"So," Bard said, his lean face filled with curiosity as he took a seat, "one of you has won the heart of an Elf maid."
Bilbo looked up from his portion of fish stew and saw that Kíli's face was lit up with a mix of pleasure and pride. Kíli opened his mouth but it was Dori's voice that could be heard.
"You've been flirting with an Elf!?"
"It wasn't me!" Ori protested.
"It wasn't me either!" Nori chimed in.
Dori's temper calmed instantly. "Oh. Ah, carry on then."
Bilbo couldn't help but ask, "Why did you assume it was Ori?"
"Well, look at him," Dori said.
Ori blushed and fiddled with his mittens.
"There are few dwarves in Middle Earth as beautiful, though Nori runs him a close second. If anyone could win the heart of an Elf, it would be Ori."
Around them, the rest of the company nodded.
"It's true, laddie," Balin added. "Those three are known far and wide for their striking looks and grace and elegance."
Now it was Dori's turn to blush and he fluttered his eyelashes at Balin.
Bard moved his chair back a few inches, as though too disturbed to stay at the table. "I heard it was a dark-haired Dwarf involved."
"Maybe it was Kíli!" Fíli said, a challenging tone in his voice.
Dwalin gave a bark of a laugh that he turned into an unconvincing cough.
"Maybe it was!" Fíli insisted.
Bilbo happened to know he was right but the others seemed to think it was unlikely, to say the least.
Balin patted Fíli's arm. "You're a good brother," he said, a kind tone in his voice.
Kíli hunched down in his seat looking flushed and unhappy.
"It is not outside the bounds of possibility for someone to find Kíli attractive!" Thorin snapped.
Silence fell. After a few moments, Bofur said, "Kíli is a possibility, certainly, for his hair is very dark. We know it can't be Bombur or Glóin for both of them are married besides having red hair. Balin is out and I truly doubt anyone would call Dwalin dark-haired, though a fine figure of a dwarf he is. I know I haven't been flirting with any Elves, maids or otherwise, so that leaves Kíli, Óin, Bifur, and the leader of our company himself."
Bifur made a few gestures.
"Not Bifur either, then."
Thorin's mouth was a grim straight line. Even if Bilbo hadn't known better, he doubted he would have assumed Thorin would flirt with any Elf. He also realised everyone except Kíli was looking at Óin.
Óin looked back. "Eh? What did I miss?"
"It couldn't be Óin," Dwalin said. "He wouldn't have noticed."
"Then it was Kíli or Thorin."
Everyone looked at Bard.
Bard seemed as confused as Bilbo. "Is there a reason why it couldn't be Kíli or Thorin?"
Thorin sighed and clasped Kíli's shoulder in a comforting way. "My family is not known for its good looks," he said, a reluctant tone in his voice.
Bilbo snorted. "Yes, right." Thorin glared at him and Bilbo jumped in his seat. "Wait, you're serious?"
"It is, unfortunately, true, Master Baggins," Balin put in. "The direct line of Durin is majestic and regal but the family members tend to be on the, ah, plain side."
"You mean Thorin, Fíli, and Kíli are considered to be..." Bilbo cast around for an appropriate word.
"Hideous," Thorin supplied flatly.
"Tauriel liked me!" Kíli burst out. "She talked to me often!"
"It's true," Bilbo said. "Anyone who saw them could tell she liked him!"
There was a collective intake of breath.
"I thought Elves were supposed to have good eyesight," Dwalin said.
Balin gave him a thump.
"There's nothing wrong with the way you three look!" Bilbo exclaimed, almost against his will. The look of self-loathing in Thorin's eyes was too much for him to bear. "Fíli and Kíli are both good-looking lads and Thorin is beautif..." Bilbo realised at the last instant what he was saying and his words trailed off. After a few seconds of completely stunned silence, Bilbo decided he was in for a penny, in for a pound, so he stuck his chin in the air and declared, "Beautiful. Thorin is beautiful. There, I said it." After all, they still needed Bilbo to deal with the dragon and surely Thorin was unlikely to kill him over a compliment?
"Are you well, laddie? Did you bang your head on the way down the river?" Óin asked.
"What? No. I've thought this since the first day I met them."
"By my beard," Dwalin muttered. "Thorin, you might want to get some before our burglar changes his mind."
"I'm not going to change my mind! And what do you mean, 'get some'?"
Unfortunately for Bilbo's sensibilities, Dwalin began to explain, aided by graphic gestures from Bifur. Dori gave a horrified squawk and clapped his hands over Ori's eyes. Bilbo wished someone would do the same for him for he was unable to look away.
Fíli and Kíli, on the other hand, were enthralled by the explanation.
"Does that work with Elf maids, too?" Kíli asked.
Thorin rose to his feet. "Master Baggins, I would talk with you privately."
Bilbo watched him stalk to the door and reluctantly followed. Surely Thorin wasn't offended? Bilbo knew he was no prize himself but surely just admiring Thorin's looks, his eyes, his hair, walk, stance and, well, pretty much everything about him wasn't offensive. Was it? Maybe he should have asked Bofur more about Dwarf culture. In any case, it was too late now.
Closing the door behind him, Bilbo looked at Thorin's back and cleared his throat. Maybe an apology would help?
"Did you mean what you said?" Thorin asked without turning.
Bilbo sighed. "I'm sorry if I offended you but, yes, I meant every word."
"You consider me beautiful?"
"Yes," Bilbo said firmly, though he felt his face heat up. "Very."
Thorin turned, a look of wonder on his face. "No one has ever..." He abandoned whatever he had intended to say and grasped Bilbo's lapels in order to yank him forward and up into a toe curling kiss.
Several minutes later when Bilbo's feet were once again on the floor, Thorin leaned his forehead against Bilbo's and said, "I needs must concentrate on the task ahead of us, but, once Erebor is ours, I would discuss this with you again in greater detail."
"Greater detail, yes." Bilbo was almost sure he didn't squeak the words. "I would be happy to discuss it, um, at length with you again."
The look Thorin gave him was almost enough to singe his eyebrows. "Until then." He gave Bilbo a half-bow and left.
Bilbo pursed up his lips in a soundless whistle. Apparently, complimenting a Dwarf on his looks was perfectly acceptable. Bilbo was sure that knowledge would come in handy.