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They didn't catch him often, but whenever they did it always ended like this.

Dwalin stepped into the cell, silently gesturing the interrogators to stop, and they stepped back.

He never stopped fighting, this thief, no matter how badly he hurt. The Dwarf's bloodshot eyes rolled wild in his head, reddened spit flying from his lips as he swore fiercely and creatively, lunging against the chains that bound him to the wall. His long red-brown hair was plastered to his head, dark with blood and sweat.

Dwalin gestured the interrogators to leave, gestured in the two young guards he'd grabbed to assist him. The interrogators smirked at the thief, telling him he'd be wishing he'd played nice, and left. The young guards set up the small brazier of glowing coals, the pot of water boiling atop it, the bucket of icewater, assorted little knives and needles and tools and bandages.

Dwalin ordered them to keep watch at the top of the stairs, too far away to hear any screams, and they left with twin horrified and terrified looks on their faces.

He finally turned his attention to the thief, who had not stopped swearing, and moreover hadn't repeated himself. It was fairly impressive. Anatomically improbable, but impressive nonetheless.

“We both know you're going to talk.” he said, “Why do you fight it so hard?” and the thief laughed hoarsely, blood in his teeth.

“Missed you too, sweetheart.” he sneered, and Dwalin stepped forward to begin.

It always ended like this when they caught this particular thief.

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He was just a kid the first time they caught him, a scrawny thing with more bones than muscles and too much red hair.

His cursing wasn't as fluent as it would someday become, but he already fought like a wild thing. He used blind anger as a shield against the pain, and they could not break through it.

The interrogators had gotten frustrated with him and sent Dwalin in – brand-new-guard Dwalin with his big killer's hands and all the unhinged rage of the survivors of Azanulbizar.

“See if you can pound some sense into him.” they'd said, “Don't worry none about being gentle, no one'll miss this one if he dies.” and they'd left him alone to do what he was best at – brute violence.

It wasn't the first time they'd asked him to help them. It was the first time it had been a kid, nevermind that this kid had stolen Lady Tofa's emerald necklace, a relic of Erebor.

“What's it going to take to break you?” Dwalin had asked the wildly struggling kid, placing a hand on the side of his head, just enough pressure to imply he could smash it like a grape without hurting him.

The little thief had gasped once, twice, and then burst into tears. He turned his face into Dwalin's rough mitt of a hand, nuzzling into it as he sobbed as if it's very size and proximity weren't a threat, as if it weren't a killer's tool.

As if there was more to Dwalin than just the violence he could inflict.

“Tell me where the emerald necklace is.” Dwalin said, and as long as he was touching the thief, he talked.

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“Tell me where the jade pin is.” Dwalin said, blending boiling and ice water together, dipping a cloth into it. He started on the thief's forehead, gently cleaning the blood away with the warm water. His spare hand cradled the back of the thief's neck.

The corners of the thief's mouth turned down, his eyes squeezing shut tight even as he pushed into Dwalin's touch, shuddering, heedless of his cuts and bruises.

When the thief didn't answer, Dwalin stepped back, releasing him. The thief whimpered involuntarily, straining against his chains toward Dwalin.

The thief knew how to manage pain, but against tenderness he had no defenses.

Dwalin took his time rinsing the cloth out. He returned, holding it just out of the thief's range.

“Are you going to tell me about the jade pin?” he asked, and after a moment of agonized indecision the thief slumped, nodding.

They both knew this dance, as infrequent as it was. Dwalin slowly cleaned the thief from head to foot, bandaging the worst of his wounds and treating them with Oin's healing salve while the thief talked. Dwalin had long ago given up agonizing over how much he enjoyed these times, when his killer's hands were gentle things that soothed and healed and the thief pressed into his every touch. It was simply the only way to make the thief talk, nothing more. Occasionally he gave the thief sips of cool water when his throat grew dry, and the thief told him everything. There were some things the thief would not say – he never gave his name or that of his family – but Dwalin learned exactly how he'd gotten the jade pin, in detail.

He'd not realized there was such a hole in the security of the royal treasure chamber, as small and poor as it was, they guarded what was left of their heritage fiercely.

“Where is the pin now?” Dwalin asked, and the thief shook his head.

“Don't know. Sold it to some traveling trader.”

Dwalin cursed softly, painfully tame compared to the thief's vocabulary of invectives. The thief almost never informed on others, unless they'd betrayed him.

“What will it take to get you to remember more about this trader?” he asked, rubbing his thumb gently along the thief's collarbone. The thief looked up at him, his hazel eyes strange and bright against the dark blood bruises dyeing the whites.

“A kiss.” he said, and he was not sneering, was not laughing, but neither was he begging. He was simply naming his price.

He'd never done that before.

Dwalin should never have considered it – putting himself in a position to lose a piece of his lip (or tongue) if the thief were untrustworthy, and of course he was untrustworthy, he was a thief.

He should have haggled the thief down – he would likely have settled for a kiss to the forehead or the tender inside of his wrist.

He should have kept it to a quick peck.

The thief's mouth tasted like the iron-sweetness of blood. Dwalin let the thief set the pace, and it was a soft thing, the slow slide of tongues and gentle press of lips. It was pleasant enough for all there was no heat in it.

Dwalin rested his forehead against the thief's for a moment after the kiss, stroking his hands down his ribcage. The thief made a soft, contented sound.

“The trader?” Dwalin asked quietly, pulling back slightly.

“A Man, he dressed like a Haradrim but I'd guess Rohan by his blue eyes and his accent. He rode a tall black horse, it looked Rohan too. He was set up on the southern edges of the Laborer's Market. He asked for the Jade Pin, specifically. He'll be long gone by now.”

Dwalin didn't let himself swear again, slowly petting the lean muscles of the thief's arms, feeling the thief's shudder as he pressed into Dwalin's hand despite how it must make his bruises ache.

“Do you know anything else?” He asked, and the thief considered for a long moment before shaking his head.

Dwalin stepped back and rearranged the tools and knives, as though he'd been using them. He arranged the cloth he'd cleaned the thief with to look as though it had gotten bloody cleaning the tools.

No one would question the bandages on the thief. Dwalin was known for always cleaning up after himself.

Not that he ever interrogated anyone but this particular thief, these days.

“Until next time.” he said.

“Fuck you with a rusty mace.” the thief snarled, their strange truce over now, and Dwalin left to go use the information he'd gotten.

It always ended this way when they caught this particular thief.

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