The two of them were sitting on an old fallen log covered in moss and lichen, feet dangling just above the brush on the forest floor. It was quiet, spring hinting at summer, and the boughs gave them shade.
"I think we should check the traps again, on the way back." Kíli slipped his rucksack from his shoulders and placed it beside him. He took out a couple of sandwiches wrapped in foil and passed one to Fíli.
Fíli unwrapped his food and took a bite. "Why? You think there'll be something there?" he asked around a mouthful of peanut butter. "We don't check it for a full day and there's nothing, but something's gonna magically appear in the thirty minutes we've been gone?"
Kíli only shrugged. "Well, I was right about it the last time, and the time before that…"
"Alright, I get it, you're one with the forest."
Kíli flipped him off and went back to digging through his pack. After a minute, he managed to pull out the battery-powered radio buried under the rest of his supplies. He set it on his lap and started fiddling with the controls.
The low buzz of static filled the air, and Fíli immediately straightened, scanning the forest for movement.
It was more instinct than anything. The number of walkers they'd seen had dwindled in the ten years since they'd moved into Erebor. Maybe they'd all gone somewhere else in search of food...or maybe they were all dying off, somehow.
It had taken some convincing for Thorin to let them travel outside like this, but eventually it became impossible to deny that things had changed. He and Kíli were both adults, for one, and even if the world wasn't exactly safer, it had become wider.
Erebor had expanded from housing only his and Bard's families to becoming more of a community. They'd taken to inviting survivors inside, giving supplies and security to complete strangers, and it had been a surprise to all of them how often these newcomers were generous and kind just as much as they'd been hardened by the apocalypse.
Most days, Fíli felt like the world was getting a little brighter.
"Do you think they're gonna be on today?" Kíli asked, continuing to fiddle with the radio.
"Why don't you use your psychic powers and tell me?"
Before Kíli could retort, a garbled voice broke through the static, and they both leaned closer. After jimmying with the antenna for a bit, Kíli managed to get a better signal.
"...very special episode of our show today, wouldn't you say? It is after all, day forty-two since we started broadcasting."
"It's forty-three, I thought."
"Forty-three, then! Still special. Anyway, we thought it might be nice to bring a special guest on the show."
"I didn't know we were having a guest."
"Well, I saw a creeper hanging out by the door today…"
"Did you let it in?"
"Well, that concludes our special guest segment of the show!"
Kíli snorted and shook his head. "These guys are insane."
Fíli's lips twitched. They'd discovered that two men were broadcasting on one of the frequencies a few weeks ago, and they tuned in every chance they could to see if they could listen in. The signal didn't tend to reach inside the mountain, which was why they usually brought the radio when they went hunting.
"I learned a new song today, and I thought I could share it with our listeners. Do you think we have listeners?"
"I hope so. I'd hate for us to be talking to no one."
"Well, with that in mind…" The crackling strains of a slightly off-key guitar chord filtered through the speaker. "Here's a little something to brighten everyone's day. Ahem. Some—"
Fíli's hand shot out and turned the radio off. Kíli turned to him as if to say, What the hell? But Fíli gestured down the slope.
A deer was standing several yards away, its neck bent towards the ground, and as of yet, it hadn't noticed them. Fíli looked at his brother and raised his eyebrows.
Carefully setting the radio aside, Kíli reached for the bow slung across his back. He'd grown surprisingly handy with it, and was skilled at taking down walkers and wildlife alike.
Fíli smiled with pride as Kíli began stalking down the slope, and reached over to quietly pack up their things.
A sharp scream jolted Bilbo out of his sleep. Next to him, Thorin was already reaching for the gun on the bedside table, but Bilbo put a hand on his arm.
"It's alright. I've got it."
Thorin relaxed, seeming to remember where he was, and settled back onto the bed with a sigh. Bilbo rolled out of bed and crossed the room. He stepped outside and made his way to the other bedroom—he was familiar enough with the space that he could move through it in total dark.
Suppressing a yawn, Bilbo clicked on the lamp on the desk, then turned to the figure huddled on the bed.
"Frodo? Are you awake?"
The boy was pressed against the wall, chest heaving, staring at the floor with wide-eyed terror as though a herd of walkers was swarming just below the bed. Bilbo sat down on the bed beside him and put a hand on his shoulder, keeping it there even as he flinched away.
"Frodo, it's alright. You're safe."
He blinked a few times, and clarity eventually asserted itself in his gaze. His lower lip trembled, and he leaned towards Bilbo.
"Come here. It's alright." Bilbo wrapped his arms around Frodo. "You're in Erebor, remember? Nothing is going to hurt you."
Frodo mumbled what might have been an acknowledgement. He sat there with dry eyes—he'd stopped crying a couple years ago, but the nightmares hadn't gotten much less frequent. This was practically routine by now, for Bilbo to sit with him and murmur quiet reassurances until he relaxed, but it didn't hurt any less to see that fear in his eyes.
"Do you want something to eat? Or I could make tea," Bilbo said after a few minutes.
"No," Frodo said. "I'm just gonna go to sleep."
"Alright." Bilbo ruffled his hair affectionately and let him lie back down. "I'll see you in the morning, then."
"See you," Frodo mumbled, pulling the covers over his shoulders.
Bilbo switched off the lamp and closed the door softly behind him. He plodded back into his bedroom with a sigh. They'd run out of medication to help Frodo sleep more soundly, and it wasn't quite worth the risk to venture out searching for more.
Thorin turned to him once he'd lain back down. "Same nightmare?"
"I guess so." Bilbo frowned. "He...He keeps looking at the floor like he's afraid of it. I'm still not sure what that's about."
"If he remembers, he'll tell us eventually. He just needs time."
"It's been three years." He sighed. "But I guess you're right. I'm certainly not going to force it out of him." Bilbo laid an arm over his chest. He could feel the lingering traces of adrenaline in his heartbeat. "I'm sorry. I know this is hard for you."
Thorin put a hand on top of his. "He's your nephew. It's good for him to have you here."
Bilbo smiled slightly. It had been quite a shock, to find someone with the last name Baggins, to learn that his cousin had married and had a son...though there had been grief as well, to know that they had died somehow, and that Frodo had lost his parents. Bilbo suspected that was at least part of the reason why his nightmares were so bad, as well as whatever else he'd been through while he'd been out there alone.
It only made him more grateful that Frodo had found his way to Erebor.
"He's lucky to have you, too." Bilbo pressed a kiss to Thorin's knuckles. "I think in some ways, you understand him better than I ever could."
"If that's the case, then I have faith in him. He's going to heal from this."
"I certainly hope so." Bilbo settled against him and closed his eyes, though it was a while before he could shake of his unease enough to fall asleep.