Bilbo Baggins returned to Bag End a little less than ten months after the day that he had run out his door following the song of a mountain king.
To the folk of the Shire, Bilbo seemed unchanged from his adventures, though perhaps a bit richer (there were rumors of tunnels full of gold) and a bit less sociable than he once had been. It was a three day wonder, and quite the talk of the Shire until it was eclipsed by the news of Farmer Cotton's remarkable counting pig.
Bilbo tried to settle back into the rhythms of life in the Shire, but it felt as if he were trying to put on a pair of gloves that had shrunk. He didn't fit in the Shire anymore. Inside his heart he felt irreparably damaged by the loss of something he had never, he told himself, ever truly had.
There were voices he would never hear echoing in the halls of his smial again, silenced brutally on the battlefield. For the first few weeks, he tried to fill the silence with babbling, talking to himself and narrating his every move for an audience that did not exist. But the knock at the door never sounded, and the memory of laughter and song slowly faded into grey emptiness.
As the weeks passed and a cold, wet spring left everything feeling muddy and dull, he began to feel as if he had run out of words entirely. He went about his business from dawn to evening without more than a perfunctory "how d'you do" or "good morning" to the greengrocer or butcher's boy. In the evenings, he made a cold supper and ate in silence, retiring to his bed early only to lie awake until the coldest, darkest hours before dawn, when nothing seemed as if it would ever be bright and hopeful again.
It was during one of these dreary suppers a little over a month after his return to the Shire that a knock came unexpectedly at his door, just as Bilbo was contemplating whether he could even finish his plate of cheese and ham.
Bilbo froze, his heart leaping inside his chest. But no, he told himself. That had been no loud, demanding Dwarven knock. It had been a quiet, hesitant knock--probably a neighbor needing help with something but feeling guilty for disturbing him so late in the evening.
"Just a moment," he called, tightening the belt of his robe as he stood. The colorful patchwork robe, a gift from his Great-Aunt Pansy, hung loosely from his reduced frame. He just couldn't seem to regain the weight he'd lost during the journey.
He didn't recognize the figure standing at his doorway at first. She was standing mostly turned away and so all he saw was a spill of long, red hair across the shoulder of a traveling cloak. A Big Person, at his doorway at this time of night?
"Errr, can I help you?" Bilbo asked.
The Big Person glanced at him over her shoulder, a wide smile spreading across her face. "Mae g'ovannen, mellon nín."
Her presence in the Shire seemed so entirely incongruous, like a white swan in the middle of a flock of dull grey geese, that Bilbo could only gape at her for a few moments. "Tauriel?"
Turning to face him, she inclined her head gravely. "I am glad to see you well."
Bilbo tried to stifle a gasp. Her beautiful face bore a livid scar that stretched from jaw to temple on the right side, intersecting with her hairline. He remembered the wound--her face slashed to the bone as she struggled to reach Kíli where he stood defending Thorin's fallen body from the terrible blows of Azog's mace. He shuddered at the memory, hoping belatedly that she would not think that was a response to her scar.
"As--as am I," he stuttered. "Come in, come in! It's too chilly of a night to stand out on the doorstep."
She bowed her head before stepping across the threshold. "I thank you for your hospitality, Bilbo Baggins of the Shire."
"May I take your cloak?"
She hesitated, an odd expression on her face. He would almost call it fear, though that seemed unlikely from the warrior who had hamstrung Azog the Defiler, putting the huge Orc at just the right height for a Hobbit with an Elvish letter-opener and a vast ocean of rage to launch himself into the air and bury said letter-opener in Azog's chest to the hilt.
Bilbo shook himself out of the memory, realizing that Tauriel had still not taken off her cloak. She bit her lip and then slowly unfastened the clasp and pulled the enveloping fabric away from her body.
It was well known that Hobbits were a fecund folk. In fact, "breed like Hobbits" was a common saying among the Men of Bree. Bilbo had seen more pregnant women in his time than he could count. So there was absolutely no doubt in his mind that the pronounced swell of Tauriel's belly only meant one thing.
"Oh dear," Bilbo said, and promptly fainted on his entryway rug.
Tauriel, late of the Forest Guard of Mirkwood, looked down at him with an expression of surprised dismay. "I always thought Kíli was having me on when he said that Bilbo had fainted."