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be known in its aching

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Time was such a strange concept, he thought.

Never ending, in a sense that time not just wouldn’t, but could not cease. It marched on, despite the will or might of the people. There was and always would be an abundance of minutes, hours, days. They fell and tumbled one over another, sometimes fast, imperceptibly so— sometimes with all the hurry of spilt molasses in January, dragging on and on, each minute wrung for every second it contained.

But now there was nothing. No more minutes, hours, days. Just the stillness of the present stretched out with every blink of his eye. He’d run out of ideas for taking on that great cloudy beast, his last having been quite literally struck down in a flash of purple lightning, withdrawing all too quickly.

As he stood atop that hill in a land beyond land— beyond time itself— watching as Alioth slithered back into itself and disappeared, Loki felt truly, inescapably trapped. Rooted to the spot; surprised, angry, afraid.

What was he to do? He was stranded, alone with himself— so much of himself it made him sick— at the edge of time. Each tick of his proverbial clock brought about a new tangible edge of finality. He was finished.

Loki had failed, again.

“For someone born to rule, you sure do lose a lot. You might even say it's in your nature.”

Unbidden, he thought of Mobius. What might he have said, was he there to witness yet another of Loki’s spectacular failures? Probably something unbearably forgiving, as was his way. Always so compassionate, waiting ready with open arms after each one of Loki’s cockups.

No, that wasn’t quite right, was it?

Compassionate, yes, and so forgiving, but not endlessly. Loki envisioned him there, standing beside him, hands on his hips, hair ruffled by the wind, eyes light but calculative as he took in the scene. But he could only see furrowed brows and a hung head, the frustration of a man having to clean up another mess. And wasn’t that really all he was? A mess.

Loki was a tempest, made of chaos and power, quick to anger and even quicker to rise— but he was also the carnage left after the storm. The destruction of life as he swept through.

“You were born to cause pain and suffering and death.”

Mobius had trusted Loki, had befriended him against better judgement. He’d stuck his neck out for the god repeatedly, burnt through his political capital just to keep Loki alive, and in the end, was killed for daring to believe a variant over the Time Keepers.

Grief overwhelmed him. He missed Mobius so much, he ached. Tears flooded his eyes, threatening to spill over, and he let them, uncaring of the watchful eyes of his other variants.

The older version of himself stepped forward and rested a comforting hand on his shoulder.

“Let us go,” he said to Loki, but neither made any move to leave. “We have done what we can.”

“No,” he said. He shrugged off the hand, stepping aimlessly away. The wind whipped at his hair and he flicked a few strands from his eyes angrily. “We can try again. Look for something bigger to appear, something that would take longer for Alioth to consume-“

“You cannot bargain your way out of this, Loki.”

It was his younger self that spoke, words sounding practiced and worn. The boy stood to their right, cradling an alligator— one he was surprisingly ready to accept as a variant of himself— to his chest. Both stared stonily at Loki. “We came along because we knew you’d need to see the futility of your scheme for yourself. You are forgetting to whom you speak, assuming that each of us hasn’t had this exact thought.”

“Young master, perhaps we shouldn’t-”

“Shouldn’t what? Are you proposing we play along with another hundred ploys until he finally learns that there is no hope? Shall we let him die trying? No. This must end here, and now.”

Loki thought him wiser than any child had the right to be, but couldn’t bear to accept the reality of his words. Because then there was nothing. Just an existence within the Void, toiling away the frozen present until either he slipped up, or gave in and purposefully sought Alioth out.

He hung his head, watching the grass bend beneath his shoe. Idly, he wondered how hard he could stomp, how much more pressure could be applied until they were ground to mush. It struck him how similar they were, these blades of grass and him. How much longer could he shoulder his burdens until it crushed him?

“I don’t know what else to do,” he admitted, a whisper above the wind. None of his variants responded, save for a vague gurgling from the alligator.

Just then, a horn blared in the distance. All four of them spun to look and watched as a blue car sped toward them. There was a pizza slice-shaped sign atop it’s roof, teetering dangerously on a spring. He could hear its turbulent creaking as the car drew nearer, and wondered if the driver-- whoever that may have been-- had any clue as to how close it was to ripping off. His eyes flicked to the windshield, parsing through the build-up of muck and dust to see beneath, and his breath left him in a rush.

No. It couldn’t be.

The car jolted to a stop at the foot of the hill. The driver-side door swung open, and that was all it took for Loki to break out into a sprint, barely keeping upright as he bounded down the path.

“Mobius!” he shouted, overjoyed.

Said man had hardly stood before Loki collided with him.

“Woah there!” Mobius exclaimed but didn’t let his surprise keep him from returning the embrace with equal fierceness.

Loki dug his fingers into Mobius’ back, clinging to him like a child would their mother. Into his ear, he said brokenly, “I thought I’d lost you.”

Mobius shushed him gently, rubbing soothing circles on his back. “I’m right here, Loki.”

That only made Loki burrow further into his neck, where he muffled an undeniable sob. “We’re alright, we’re both okay,” Mobius muttered, letting him cry. Suddenly, he pulled back.

“Mobius,” Loki started, gaze flitting between his eyes, around his face, dropping momentarily to his lips, then back up again. “Mobius, I’m sorry. For everything, for-“

“You don’t need to apologise,” Mobius interrupted, looking back at him with a small smile. “It’s water under the bridge.”

He shook his head. “But I betrayed you, I-I failed you.”

“You could never fail me, Loki,” Mobius assured, suddenly serious. “Never.” The grin reappeared on his face. “Besides,” he joked, “what’s a little betrayal between friends?”

Loki stared at him in disbelief. Perhaps his analysis of the man had been wrong. His forgiveness really had to be endless, for him to be standing there holding Loki, looking for all the world fondly back at him.

Without thinking, he said, “I think I love you.”

Mobius’ smile grew impossibly wider. He raised a hand to Loki’s face, cradling his cheek in the smoothness of his palm. “You think?” he asked but didn’t wait for a response before guiding Loki down into a kiss.

For a moment, Loki was too shocked to respond. His mind blanked, the whirlwind of his thoughts ceasing completely. For his part, Mobius didn’t pull away. Simply stayed still, lips pressed against his patiently. And finally, when the Void pieced itself back together around them, Loki tightened his grip on Mobius’ suit jacket and kissed back with a roughness that laid bare how desperate he was for the touch. He heard the other man gasp against him, then felt the fingers of his free hand as they dug into his hip.

Loki tried to take advantage of the opening, licking into the analyst's mouth to deepen the kiss, but the analyst wouldn’t have it. He took control of the kiss, slowing the pace to something sweet and chaste. Loki found himself giving in, letting Mobius guide him in the moment. The pad of Mobius’ thumb swept over his cheekbone, back and forth, almost absentmindedly, and the action caused all the emotion that had been bubbling in his chest to explode.

Tears trickled unbidden from his eyes, and the unexpected wetness beneath his thumb caused Mobius to pull back, brow furrowed in worry.

“What’s wrong?” he asked quietly. Loki shook his head, delving back in for another kiss, but Mobius tightened the hold on his waist to keep him put. “Loki, talk to me.”

He exhaled shakily, wiping away the tears with his hand roughly. Mobius let him go just to catch his wrist and stop him, instead taking over and gently sweeping away the tear tracks himself. It was such an affectionate act that a fresh wave of tears fell without Loki meaning them to.

“I’m sorry,” Loki said, chuckling wetly. “It’s not you, it’s not. I-” he suddenly stopped, looking startled. With a small smile, he continued, “I’m happy.”

Mobius looked delightedly back at him. “I love you, too, you know,” he hummed, brushing a stray lock of hair from Loki’s face. And then he said it again, and once more for good measure, continuing to wipe at the last tears that trickled from Loki’s eyes.

A loud cough came from the other side of the car, and just like that, the little pocket of space they’d inhabited fizzled away. Loki immediately turned red, pulling away from Mobius’ embrace to fiddle with his shirt, fixing its tuck. He was determinedly not looking at the group of variants staring at them.

Sylvie was the first to speak, saying, “I’m alright, too, not that you cared to ask.”

Mobius laughed at that, and when Loki looked up at him, the man didn’t even look embarrassed. He caught his gaze and raised an eyebrow, but Mobius just shrugged and gestured to the variants.

“Well, ah. Mobius, Sylvie, these are me- well, us,” Loki said, waving between himself and Sylvie. “Us as a child, us when we’re older, and us as an alligator. Please don’t ask why.

“Loki’s,” he said, turning to the other three, “this is Sylvie, the variant of us I told you about before. And this is my Mobius-” Sylvie immediately snorted at the slip of tongue, causing Loki to stop short and glare.

“Hello, I’m his Mobius,” Mobius butted in with a flick of a wave, thoroughly enjoying the flush spreading down Loki’s face to his neck. “Good to meet you all.”

The older version of Loki had a faint smile on his face, looking between the two of them with something wistful. Loki’s heart twinged, wondering who he’d had to leave behind.

“Alright,” Sylvie clapped. “Now that that’s out of the way, what’s the plan?”

Young Loki chimed in then, sharing Loki’s earlier plan and sparing no details. Loki decided then that the kid wasn’t actually wise at all, and was in fact a greater pain in his ass than Thor ever was. Young Loki didn’t miss the daggers being glared at him, but he didn’t look at all impressed.

Mobius snorted, watching him fondly. “Really? You were going to stab the cloud?”

Loki tried to defend himself, but he was cut off again by Sylvie. “Were you expecting to paper-cut Alioth to death?”

Loki groaned as everyone broke into laughter. Even the alligator croaked out his amusement, proving to be the last straw.

“Oh, enough!” he grouched, grabbing hold of Mobius’ arm just to shepherd him back towards the door. “Everyone in. We can find some shelter where you all can figure out a single better idea for how to take on Alioth.”

Sylvie snickered again but did amenably walk with the others to the backseat. Mobius waited until they piled in, then turned to Loki and grabbed him by the hips.

“Hey,” he said, pulling him forward.

“Hey yourself,” Loki responded haughtily, crossing his arms.

“Oh, come on,” Mobius said, chuckling. “Don’t be like that, you know we were only kidding. Well, at least I was. Can’t be too sure with Sylvie.”

Loki rolled his eyes but unfolded his arms to press the palms of his hands against Mobius’ chest. For a moment, they just gazed at each other. Loki couldn’t decide where to look, trying to memorise each of Mobius’ features all at once. Instead, he focused on what he could feel: the steady rhythm of his heartbeat, the rise and fall of his chest as he breathed, the heat of his skin beneath the tawdry fabric of his TVA uniform. It grounded him instantly, and he leaned into him.

“I’m right here,” Mobius said knowingly. Loki nodded but didn’t meet his eyes.

“Part of me is afraid this isn’t real.”

“It is. Believe me.”

Loki sighed. “I’m getting there.”

“What can I do to convince you?”

“Well,” he drawled, “there is one thing that might convince me. . .” He observed as Mobius’ eyes dilated and shuffled closer, pressing him against the car.

“Anything,” Mobius said, already breathless, zeroing in on Loki’s lips.

“Oh, I think you already know,” Loki said with a smirk.

Without further prompting, Mobius grabbed a handful of Loki’s hair and pulled him those final inches closer, closing the gap between their lips. Loki sighed into his mouth, leaning his full weight against Mobius as he let the man lead him in the kiss. He could feel Mobius’ heart pounding now, knew his own was beating nearly as fast, and then Mobius traced along the seam of his mouth with his tongue. Loki pulled away, looking smug.

“Ah-ah,” he teased, and Mobius laughed.

“Alright, you got me,” Mobius said, then leaned back in. Loki let him, but it took everything in his might to keep from letting Mobius take them right back down the road he’d pulled them from.

The backseat window beside them rolled down slowly, so quietly neither noticed. Then Sylvie popped her head out and gagged loudly.

“Are you two done, or will we have to wait much longer?” she asked teasingly.

“Sylvie!” Loki spluttered, though he didn’t make any move to step back. Mobius just let his head rest against the roof of the car, smiling at the sky in silent laughter.

“Yeah, yeah,” she said, leaning back into the car. Just before she rolled the window up, they heard her say, “Like bloody teenagers.”

Loki huffed indignantly but softened as Mobius ran a hand through his hair.

“She’s right, you know,” he said. He regained his footing enough without pushing Loki away, then pulled him into a tight hug. Mobius kissed his cheek and said, “Come on. We can do that plenty when we find some shelter.”

Loki muttered an acquiescence, then broke away from the embrace and all but stomped to the other side of the car. As he slid into the passenger seat beside Mobius, he could feel the eyes of his variants boring into him. He tried to ignore the feeling, but his cheeks heated all the same.

“Alright, let’s go,” Mobius said, then took off in the opposite direction of the hill. In the rearview mirror, Loki caught a glimpse of Sylvie staring at him and raised his eyebrows. The look on her face was approving, and he found himself returning the soft smile. Then she winked and he turned to look out the window, rolling his eyes. He felt something settle in his chest, finally feeling calm for the first time since he’d watched Mobius be pruned.

He was still stranded in the land beyond land, frozen in time, but he was no longer alone. A tentative hope bloomed in his chest, and at once he knew that they’d make it out of there. He wasn’t sure how, or what would happen once they did, but he knew that as long as Mobius was with him, they’d be alright.