Cream and Sugar

There were, of course, many things that Bilbo left behind when he ran out the door that fateful spring morning. There were countless luxuries and familiarities that he'd taken for granted before he was on the road with thirteen dwarves and a wizard.

With no proper handkerchief, his nose was red and sore for weeks. He'd tried to complain about this, but he'd only gotten laughter. As if his chapped nose was some sort of joke.

He would be kept up often on long nights, staring up at the stars and crafting elaborate, fanciful meals in his mind. Barrels of fine wine, loaves of soft bread, whole roast chickens, honey-glazed carrots, roasted potatoes, cream soups...

His back never did get used to sleeping on the ground instead of on a sweet, hay-stuffed mattress.

But most of all, Bilbo missed his tea.

He'd been drinking it every morning at eight o'clock sharp for as long as he could remember. His mother had gotten him started on it from a very young age, and he'd always had it the way she did. Steeped for seven minutes, give or take a moment, with a heavy dash of cream and a pinch of sugar. The cream was necessary to achieve the proper consistency, the sugar just enough to take the edge off of the heavily-steeped tea.

When his mother died, he tried not to get any unseemly tears in his cup and drank it in her memory.

For the first two weeks of their journey, every morning at eight o'clock, he would get an inconsolable, persistent headache, right behind his eyes that would only start fading at lunchtime. He would pass the hours imagining that he was back in his armchair, with his books, and a hot teacup nestled between his hands. He longed to be home.

As the journey grew longer and longer, he thought less of home, but always managed to miss his eight o'clock tea.

Once it was all over, the tombs sealed, treasure secured, and goodbyes said, longing for his old life drove him back through mountains and valleys, all the way back to the rolling hills and warm hearths of the shire.

He was beyond irritable when he returned to see his house upturned and half of his belongings in the hands of the people he'd thought were his friends, and he took the rest of the day righting those wrongs.

He had little chance to acknowledge that he really had returned home that day, and fell into a deep sleep the moment that he fell onto his unmade bed.

He woke in a daze, in a puddle of sun. It took a few long moments for him to realize where he was, but when he did, he felt a deep sigh fall out of him, emotions he couldn't name swelling up inside of him.

Home. He was finally home.

He padded silently out of his bed, the tiles and carpets cool under his toes. The sun had just risen, casting a golden halo about the scattered, dusty shell of his home. His furniture was in a pile by the door, except for the few pieces that he'd managed to unpack, and even the quiet sound of his breath seemed deafening when echoed around the empty walls.

The fire needed some prodding to come back to life, but soon, it was crackling, a full copper kettle balanced over its heat. He puttered about the kitchen until the screeching whistle of the kettle startled him half out of his skin.

He tried not to shake as he poured a splash of steaming water into the teapot, letting it warm the porcelain. It was his mother's favorite teapot.

The rest of the steps of tea-making came to him instinctually, and he watched anxiously as the brew came together. Despite his exhaustion the previous afternoon, he'd managed to buy himself a small stock of groceries, so he had the necessary cream and sugar on hand to finish off the cup to perfection.

He fit into his armchair like he belonged in it, his toes warmed by the living-room fire. It was as if nothing had changed. He'd dreamt of that moment for so long. So many endless nights or torturous marches, countless days of hunger and aching, just longing to be back home.

To have his tea.

It tasted familiar and warm.

He was home.

He was quite a bit irritated that he had to admit to himself that somehow, it didn't feel the same. He thought of Thorin, and of the mountains, and the great things he'd seen and done, and it just wasn't quite the same.

He stared down at the dregs of leaves resting in the bottom of his cup and wondered what was different.

He sighed, letting his eyes fall closed. Perhaps Gandalf was right.

Can you promise that I'll come back?

No. And if you do, you will not be the same.

He had never liked the idea of change. Nasty and difficult, it was. He crinkled his nose and sniffed, setting his cup aside.

Well. What was done was done.

He stood and stretched, the tea settling low in his stomach, warming him from head to toe. Outside of his home, he heard the sound of laughter and footsteps, of horses and wagons. The dew was drying, and the market would soon be bustling to life. Hobbiton was waking, unchanged by the great deeds of the world.

Bilbo suspected that it might always be that way.

Gandalf had also mentioned that he would have a tale or two to tell when he returned home, and as per usual, he was right about that.

Bilbo could have sworn he had an empty journal lying about somewhere. That would do nicely for him to start his book.

Hey all! This was just a little story that popped into my head this morning that I thought you all might enjoy. Please let me know what you think! It always makes my day. Thank you for reading!