All in all Bilbo was quite satisfied with his adventure. He'd come back with a couple of dashing scars and a few interesting mementos, and the chest of gold didn't hurt, even if it did stink up the cellar. And he'd made a few friends, and that was nothing to sneeze at.
Sure, most of them were many leagues away and highly unlikely to leave their precious mountain for a visit under the enticement of tea, biscuits and Bilbo's dubious charms, but they were still friends.
Gandalf was around, at least.
The point was, it could have been much worse. All of them could have died, for example, on many different occasions in a variety of bizarre and unpleasant ways. Thorin, Kili and Fili could have even died quite predictably in battle. It was nothing short of a miracle that the only injury between the three of them at the Battle of Five Armies was Kili's bitten tongue.
Which hadn't technically even happened during the battle, but after, when he'd tripped over his own feet in his haste to wrangle a celebratory kiss from one of the elves. Though they'd all pretended it was a battle injury.
Even the elf.
Some cruelties were beyond the pale, really.
But Bilbo was digressing. The core of the matter was, he was very fortunate and should count his blessings. There was no room for complaint, or at least there shouldn't have been. He had definitely come out of the whole business with gain.
It's not like they had kicked him out, even.
He could always come back and visit.
He thought so, anyway.
It would probably be a good idea to write first.
It was inevitable, if you thought about it. There had been a lot of work to do, after the battle. Renovation. Rejuvenation. Rectification. Other things starting with "r".
It had been hard, back-breaking work, or delicate, expert work, and Bilbo was neither very strong nor very learned in fields such as structural engineering and hydraulics. If there was a way to rebuild the city through expertise in bucolic poetry it would have been Bilbo's time to shine. He would have been the hobbit of the hour.
Unfortunately, that was not how cities worked, and Bilbo ended up generally getting in everybody's way. He thought he might help Bombur or Ori, at least, but neither of them was that influential in either the kitchens or the libraries. The serious, efficient dwarves that had taken charge there didn't know or trust Bilbo and had neither the patience nor inclination to waste time instructing an ignorant outsider.
By the end, Bilbo had spent the bulk of his days wandering around like a headless chicken while all around him dwarves were rushing to and fro, talking a mile a minute in Khuzdul. Even the company had taken to speaking their own language when not addressing Bilbo (and sometimes when they were, in the case of the more absent-minded, axe-challenged or elderly among them). Bilbo didn't blame them - it was natural to revert to speaking their own language in their own home, among their own people - but it still made him feel every inch the outsider.
It wasn't a snub. Everyone was really nice to him, really, when they had the time.
Bombur made it a point to cook some vegetables especially for Bilbo. Mushy, boiled till yellow vegetables that looked like they were wilted last year and picked the year before that, but it was the thought that counted.
Bofur brought him interesting rock specimens. For a given value of interesting, but still.
Bifur made him a nightlight.
Balin kept him company for smoking and engaged him in really cryptic conversations disguised as small talk.
Fili and Kili shortened his lifespan by the occasional affectionate and mildly life-threatening prank in between their new princely duties.
Even Thorin would occasionally drag Bilbo along to the official opening of one or another part of the city, and would take the time to explain why whatever it was to be re-opened that day was so important, while a bunch of his new advisers hung back looking puzzled that Thorin was wasting so much time with Bilbo.
Also, Bilbo had shot himself in the foot with that whole "home" speech.
He'd as good as told a bunch of homesick, mountain-crazy dwarves that he felt about Bag End the same way they felt about Erebor. And wouldn't you know it, they had taken him at his word, so everyone just assumed that Bilbo would hang around for a bit to see the beginning of the rebuilding of the mountain, and then scurry off to his hobbit hole and settle down for good. They kept saying stuff like "we have to make you a new coat from this wool before you get back home, it's really durable" and "let Bilbo have more of the lichen cookies, he won't be able to get them in the Shire" and "could you please give me an account of hobbit life for my book. I'd like to take advantage of the presence of a real hobbit while I still can."
It made Bilbo really uncomfortable. He felt no pressing need to return to Bag End, now that he knew his relatives' grubby hands were off of it by the application of a letter to the Thain delivered by several surly armed dwarves. Maybe the difference was that he had left his home willingly, but at some point Bilbo's sense of home had changed just like so many other things about him. Or maybe he just hadn't had enough of the world yet. Whatever the case in his heart of hearts Bilbo wished he could have stayed in Erebor, seen it take shape and grow in beauty before his eyes.
He didn't mention that wish to anyone. There was still the problem that he didn't feel useful there, didn't really belong. He'd grown used to belonging and being useful on the road, and he didn't think he could be happy going back. Besides... he didn't want to outstay his welcome. The very possibility made him feel wretched, that everyone would agree to tolerate him out of obligation and Bilbo wouldn't notice. It didn't bear thinking about. Better to leave fond memories behind.
Not to mention that he and Thorin had finally put behind them that whole business with Bilbo's hideous cultural insensitivity and theft, and Thorin's madness and attempted hobbitcide. It had been best to leave before they'd stumbled into another fight.
Thus one year after the Battle of Five Armies was won, Bilbo Baggins set forth towards the Shire, bones bruised from embraces, jacket damp from tears, and pockets full of sticky dwarfish sweets that glowed in the dark and smelled like a mucky pond.
And all was well and everyone was happy except the Sackville-Bagginses, just how it should have been.
If Bilbo was prone to uncharacteristically unhobbitish bouts of melancholy, it was nothing that a cup of tea, a jam tart and a good book wouldn't cure.
Time passed, life went on, the affairs of the world ground on as usual. Until one unremarkable day Bilbo Baggins was invited to the Green Dragon by his cousins Drogo and Primula, to celebrate their impending engagement privately before the veritable circus that was going to be the official party. Bilbo was very happy for them and may have drunk a couple more gills of ale than he usually would. Still, he'd staggered home with no incident save nearly stepping on a frog, and collapsed in bed in his clothes and without bothering to blow out the candle.
He fell asleep thinking of tomorrow's breakfast, the butter, honey and almond paste pancakes he'd had a craving for as of late.
Then he woke up.
Which was a great strategic mistake.
Even before he opened his eyes Bilbo knew something was wrong. First, he wasn't in his own bed. On this bed the mattress was firmer, the sheets smoother, and there was a distressing lack of scratchy wool comforters which was unheard of in Bilbo's bed.
Bilbo knew, of course, with the detached certainty of disinterested observation, that other hobbits sometimes woke up in beds not their own after excessive ale consumption. But that couldn't have happened, since Bilbo couldn't recall ever finding another hobbit appealing in that way. He highly doubted there was enough ale in the Shire to change his opinion. Besides, he could clearly remember last night, and he'd definitely got home safe and sound.
Since he couldn't think of an explanation and he was getting hungry from all this thinking, Bilbo decided to circumvent speculation and opened his eyes.
He saw a whole lot of nothing. It was mostly dark around, but the general feeling was still very bed-like, and judging by the few faint, vertical cracks of light he was in a four poster with the curtains drawn. He wasn't tied up. Possibly this was some kind of ill-advised prank, in which case he was going to tan the behinds of whichever of his Took cousins had thought this up. Well, not literally, but he would give them a stern talking-to and revoke their scone privileges indefinitely, which was a far crueler punishment for a hobbit. Bilbo's scones were quite good.
But that was all in the future. Right now he needed to investigate.
Bilbo flopped over onto his stomach and carefully slithered on top of the sheets (So smooth! Like sliding on ice!), until he could twitch open the curtain and peek outside.
He saw a polished stone wall decorated with elaborate gold filigree and a candle burning in an ornate candelabrum that looked both like it cost a small fortune and like it could be an effective assault weapon in a pinch. In other words, it looked a lot like Bilbo's memories of Erebor.
Which put a serious dent into the whole kidnapped by Tooks theory, since he doubted the Tooks had developed a sudden taste for dwarfish interior decoration. This didn't make sense. Bilbo hadn't been quite drunk enough to hallucinate being transported to Erebor to glare at offensive candelabra, had he? It all felt so real.
He pulled the curtain open sharply, with the aim of moving about and asking questions until things made sense. It was, he felt, a good plan.
Then again, maybe not, considering Bilbo hadn't yet finished congratulating himself on it when someone screamed from the side. It was a peculiar scream, starting off high-pitched and terrified, but almost immediately morphing into outrage with a hint of threat in it. It was also rather loud; Bilbo felt like his hearing on that side would never be the same again.
He turned his head slowly to the source of the screaming, and was treated to the sight of a female dwarf whose face was as round and red as a Wedmath tomato. She appeared to be holding a breakfast tray in her hands, but while Bilbo was watching she upended it, sending various foodstuffs scattering to the floor, and brandished the tray like a weapon in Bilbo's direction. She also stopped screaming, but only long enough to take in a breath.
"Guards!" she yelled, while Bilbo stood frozen and aurally stunned. "Guards! Intruder!"
The guard of Erebor was really efficient, Bilbo thought vaguely. Not ten seconds after the screaming started he was surrounded by half-dozen of them, all pointing suspicious glares and razor-sharp weaponry in Bilbo's direction. They were definitely Erebor guard; he would have known that armor anywhere considering he'd spend a whole day scrubbing sets of it just after the mountain was retaken.
"What's going on here?" one of the guards asked, not taking his eyes off of Bilbo.
"I brought in Her Majesty's breakfast, but before I could wake her up this- this interloper climbed out of the bed," the female dwarf explained, somehow growing even redder.
The guard dwarf that had spoken jabbed the one next to him with an elbow.
"Check on Her Majesty," he said, while still scrutinizing Bilbo with the intensity of a cat seeing a hedgehog for the first time and wondering if it would be trouble or dinner.
The other dwarf inched towards the bed, clearly careful not to turn his back on Bilbo for a second. At this point Bilbo's hung-over brain finally woke up somewhat and told him that the how and why of the whole situation didn't matter next to the pressing problem of edged weapons. Explanations were for later, the first order of business was to avoid being stabbed.
Bilbo raised his hands in the air, slowly, and tried to look unthreatening. It shouldn't have been hard - he'd done it all his life.
"I mean no harm. And I think there's been some sort of misunderstanding," he said.
The axes and hostile expressions stayed in place. Except the dwarf who appeared to be in charge gave Bilbo the once over and asked, absurdly:
"Why are you dressed like that?"
Bilbo was about to say that he didn't think his wardrobe was offensive enough to require being held at axe point, but then he looked down at himself reflexively and was startled quiet.
He was wearing a night shirt, when he was sure he'd gone to bed still dressed. Not an ordinary nightshirt either, but a smooth, silky one with delicate embroidery and tiny gem buttons. A woman's shirt.
Bilbo's head shot up right in time to see the dwarf who had been tasked with checking the bed draw the curtain open to reveal the empty bed. He proceeded to show initiative by looking underneath it, but apparently that venue of investigation proved fruitless as well because the dwarf sprung up, looking panicked now.
"She's not here!" he shouted unnecessarily.
The probably-in-charge dwarf didn't seem to find that funny, likely because it wouldn't be a great career move for a guard to have lost "a majesty". Did he mean Thorin's sister? The other dwarves were starting to look worried, except for the female dwarf, who pushed the guards out of the way to get to Bilbo before shouting directly in his face:
"You tell me right now, what did you do to Queen Bilbo?!"
At which point Bilbo, still woefully deprived of his first cup of tea for the day and a much needed restorative concoction, didn't notice the lack of a crucial "the" and even more crucial comma, and exclaimed.
"How do you know my name?"
Things got even more confusing after that.