What about Bilbo Baggins, who came back to the Shire after a year of constant travel and danger, who can't sleep without sting in arms reach and has the words of a dying king echoing in his ears?
Bilbo, who said ‘there and back again’ like that was something you could do— like when you came home the lilac tree in the backyard wouldn’t have withered, like the children wouldn’t have learned new games, like you wouldn’t feel like a stranger in the carved halls of your home.
Bilbo’s father had built this little hobbit hole for Bilbo’s mother and it had been an act of love. Bilbo came home and it was an act of surrender and victory all at once. The next time he went to market, he forgot a pocket handkerchief and the whole pub murmured shock when he admitted it. Bilbo looked at them—round faces, apple-cheeked and accusatory, curious. Then he wiped his nose on his sleeve, grabbed his tomatoes, and walked away.
Bilbo had been unconscious through so much of that last battle, and now he couldn’t sleep at all. He was glad to be home, with his soft bed and his stocked pantry. “Happy to be back,” he told the neighbors, shaking hands with jolly cheer, and went on long, solitary walks but could never get quite far enough for his legs to ache properly. He tangled into in his soft blankets, smothering, and then threw all the shutters open and slept curled up on the window seat with his old once-green cloak, pretending he wasn’t alone on this cold night.
Yes, let’s talk about Bilbo, who titled his red book ‘there and back again’ because he knew you couldn’t ever come back, not really. Writing is sometimes like wishing. When he pressed his book in Frodo’s hands, decades later, Bilbo was giving him the heart of a foolish, stuffy young hobbit. He was giving him Fili, and Kili, and Thorin, and he trusted their story to be safe in Frodo’s small hands. But that was years from now, from this little bachelor who woke from dreams where he could hear spiders coming for him.
Death comes everywhere, even the sweet walks of the Shire. Bilbo had forgotten. Over scones and jam, sun dropping through lace curtains, Old Gaffer told Bilbo that according to Loretia Proudfoot according to Gammy Took according to Jeremiah Brandybuck, Bilbo’s silly fool cousins Drogo and Primula had gotten themselves drowned. Bilbo had not realized that death would shake him quite this hard, when his hands were sticky with this season’s strawberry jam and not rich Laketown mud.
“They had a son,” said Gaffer, but Bilbo was barely listening, swimming in older years. Tea, untasted, was scalding his tongue. Kili had been quite terrible at making tea, and Fili might have been worse. “Freddy, I think,” said Old Gaffer. “Frolo. Something like that.”
It was not Fili and Kili who Frodo reminded him of, when Bilbo finally met the boy out in the Brandybuck clan’s rambling home. It was not the young ones who jumped to mind when Bilbo saw little Frodo, but the older dwarves, tired, the ones who had once seen their whole world burned at their heels. They had been left standing, but it was a still, shattered sort of standing, steady on exhausted feet. There was a way Thorin had had, of staring into the campfire and not seeing the campfire.
There was a boy, big-footed with a messy mop of hair, sitting in Brandy Hall and not seeing the hearth fire flickering cheerily in front of him. Bilbo reached out, like he almost couldn’t help it, and tapped his shoulder.
“That’s always such a long story,” said Bilbo when Frodo asked him who he was. “But they say I’m mad.“
Frodo surveyed the madman in front of him and told him gravely, “It’s my birthday tomorrow.” The boy was twelve by hobbit years, younger by man’s, an ancient exhaustion in his bones that Bilbo had only seen in old dwarves’ stone ones.
“Oh dear,” said Bilbo. “That’s my birthday, too."
Even on the sweet walks of the Shire, things come along that sweep you off your feet—adventures, wizards, children. Bilbo came down, a month after he’d adopted this strange, quiet boy on a whim and a wonder, and found his whole (second) living room scattered with some unholy combination of paint, jam, and mud. Frodo sat in the middle of the mess, with dirty hands and innocence plastered all over his face.
Bilbo leaned on the door because something in that bright grin had taken his balance from him. He went for a mop. He had not felt so at home since thirteen dwarves had tumbled through his round green door. He felt like Frodo had stolen something from him and then given it back better than it had left.
Thievery, perhaps, ran in the family.