Flyting (n.): A game or contest consisting of the exchange of insults, often in verse, between two parties. (From the Old Norse flyta, provocation.)

When Thor entered the chamber where his four closest friends sat talking over wine and sweetmeats, and he did not approach them, or offer them more than a distracted smile, Hogun was not the only one who frowned. Glances were exchanged, over what to do and what could be said, to a prince with his attention turned all inward, when that prince was Thor. Consensus was reached. A significant nod was made.

"Come," Volstagg called out, his deep jolly voice like a great bell. "Sit, Thor! Have a bite or two. You grow thinner already."

He didn't, really; saying so was just Volstagg's way, but Thor had made merry less since he had come back from his brief exile. It was not that he was less than a boon to their company when he did join it, but four evenings in the last dozen, he had preferred to be alone. When had Thor ever sought to be alone, for more than an hour or so while he was sulking? He would not be good company, he said. And they understood. He looked up into the stars, and perhaps he thought of the new mortal love he had left there, his Jane, the woman they had met so briefly and of whom he had told them so much that Sif at least was heartily sick of her. But when this regretful face was on him, they did not think that was so.

They knew Thor understood more of Loki's madness than he had told them. That the Allfather had almost certainly shared with him knowledge that was not to go beyond the royal family. That was as it should be, really. But they did not like to see his grief.

"Come," Sif agreed. More gently than was her wont. "Drink with us."

Thor shook his head. Smiled again. "No, my friends. I thank you, but…I do not wish to be merry now."

With no more words than these, he passed them, and climbed the gently curving staircase in the corner of the room, toward one of Asgard's many balconies.

They looked after him until he was out of sight, and then turned back to one another, eyes meeting over golden goblets.

"Loki again," observed Volstagg heavily.

"I dare say he thinks a great deal more of the man dead than he ever did while he was alive," remarked Fandral, a little acid in his voice. They, after all, had seen Loki on the throne, and watched Thor die by his malice. They were not tormented by feelings of responsibility for his loss.

"And before long he will have forgotten how annoying he was." Sif's tones did not have precisely acid, but irritated she certainly was.

"What a little sneak," agreed Fandral.

"Snitch," nodded Hogun.

"How he would lead people into trouble and then stand back and laugh," put in Volstagg in an affronted rumble.

"And the way he'd steal your things and turn up using them a few days later and act so surprised they were yours," said Sif, pouring herself a moody half-goblet of wine.

"That smug look when he knew something no one else did, and was going to make us ask," grumbled Fandral. He turned his winecup in his hands without refilling it.

"The food that turned into something else when you ate it." Volstagg bit fiercely into a wedge of cheese, but with less gusto than usual.

"Those stupid doubles," muttered Hogun.

"He used to pull hair when we wrestled," Fandral grumbled, a fact which everyone acknowledged with some small grimace of remembered pain, although Hogun's narrowed eyes could have been merely deep thought.

Sif knocked back most of the wine in her cup in a single quaff, set it down, sighed. Smothered a laugh.

Spoke, and it was not a question when she said, "I'm not the only one who misses him already, am I."

The tension that had been in the air fell away. Volstagg shook his head instantly, wide shoulders drooping as if a weight had been removed. A wry corner of Fandral's mouth turned up as he shook his, still staring into the golden depths of his goblet. And Hogun, in his usual level tone, allowed, "No."

They were silent then, for a little time, the Lady Sif and the Warriors Three. Which had always felt like a strange sort of title for just the three of them when there were, after all, three others—Sif, who was just like them except that she was a girl, and perhaps a bit more dear to Thor than they, and Thor himself, their leader. And Loki. Always Loki. The other prince. Their friend, if anyone had asked. Of course their friend. He had stood with them, after all, all those years, had hunted and played ball with the rest; had usually lost at wrestling even though he pulled hair, and beaten everyone at the flyting for so long, they had hardly played anymore for years. He had saved Fandral's life in battle even on that very day that everything had gone wrong, and Thor had been banished, and Loki's destruction had begun.

But they had not chosen him, not really, not even so much as they had chosen Thor. Because certainly Thor was the elder prince, the likely inheritor, and their parents had mostly encouraged the friendship, and there was a certain inevitability to their spending a certain amount of time with him, but they had given him their loyalty freely, and been glad to walk beside him. Loki had merely…come along with Thor. A natural consequence of Thor had always been Loki.

And now it wasn't, because he was gone, and yet the ghost of him seemed to be clinging to their friend, and they were not being allowed to forget—the dark look in his eyes when he rose from the throne that day.

The dark, laughing little boy who'd shorn Sif's hair and put eggs in Hogun's boots.

Sif rose. It was sudden, but somehow surprised no one. "Come," she said, gathering up the wine carafe and two bright goblets. "He deserves better than to be forgotten."

And the other three stood, and brought their own cups, and together they followed their prince up the stairs, to drink, and gaze off deep into the stars, and remember a man they'd known for all that he had been.

And flyte at him freely, laughing, and half-imagine that he would come around the nearest column any moment, green eyes flashing, with a cutting scrap of doggerel on his lips to fling back at them, implying perhaps that Fandral did unsavory things with other people's horses. Volstagg, maychance only out of habit, brought a sixth cup, and when they settled around Thor, Sif filled it. And deep into the night they stayed there, recounting every horrible thing they could ever remember Loki doing, and a few he never had, which were the funniest of all, even as they listened hardest then, not meaning to, not really able to help it, for another voice to join them and point out that it was not so, it had never happened like that, remember it went like this.

And if Thor's face was not the only one to grow a little wet, well, the stars did not shed light enough to tell it.

Edit: I was never able to buy either that these four were close with Loki, or that they really, honestly disliked one another. In the movie they act like the six of them grew up together, which makes Loki practically their foster-brother, too, just less so. Also, I would like to thank everyone who's read this. I mean, I love reviews, but breaking two hundred 'views' in one day is pretty cool too. Special shout-out to the nine of you from Scandinavia!

Okay, I broke down-pretty please feedback?