark enough that he might have been in danger of staggering clumsily into a piece of furniture, had he not known the space as well as he did.

As it was, Mobius had lived in the same apartment long enough that he knew exactly how to navigate the space-- even in the oppressive darkness.

It was a gamble, he knew, and not one that was likely to turn in his favor.

If Loki wasn’t hiding out in the apartment, it left several hundred additional options as to where he might have disappeared within the TVA-- all of which were currently hinged upon the assumption that the TemPad Mobius was tucking into his jacket pocket had not been glitching out, as B-15 had suggested.

Nevertheless, Mobius could not quite find it within himself to shake the distinct feeling that - if he knew Loki at all - this was where he would have ended up, following his hasty departure from the bridge.

It had been the lingering, almost haunted look clinging to the edges of his gaze that had truly solidified the belief, Mobius thought. The way Loki had practically glued himself to Mobius’ side, when he had realized where the mission had taken them, eyes wide as he had continued to shoot small, uncertain glances toward the edge of the bridge.

That, coupled with R-40’s sudden, alarming impulse to teeter precariously over the edge of said bridge…

At the reminder, Mobius blew out a quiet breath, and reached up to scrub at his face with a surprisingly steady hand.

A veritable recipe for disaster, he considered with little humor, kicking himself mentally for not having connected the dots sooner.

Because, if he was being entirely honest, Mobius wasn’t sure which outcome was worse;

Loki having seized the opportunity of distraction as a means to flee-- probably never to be seen again…

Or Loki having been witness to the scene on the bridge, already as on-edge and shaken as he was.

The thought in mind, Mobius exhaled another short breath, before moving forward through the apartment toward the door to the bedroom.

If Loki was anywhere, he knew, it was likely there. The space was dark, and quiet enough that it sometimes felt like its own small shelter from the bustling, ever-noisy life of the rest of the TVA.

And, though Loki himself had never admitted to the fact out loud, Mobius had taken careful note of the occasions that he had practically barricaded himself in the room, in the past-- usually when it became clear that he was beginning to wear a little thin at the edges, exhausted due to too little sleep, and still somewhat uncertain about the safety of his surroundings.

And, though Mobius knew that Loki would begin to wallow in self-loathing if the need were made obvious to anyone but himself, Mobius had allowed him the time, watching with poorly disguised fondness as Loki had buried himself beneath the blankets atop Mobius’ bed in those seldom few, quiet moments.

Occasionally, he had read— flipping halfheartedly through the few tomes Mobius kept tucked around the apartment.

(He’d taken a particular liking to Agatha Christie novels, Mobius had noted with no small amount of amusement).

On most occasions, however, Loki tended to simply doze-- oddly comforted by the quiet and solitude of the room.

And, on these occasions, Mobius had typically allowed Loki his space, only occasionally popping in to ensure that he was alright. Maybe offering a snack or drink, when he got noticeably grumpy.

Now, however, Mobius got the distinct feeling that space was the last thing that Loki needed.

As much as he was - probably - attempting to convince himself otherwise.

Spurred on by the thought alone, Mobius crept his way further into the apartment, finding himself stood before the door to the bedroom before he had quite managed to prepare himself for the arrival.

He hesitated then, swallowing thickly, before moving forward to rap gently at the wood of the door before him.

“Loki?” he called, the sound of his voice jarring in the seemingly impenetrable silence-- slightly louder than he had intended. “Anyone home?”

It was ironic, Mobius mused. His very own choice of words.

Home.

Admittedly, since his unanticipated arrival Loki had spent far more time in Mobius’ apartment than anywhere else within the TVA-- beyond Mobius’ desk and the archive halls.

Nevertheless...Home felt a small step too far.

Especially considering the - very real - possibility that Loki was not on the other side of the door, at all.

A sudden jolt of pain - entirely unexpected - laced up through Mobius’ chest at the thought, though he made an effort to hastily brush the sensation aside in favor of focussing on the situation at hand.

At least for the time being.

“Loki?” Mobius inquired again when only silence followed his initial call, allowing his voice to pitch a bit louder as he knocked tentatively on the door a second time. “C’mon, Lokes. Let me in.”

The words were more for show, than anything. The longer Mobius stood out in the dark - hovering stupidly before the closed door that likely led to nothing but an empty room - the more believable the idea that this had been an entirely wasted journey became.

Damn. Mobius grunted softly beneath his breath, already moving to take a step away from the door.

This had been a waste of time. Loki was probably still out there somewhere— wandering the halls of the TVA - if not somewhere beyond - making a fool out of Mobius and--

And--

Mobius faltered mid-thought, his eyes widening as he just barely registered the sound of something shifting on the other side of the door to the bedroom.

For a moment, it seemed like a fluke-- Mobius’ wildly hopeful imagination springing to life and insisting that his faith in Loki hadn’t gone entirely to waste.

Then, just as Mobius was beginning to resign himself to the fact, another soft shuffle rang out--

Followed, to Mobius’ utter astonishment, by the unmistakable sound of a shuddering inhale.

Loki,” Mobius breathed, his face already practically pressed to the bedroom door before he had even registered his intention to move closer.

“Loki?” he repeated, hardly able to hear his own voice past the hammering of his pulse. “You in there?”

Unsurprisingly, there was no verbal reply, though Mobius didn’t allow himself a moment to feel dejected.

Particularly not when a sharp, breathless ghost of an exhale sounded from inside the bedroom.

Unable to help himself, Mobius grimaced, something deep within his chest twisting unpleasantly at the sound.

A sensation that was only made worse when a small keening sound carried through the thin wood of the door, not a moment later.

“Okay, Loki.” Mobius called, his voice coming out far steadier than he felt. “I’m coming in. Is that okay?”

When silence was his only reply, Mobius sighed, before moving forward to seize the doorknob before him in a firm grip.

“I’m gonna need you to use your words, Loki.” he pressed, though everything within him was demanding that he entire the room.

Demanding that he defend. Protect.

The sensation was sudden, and nearly overwhelming, though Mobius forced himself to remain tethered to the present moment.

“I need you to tell me if it’s not okay.” he told the door. “Okay?”

Mobius paused, waiting a beat-- then two.

And, when there was no reply, he exhaled softly before allowing himself to turn the knob within his hand.

“Okay,” he whispered, and stepped into the bedroom.

As soon as he was across the threshold, however, Mobius found himself staggering to a halt.

For, even in the dark, he found his gaze narrowing in on the corner of the room beside the bed.

Or, more specifically, on where Loki was currently sat curled up on the floor-- tucked into the space directly between the bed and nightstand with his knees pulled tightly to his chest.

“Oh, Loki…” Mobius murmured, not allowing himself another moment to rethink the decision before he was striding across the room to kneel at the other’s side.

Loki, it seemed, did not register the invasion of his space at all.

Rather, he continued to gasp for breath, eyes wide and trained on the scratchy grey carpet between himself and Mobius’ knees.

In the dim light cast from the clock on the bedside table, Mobius could just make out the furrow between his brows, as well as the way his shoulders were quivering, ever so slightly.

That, and the crystalline tear tracks currently staining his cheeks.

“Loki?” Mobius inquired, when the silence between them had stretched on for another few moments. “You with me?”

A beat passed, wherein which Mobius began to convince himself that Loki was just beyond reachable, for the time being--

Then, the figure before Mobius jolted suddenly - almost violently - and Mobius found himself sucking in a sharp, surprised breath as the back of Loki’s head struck the wall behind him with the force of his movement.

“Mo--Mobius--” he stuttered, fairly croaked, his eyes almost luminescent in the dark as they locked somewhere near Mobius’ left shoulder. “I--This--I didn’t--”

“Hey,” Mobius cut in, alarm fluttering within his chest as he noted Loki’s breath beginning speed significantly. “It’s okay. It’s fine.”

“The mission.” Loki hastened to continue, almost as if Mobius hadn’t spoken at all. “Was everything--Did--I didn’t mean to--”

Loki,” Mobius cut in, as firmly as he dared. “It’s fine. Calm down.”

To his increasing dismay, however, Loki seemed to take the words as permission to continue panicking, his eyes growing wider and breaths growing increasingly sharper.

He did not make to reply, however, and Mobius didn’t know whether to take that as a good or a bad sign.

“Okay,” he whispered, after another beat, his chest tightening when Loki seemed to choke on his next frantic inhale. “Okay, Loki. Let’s--Let’s take a breath.”

“I--I--” Loki broke off, his eyes pinching shut as his next exhale dissolved into what could only be described as a breathless sob.

And, to Mobius’ horror, several stray tears began to escape out the corner of those eyes not a moment later.

“Oh--Oh, Lokes.” he whispered, a sickening cocktail of guilt and sympathy churning within his gut as he took in the scene before him.

As if reading his thoughts, Loki gagged on another inhale before beginning to sob in earnest, one hand coming up to scrub futilely at his red and puffy eyes even as he fell forward in what was no doubt an attempt to hide his face behind his knees.

He gasped, then - once, twice - only to begin choking almost desperately on what was supposed to be another inhale.

“Lo--Loki, listen to me!” Mobius cried, reaching forward before he could stop himself to grasp tightly at Loki’s elbow, noting the way the shuddering limb tensed almost immediately beneath the touch, though he forced himself not to move away.

Not when Loki looked about seconds away from passing out, entirely.

“Loki,” Mobius repeated, his tone little more than a quiet murmur even as Loki continued to heave for breath before him. “I need you to listen. Your breathing is way out of control, okay? I need you to breathe with me.”

He hesitated, then swallowed before tacking on, “Can you do that for me?”

A beat - only a moment’s pause - passed, though it seemed several moments too long for Mobius’ liking.

Then, Loki gagged again, before reaching back up to scrub at his nose and cheeks, nodding miserably even as his eyes fell closed, again.

“Okay?” Mobius pressed, “Can you use your words, Loki?”

It almost felt like a step too far - too much, given the circumstances - though Mobius felt a pleasant sort of surprise flutter within his chest when Loki nodded almost at once.

“O--Okay.” he breathed, before his teeth clacked together as he clenched his jaw, once more.

“Good job.” Mobius soothed, reaching up with the hand not still holding Loki’s elbow to gently card his fingers through his curls. “Good job, Loki. Breathe with me now, okay?”

He did not miss the full-body shudder the words earned him, though Mobius forced himself to concentrate on the situation at hand, rather than dwell on the implications of that too closely.

To Mobius’ surprise, Loki made a genuine effort to follow his breathing pattern, his eyes fluttering open to latch - almost desperately - onto Mobius’ face as he fought to gain control of his breaths.

There was little surprise, however, when - not two minutes into their slowly syncing breaths - one of Loki’s exhales stuttered, and he fell forward a moment later to bury his face behind his knees again, a muffled wail piercing the previously comfortable quiet of the room.

“Hey,” Mobius whispered, moving one hand to begin stroking large, soothing circles along the expanse of Loki’s heaving shoulders. “Shh. Shhhh. It’s okay. That’s alright. You’re getting there.”

Beneath his touch, Loki simply shuddered again, the muscles of his back jolting as if he wasn’t entirely certain as to whether or not he should draw back from Mobius’ touch or press up into it.

“Shh.” Mobius hushed again-- if only because he couldn’t quite think of anything else to say. “Come on, Loki. Remember to breathe.”

“I--I don’t--” Loki broke off, shaking his head almost violently as he moved to curl further in on himself. “Nnn--

“You’re alright.” Mobius whispered, though at this point he wasn’t entirely certain as to who he was trying to convince of the fact. “You’re okay.”

“I’m--” Loki gasped, and Mobius distantly registered the shoulders beneath his hold beginning to hitch dangerously, once more. “Nn--nn--

Before he had even realized his own intention to do so, Mobius surged forward, one arm coming up to circle Loki’s continuingly shuddering shoulders as the opposite hand rose to clutch almost desperately at the back of his head.

Breathe, sweetheart.” he whispered - practically begged - the endearment slipping out unbidden and almost entirely unnoticed. “I know you can do it. C’mon, now.”

For a long moment, it seemed that Loki wasn’t going to reply, his sharp breaths continuing to ghost hotly along the skin of Mobius’ neck as he fell limpy against his side.

Then, there was a murmur-- the words so low Mobius was unable to make them out.

“What?” he pressed, already moving back in an attempt to catch Loki’s wayward gaze. “Loki, what--”

“I--” Loki gulped thickly, his eyes going a bit wide even as they refused to meet Mobius’ own. “Don’t--Basin--

It took a moment, though Mobius felt his own eyes grow wide as he dimly registered the meaning behind the gentle plea.

“Oh--Oh right!” he cried, fairly toppling to the ground as he lunged for the wastebasket that was sat on the other side of the nightstand.

Not a moment too soon, it seemed, for the second Mobius drew it up to Loki’s chin he was leaning forward and to retch into the bin, shoulders tensing visibly with the force of his heaving.

“Aw--Shh.” Mobius whispered, reaching up with hand not clutching the basket to run his knuckles along the length of Loki’s trembling spine. “There you go. Let it out. It’s okay.”

If anything, Loki’s sobs only seemed to increase the second he was finishing heaving, his features pinched in misery as he leaned back to turn his face to the ceiling, still gasping for breath.

“Oh, Lo.” Mobius murmured, finally - finally - allowing himself to reach forward to brush a stay curl back behind Loki’s ear from where a mixture of sweat and rainwater had adhered it to his face.

“I know it’s hard,” he whispered, leaning to his side to place the wastebasket out of sight when Loki failed to react to the touch beyond an almost automatic flinch backward. “But you gotta breathe, okay? I’m gonna be right here with you, but you have to work with me. Okay?”

To Mobius’ surprise, something just behind Loki’s eyes flared to life at the words, and he glanced down a moment later to meet Mobius’ gaze head on, an almost questioning expression creasing his features.

Chasing a hunch, Mobius forced a small, soothing smile onto his face, and shifted to clasp his free hand just below Loki’s neck.

“I’m right here with you.” he repeated softly. “I’m not gonna leave. Just breathe with me. It’s gonna be okay.”

Slowly - ever so slowly - Loki’s breaths began to even, his eyes fluttering closed as he seemed to latch on to Mobius’ every word.

“There you go.” Mobius breathed, noting absently the heat of Loki’s exhales ghosting along his lips as he fell forward to rest his forehead gently against the clammy skin of Loki’s own.

Beneath him, Loki’s breaths hitched slightly, before he moved forward to press further into Mobius’ touch with a faint whimper.

“Alright,” Mobius chuckled, a little unsteadily, a small smile twitching at the corner of his mouth before he could stop it. “Sh-shhh. You’re okay. I’m not going anywhere.”

He paused, sobering slightly as Loki continued to wilt against his side, shifting so that he could tuck his forehead timidly into the crook between Mobius’ neck and shoulder.

Something deep within Mobius’ chest surged in triumph at that, though he forced himself to swallow the feeling back, for the time being, and focus on the situation at hand.

He still had sentiments to extend, after all.

“And I’m sorry.” Mobius added, after a moment.

He felt more than saw Loki’s blink in response to the words, the eyelashes tickling against the side of his neck, though Loki did not move as if to draw back from his side.

“Sorry?” he repeated finally, his tone hoarse and almost painfully raw. “Whatever for?”

“I just--” Mobius huffed, before drawing one shoulder up in an apologetic shrug. “I should have realized that--that the mission wasn’t a good idea. I didn’t even think--”

“Mobius.” Loki cut in, drawing back just far enough for Mobius to catch sight of the small furrow working its way between his brows.

“This--” his breath hitched, then, before his gaze began to skitter away to study the space between them listlessly. “This wasn’t--You couldn’t have known--

“I could have.” Mobius interrupted, as gentle as possible. “I should have.”

And, after a moment, he added, “And I am sorry.”

A beat passed, wherein which Mobius’ throat tightened to the point of him almost having to heave for breath himself.

Then, Loki jolted backward, sucking in a sharp, shuddering breath through his mouth as he eyed Mobius almost disbelievingly.

Before Mobius could even consider bringing voice to the second apology that was threatening to burst up from within his chest, however, Loki was falling forward, both hands rising to clasp at the back of Mobius’ jacket in an almost desperate grip.

He did not speak, though the exhale that shuddered through his frame not a moment later had Mobius hastening to wrap both arms as tightly around Loki’s shoulders as he dared.

“Okay,” he whispered, turning to press a firm kiss to the still clammy skin of Loki’s temple when he practically keened against the skin of Mobius’ neck before moving to clutch at his shoulders with increasing urgency. “Alright, baby. I’m not gonna go anywhere. It’s okay…”

To Mobius’ surprise, Loki wilted almost immediately at the words, sagging against Mobius’ side with a soft, barely perceptible hum.

It was unexpected-- almost entirely foreign.

And yet…

And yet, Mobius considered with a small smile, it was also almost entirely comfortable.

“That’s it.” he crooned, something deep within the pit of his stomach warming as Loki burrowed himself impossibly closer. “We’re gonna be alright.”

“Hm.” Loki hummed again, one hand rising to grasp loosely at the fabric of Mobius’ blazer just below his clavicle.

Oh, Mobius considered, his heart picking up speed as he surveyed the movement.

Comfortable, indeed.