He wants to go home.
The world had been strange and wonderful when he had first run out his door, but now it is too big and too bleak for a Hobbit of the Shire. He misses warmth and coziness; he misses petty arguments over fabrics instead of gold and people knocking on his door armed with umbrellas instead of weapons. He wants a small fire in his hearth rather than the mass pyres built in lieu of burying the dead; he wants hot tea instead of cold water and an unmoving, comfortable armchair instead of a pony (no matter how gentle she may be). He wants to feel soil beneath his fingers rather than in his hair; but most of all, he wants to celebrate a life long lived rather than mourn one cut short.
He wants home.
"My dear, dear Hobbit," Gandalf murmurs gently beside him, their horses automatically following the Elven procession that has promised to lead them through Mirkwood. "You cannot dwell on such dark thoughts. They will consume you, Bilbo Baggins, and change you in ways you do not wish to be changed."
Bilbo takes his time before looking up at Gandalf. He knows that tears stream steadily down his face, though he has stopped noticing them. He blinks once, twice, registering Gandalf's words without taking them to heart.
Gandalf looks sorrowful, and a mite guilty (as well he should). "Do not linger upon their deaths, my dear Bilbo. Are you not a Hobbit? Think instead of the good times - the memories that you shared with each of them.
And so Bilbo does. He thinks about the Company of Thorin Oakenshield as woods give way to fields and river give way to mountains; as he heads home.
Bofur is the first one to befriend him.
Bilbo had thanked him, that first evening, for the "handkerchief". Bofur had smiled and patted the ground beside him, offering Bilbo a bit of Dwarven pipeweed and beginning one of many numerous tales about his home in Ered Luin.
These conversations become nightly things. Bilbo learns the courageous story behind Bifur's axe; he discovers, Bofur's close ties with the Line of Durin. The hatted Dwarf always has a quick joke and an easy smile, and Bilbo feels like less and less of an outcast each time they speak. Bofur, perhaps, never chooses the most appropriate conversation, but his way with words make Bilbo forget about the colder weather, fewer meals, and lack of decent beds.
Bilbo smiles to himself as they continue through Mirkwood, fingering the small figurine in his pocket. It has pointed ears, large, hairy, feet, and an Elven sword held in its hands. Bofur had even found some blue paint - Yavanna knows where - and had given the blade its familiar blue glow.
Kili, Bilbo learns very early on, is not to be trusted with anything. The Dwarf has crazy ideas that often involve other people's stuff, and Bilbo has taken to keeping his pack very close to his person at all times.
Of course, he had never considered one of Kili's hare-brained schemes to include harm to his person, but the incident with the trolls had changed that. Drastically. No wonder the others all give Kili suspicious looks whenever he gets that gleam in his eye.
Kili apologizes profusely during their stay in Rivendell, and Bilbo becomes subject to another of Kili's trick: puppy eyes. He had thought that the numerous fauntlings always begging him for something would harden him against Kili's big, hurt gaze, but apparently not.
Kili uses these eyes against him on several occasion; including, of course, when he asks Bilbo to teach him about Elves. Bilbo would have been perfectly willing to do so without those sad brown orbs being directed at him.
Unlike the others, Balin is wise. He also, to Bilbo's great delight, has a knack for storytelling. Unfortunately, Balin is about as secretive as they can get when it comes to Dwarven lore.
This does not mean he is mum on all subjects. Bilbo has had many a pleasant conversation with him about the more well-known facts of Dwarf history. He has also been able to deduce Balin's frequent frustration with his king, and managed to word his questions in such a way that had given him insight into Thorin's personal history and character.
At the very least, he has been able to keep his wits sharp by trying to trick Balin into revealing more than he wants to.
What most surprises Bilbo about Fili is his quietness. It certainly does not appear when Kili is around - when they are together, it seems to be an everlasting competition as to who is more mischievous. But on the rare occasions that Bilbo finds Fili alone, the golden-haired prince is quiet and pensive, staring at the fire with a somber expression on his face.
Bilbo learns a great deal simply from sitting by Fili. Sometimes the prince does not seem to recognize Bilbo's presence, and the Hobbit often wonders if he is intruding. But other times, Fili will speak directly to Bilbo, telling him about life in Ered Luin, about his mother, about the vague memories of his father. Fili confides in Bilbo in a way he does not dare to confide in the others - because he is a prince, and as such no Dwarf - his future subjects - could listen with complete impartiality.
And so Fili's concerns are laid out for Bilbo to see. And the Hobbit assures Fili, as best he can, that it is perfectly normal to be concerned about Kili, about kingship, and about whether his uncle has the right of it, taking so few to attempt a monumental task. And every time, Fili thanks him quietly, and seems to sleep easier after each time they speak.
Bilbo takes Oin quite by surprise with his knowledge of herbs. The Hobbit tries to explain that, as a gardener, it is his duty to know such things, but Oin does not hear him. Instead, he sends the other Dwarves off with the instructions to bring back "whatever Bilbo tells you to".
The result is several Dwarves with armfuls of medicinal plants that serve to aid in Thorin's recovery after that ridiculous charge in the moutains, as well as a very peaceful sleep that is Bilbo's personal recommendation.
"Really," the Hobbit mentions later to Oin, "what do you think would happen, when every Hobbit woman's name is that of a flower?" And so they had become quite unexpectedly close friends.
Bifur frightens Bilbo at first, until he learns that the Dwarf is quite a gentle soul with an appetite for green things beneath the wild hair, guttural language, and, oh yes, the axe imbedded in his forehead.
Bilbo sits next to Bifur and describe the Shire while Bifur carves. The Dwarf takes particular interest in mentions of the flower fields, and Bilbo goes into as much detail as possible, drawing upon every memory he can to describe the gently waving stems that practically glow in the summertime sunshine.
On one fine afternoon, Bilbo's hands work mindlessly to make a daisy crown as he recreates the South Fields for Bifur. He does not even realize what he is doing until Bifur's hands gently cover his. After some roughshod communication, Bilbo shows Bifur how to create flower crowns; the two sit in the field until the sun went down, hands deftly weaving stems together.
Ori, of course, is all over Bilbo, asking every single question under the sun about Hobbits and the Shire. Bilbo satisfies his curiosity as best he can, often trading answers for answers. Ori's excitement only increases upon learning that Bilbo is a fellow scholar, and the poor Dwarf hardly eats for the chance to write down Bilbo's every word.
Despite Ori being older (and probably much more capable) than Bilbo, the Hobbit watches him closely. Ori has a naivety about him that even Fili and Kili do not; a wonderment of the world around him that Bilbo fears will get him into trouble. That naivety disappears by the time Bilbo leaves Erebor, and Bilbo mourns for Ori and the harsh reality the young Dwarf has had to face.
Bilbo and Bombur, unsurprisingly, bond over food.
The rotund Dwarf had mourned the lack of meat at the Elvish feast, and Bilbo, deciding to test his burglaring skills, had raided a kitchen and brought Bombur a whole platter of sausages. It had been the beginning of a wonderful friendship, and had culminated in the trading of recipes long after the Quest for Erebor had ended.
Dori is a Dwarf that appreciates the finer comforts - evident by his ability to sniff out Bilbo's best red wine that fateful April evening. Dori's knowledge of fabrics, teas, and wines make Bilbo think that the silver-haired Dwarf would make a good Hobbit. He even mentions it in passing, once, and is surprised by Dori's contemplative expression. Maybe in another lifetime, Dori says, laughing, or perhaps if this plan doesn't work out, assuming we're still alive.
While all the Dwarves have heard Gloin's tales of his wife and children a thousand times over and had long ago become tired of it, Bilbo has not. He listens to Gloin's ramblings, recognizing the Dwarf's need for someone to listen. He mmm's and uh-huh's at the right places, expressing appreciation for Gloin's family's portraits even though he would have honestly mistaken Gloin's wife for a male in other circumstances. Someday, he hopes, he can meet the family he has heard so much about.
Bilbo is never sure about Nori - a sentiment that does not lessen throughout the quest. The tri-haired Dwarf is shifty and sly, yet reminds Bilbo, for some unknown reason, of his own mother.
While "bonding" is perhaps too strong a word, Bilbo becomes marginally closer to Nori when the acclaimed thief offers to teach him a few tricks. Of course, none is greater than a Hobbit's natural silence, and Bilbo feels quite triumphant when he manages to sneak up on the well-known thief himself.
At the beginning of the quest, Bilbo had felt that Dwalin disliked him. Now he knows that the burly Dwarf had simply been waiting for Bilbo to prove himself. Once he had, Dwalin had become warmer toward Bilbo, in the same way that a cat might stop hissing at him if he feeds it - not necessarily friendly, but certainly not one wrong move and your head is off.
It is enough for Dwalin to give him rudimentary lessons in sword-fighting, all the while grumbling about how Bilbo will die at the first hint of danger. Bilbo knows it is Dwalin's way of showing he cares.
Thorin. What to say about Thorin Oakenshield?
Nothing good, for the first half of the quest. Thorin had been rude, arrogant, narrow-minded, and demeaning up until Bilbo had risked his own life to save the clothead that had gotten himself knocked out. Thorin's one redeeming quality had been not leaving Bilbo to the trolls, though given the reprimand that Bilbo had received, it had been a close call.
After Azog, Thorin is...better. Not perfect - well, none of the Dwarves are - but gentler and more trusting.
Bilbo has difficulty finding good memories of Thorin - truly good memories. So many things had been darkened by later events. But there is one - while they were at Beorn's simply resting their bodies for the journey ahead. They had smoked together and watched the stars, talking about little things - their childhood, their plans after the Mountain would be reclaimed. It is a memory untainted by the evil that had permeated the rest of their journey, and though bittersweet, Bilbo will treasure it for the rest of his life.
Before he knows it, he is on the borders of the Shire, staring at the lush, vibrant green landscape. Hobbits toil in the fields or drive carts down the roads; there are greetings passed between houses and children running along a path known only to them.
It is so profoundly peaceful that Bilbo stops his pony and stares. He is amazed that such simple contentment can exist in a world that contains horrors such as greed and death.
Slowly, he urges his pony forward. Some Hobbits stop and stare at him (and he can imagine how he must look, covered in dirt and Dwarven clothes and bearing weapons and armor), but most do not even notice his presence. He reaches his smial, drags all of his belongings inside the door, and wishes Gandalf goodbye, allowing the Wizard to take his faithful pony back to Rivendell. Then he steps foot in his home and looks around.
A fine layer of dust covers everything, but his home is otherwise spotless - a parting gift that the Dwarves had left him a year ago. Perhaps it is the dust, but somehow his home feels different - empty and big, much too big for one lone Hobbit. He looks at the walls, noting that they seem colder than he remembers.
"Well," he says, contemplating his familiar yet unfamiliar smial, "I'm back."