Loki had read about touch starvation. Humans had only recently begun studying the subject, so a new study would show up every few months or so, explaining just how much humans needed touch. Touch starvation was an actual medical issue.
The trickster had never understood it. Touching was part of many cultures, yes: slapping on the back or shaking hands or what-have-you; and being touched less than was normal would imply ostracization, a rather unhappy circumstance. He could comprehend that much. But the idea that being touched at or even above the standard cultural rate could still leave one feeling unloved…it made little sense. He understood that it happened, and how to manipulate it, but that little missing why kept the problem itching at the back of his mind.
Touch starvation, she now decided, was something one had to feel from both sides to understand. Jötnar lacked it, so Loki had been without. And, as she could tell from inhabiting Lady Sif’s body, Asgardians had plenty.
Touch was a shorthand.
You are important to me.
Touching without striking meant that you could have that, that physical intimacy was something that could happen without pain—she happened to
enjoy pain sometimes, but the pleasure came as much from the choice as the pain. Even in cultures where people touched each other casually, it was a constant, I am here; I recognize you; I think you are healthy and well.
Loki came to Midgard, feeling new wants for the first time in several millennia. She was confused, to some extent, but saw this as the perfect time to test out her working hypothesis.
Loki hit a nightclub.
Loki was not called "Silvertongue" for nothing, and the nightclub was filled with men at varying levels of desperation, all looking for partners. That bit was too easy to be any fun, but she moved through it to get on with the experiment.
The part of Loki that always watches at one remove found the interactions fascinating. She had done this before, of course, and humans and Asgardians are close enough that the old skills worked--Loki has taken male lovers before. Until this body, Loki had never seen much difference, though she sees one now. That was wonderfully intriguing, because her eyesight was the same, yet men now looked much better than women, on an intuitive level.
Watching-Loki saw the partner--John? Jim? Jack? She'll just call him "J"; they usually think that's cute--beg for release, and found her hips stuttering in their roll. Power is good, and power in this way is--is--Loki
couldn't think, and that should have been terrifying, but
" Please ," he begs beneath her. "I need--need-- please --"
Loki whited out with pleasure and gives J what he asked for, because he had been
such a good boy. Pleasure it a reward for good behavior, and he has been good.
("So good," gasped in a tone not Loki's own. She would pretend to forget that.)
The man muttered something and fell asleep. Loki smiled and curled about him, sated for the moment. The night was young; they had time for him to recover.
Loki woke to a confusing room. The man was gone, which should have woken her, even if the man for some inconceivable notion did not want to ask for another round. Loki was always the one who called for it to stop, the one with that power. The empty room left her feeling oddly bereft.
She shook the feeling off and checked the clock. The club she had gone to last night would have barely anyone there yet, but there would be something open. Something. She just needed to
get rid of this feeling continue the experiment; then she'd feel better. Loki just felt deprived of a subject, nothing more.
Of course. That was it.
The Loki watching this train of thought felt odd, but there was a need building again. Desire for
validation, a want he knew well enough
sex, a new,
interesting want. She wanted to explore it. That was all.
One of Loki’s nightly mates called her Silvertongue, and the name stuck on this world just as it had on Asgard: Half because she wanted to wear it, half because she earned it. A different earning, but earned, just the same. It was the only way to keep any control over herself, to
pretend it was still an continue the experiment.
There was one place in town where she could find someone at nearly any hour she was awake, and Loki gravitated toward it each night. Soon enough, people were looking for her—Silvertongue, not Loki, but they believed both to be nicknames of hers. Her name hardly mattered, anyway.
No one would remember her.
She didn't care if anyone remembered her.
The early nights, Loki dressed impeccably, and she hardly thought of it. Loki’s clothes were always immaculate and perfectly suited to the occasion; a gender shift was no reason for that to change. Soon enough, it was a fight to get everything right, but clothing was still important. Loki would have her self-image, if nothing else. What else had she hung onto?
One twilight, Loki wore red. It was her brother’s color, but she cared more for the attention than how she got it. The man she found that night looked like Thor. She couldn’t quite remember why that should have bothered her, not when the thought had to fight the symphony/cacophony of wantwantneed that seemed a constant buzz in her head to think anything clearly.
The man would touch her. That was enough.
One night, Loki wore her green dress, not caring that it was torn. She had worn torn items before, but those had been statements, artfully ripped by a designer or by her own hands. This was merely torn. The man that night reminded her of no one, or if he had, had failed to make enough of an impression for the fact to stay with her. Nothing much stayed with her by that point, really. Loki’s clothing stayed in her mind, because she focused on it, until one night she did not. It was around the night she lost her apartment, around the night she started using magic to get into empty hotel rooms, though it grew increasingly difficult. Attention-shifting spells would only go so far, and her nightlies rarely looked right in any decent room, even if she did. Loki still wouldn't go into another's rooms. She disliked breaking hospitality rules, and these Midgardians had such odd ideas about them.
The nights faded to gaudy lights, bad pick-up lines, alcohol, and desperation. There had been a point to this, once. It had been her experiment, or her fun. Now it was just going through motions, looking for something that would surely be there if she did it like this…
The blur meant Loki didn’t quite know how long it was until she was grateful to be wearing the silver dress. It hung off her shoulders nicely, and skimmed her curves well, but mostly it was the only thing she had to wear that wasn’t torn. She had stopped caring about that some time ago; the only reason she wore it particularly was that some old instinct had said to wear armor that night, and it reminded her of chain mail. A flimsy physical guard, but it helped her.
She was walking down the sidewalk, half-pretending she might go somewhere different, when she saw startled blue eyes facing her. Loki smiled at the oh-so-innocent face, wondering if she could get two in succession tonight. Less sleep, but also less time alone, and that always improved her mood.
Slowly, the startled look turned horrified, and Loki’s smile became a smirk.
“Balder,” she purred. “What brings you here?”
" Loki ?" In that tone that meant the speaker had come to the the only possible conclusion and still found it inconceivable.
"Something wrong?" Loki flirted, eyes shining with fun.
"You are..." Balder reached out, but changed the movement to run a hand through his white hair when Loki raised an eyebrow. "Are..."
Loki's hand twitched at the possibility of contact with dear Balder the Currently Uncorrupted, wanting the power
as much as anything else. "Female? On Midgard? Perpetually confounding?"
"No. Or--yes, but you are you." Balder shook his head in open disbelief. "Your clothes."
Loki laughed, then noticed it was the first genuine one she'd had in months and sobered to half a smile. "Are you concerned for my appearance? I would not think you so vain on my account."
Balder was unfazed as ever by the unspoken jibe at his vanity for himself. "You always watched your appearance carefully. I worry for you, Loki." And he said it in the most earnest, boring way that had Loki dodging around the fool, already planning what sort of man she would go after that night, still awake enough to pretend it mattered.
Balder caught her arm.
Loki froze, not melting into the touch by sheer force of will. She'd gained that pulling sensation of want with the change in body, but had so far succeeded in not thinking about what would make it stronger. Balder knew himself well enough for control, and knew Loki well enough for the care to be genuine, to be for Loki and not Silvertongue.
"Loki," he said softly.
"Balder," she bit out.
"Let me help."
"With what?" It should have been teasing, and it was just desperate and Loki hated it.
"With whatever has rendered you such."
"You do not know what you ask." Loki threw Balder's arm off hers before stalking back to her most recent rooms, pretending Balder wasn't following her, pretending that it was some sort of joke, pretending she was still the self she had been as a Jötunn.
Loki was not that good a liar. ----
Balder came back. Another novelty, and that was the only reason Loki allowed the Asgardian to follow her. Though Thor cared that much, the fool could never keep up with the trickster, and these humans lacked even the caring. Balder appeared to want to find her--for whatever reason--and sought the trickster successfully more than once. And slowly, Loki started letting Balder into his lodgings for the night.
Balder never bragged: he simply found Loki, each time. Through the venemous invectives, and then through tears that both pretended had not been cried, so that Loki could pretend no one had held her, that she had never been so weak. It wasn't hard, at the start--Loki always came to the same club--and, by the time she stopped, Loki found herself dropping clues for the bright god.
(And Balder was bright--not just the golden son of Asgard, shiny but rarely useful, truly bright in every meaning of the word.)
Loki kissed him first. (In point of fact, Balder had leaned in first, but this was beside the point.) This time was slower than Loki was used to, she had far less control than she was used to. It was, unintuitively enough, rather pleasant.
They both rested warmly in the afterglow, silent save for their breathing. Later, the word 'love' may have come up.
"Why do you keep finding me?" What might have been snapped those weeks ago was now said with genuine curiosity. He always left Balder enough excuse to leave, or to not find Loki if he did not truly look. It could not even be guilt, for Loki was back to herself (if not himself).
Balder smiled in a way that should have been infuriating, but never was. "Why not?"
"Ask a dwarf."
Balder laughed, and Loki found herself smiling in turn.