In the beginning Loki didn’t realise what it was that he had been missing.
That's not entirely true.
In the very beginning Loki didn't think he was missing anything at all.
Loki lived life as habit, and he went through the motions of each day with devotion. While he found no enjoyment in competitions of physical prowess, he made his own fun with words and magic (and lies and deception), which earned him a title and reputation he would occasionally carry with pride.
Though the thrills were fleeting and his pleasure would always fade, those were facts which Loki did not mind as knew that he was capable of creating more. Though he never knew the feeling of constant happiness, it was the element of life he understood to be unavoidable, and Loki found reassurance in the knowledge that true happiness is rare.
He learned to be content, and he made sure it would be enough.
So when Loki watched Volstagg envelop Hogun in a giant hug, or Sif place an affectionate kiss on Thor's cheek, he never gave their actions a second thought. Such things were merely part of the Asgardian culture, and Loki never had the reason to think he was missing out on anything truly substantial.
If pressed, Loki would reveal his knowledge that these declarations of affection were surely, truly both overrated and unnecessary, for even though it was something he had never been a part of, Loki was still perfectly happy, content with his life.
No, in the very beginning Loki didn't think he was missing anything at all.
Everything changed, however, on a chilly Autumn day.
On that day, Loki sat under a tall tree in a garden far far away from the palace, hidden in a quiet corner of Asgard. Head bent forward, Loki read from the book on his lap, engrossed in stories of ancient mysteries and unsolvable paradoxes.
The girl could not have known who he was, and similarly, Loki never did learn her identity.
Loki started as a pair of small arms wrapped itself around his frame. Suddenly there was a warm body pressing against his back, and a head resting on his shoulder. Strangely overwhelmed by the strange sensation, for a long time Loki sat still, uncertain, before he turned his head to examine the intruder.
As Loki turned his head, the other moved away, and he saw a young girl staring at him with warm, clear eyes. She had tawny hair and a crooked smile, her expression eager and happy.
The places where her body had touched his felt strangely cold.
"Why did you do that?" he asked, his bewilderment clear in his tone.
The little girl shrugged simply, hazel eyes blinking. "You looked like you needed it."
Loki stared silently as the little girl turned and ran away, and when she was gone he bowed his head, trying to turn his attention back to the book in his lap. Yet for some reason his mind would not focus. His eyes were stinging, and his body trembled for reasons he was not entirely sure about.
There were voices coming from far away. It was probably time for him to leave.
Loki resisted the sudden urge to wrap his arms around himself, and walked home alone.
For a long time afterwards, Loki started to notice.
The way Volstagg would greet Hogun and Fandral with a wide, enveloping hug.
The way Odin would wrap his arm tenderly around Frigga's shoulders in the more private of moments.
The way Thor would chase and tackle Sif, picking her up and spinning her around and around until she squealed.
Loki noticed none of this ever happened to him.
He knew that the reason it never happened must have been because he never gave anyone a reason.
Then he wondered what it was he did so differently.
(He wouldn't know, wouldn't even suspect the real reason until much, much later, when his father would be unreachable, his brother in another land, when the realm of Asgard would be falling right into his hands, his world shattered and beyond repair.)
So Loki tried.
He started small. A touch here, a hand on Thor’s shoulder as he went through a necessary explanation, both hands holding the God of Thunder back from doing something rash and ridiculous, taking his mother's hand when he reassured her that Thor and he would be fine travelling into the forests for a few weeks because they would have the Warriors Three and Sif by their side.
Loki didn't try to analyse the small jolts of pleasure he felt whenever he got away with it, and instead wondered if he'd not been doing enough of it to begin with.
(He tried to touch Sif's arm once, but the moment his hand made contact with her skin she jerked away. The action was unconscious, and Loki was too well-practiced to let any disappointment show.)
Yet even after a long time, so long that Loki had learnt every subtle influence a well-timed touch or movement had on another, nothing changed. He had even learnt to practice with his clones, cataloguing the ways their soft hugs, kisses, strokes and touches made him feel. He experimented on his friends and on others, yet on them it didn't seem to have the same effect.
It wasn’t as though his touch burned.
Eventually, he hugged Thor.
(Loki hadn't meant for all his experiments to become so centred on his brother, but all this time Thor was the only one who wouldn’t reject his touch.)
But Thor's body remained stiff, his posture awkward, and the moment Loki allowed it Thor gently pushed him away.
In the end Loki decided it must just be him.
(Which was mostly true.)
But everything would be fine, for Loki still had himself.
This day saw no changes to the life of any being.
Today Loki sat under a weathered statue on a balcony far, far away from the feasting hall, hidden in a secret corner of the palace. Head bent forward, Loki read from the book on his lap, engrossed in tales of ancient mysteries and unsolvable paradoxes.
The other would’ve known precisely who he was, and similarly, Loki had no need to ask after its purpose.
This time Loki relaxed as a pair of strong arms wrapped itself around his frame. A warm body was pressing itself to his back, and a head came to rest on his shoulder. Loki sat still for a quiet moment, adjusting to the new warmth surrounding him, before he leaned back and rested his head in the crook of the familiar intruder's neck.
This person would never shy away from Loki.
As the trickster turned his head the other shifted and hugged him closer, and Loki saw a young man, staring at him with warm, gentle eyes. He had black hair and a crooked grin, his expression soft and amused.
Loki let himself melt completely into the man's arms. It was nice, this feeling.
"Why do I keep doing this?" he asked, though some part of him felt like he already knew the answer.
The other shrugged simply, green eyes slipping closed as his lips softly caressed Loki's neck. "You felt like you needed it."
Silently, Loki stared up at the starlit sky, and when the stars were gone he turned his attention back to the book in his lap. Yet for some strange reason his mind would focus. His eyes were stinging, and his body trembled for reasons he was not entirely sure about.
He thought for a moment, turned his head, and placed a soft kiss on the cheek of his other self.
There were voices coming from far away. But Loki didn't want to leave.
Loki let himself wrap his arms around Loki's body, and together, they read on.