Written for Claudia, and using her original character, Vik. R-rated and there's a mpreg warning on this one, too.

The Interrogation of Frodo Baggins
by Laura Mason

"You needn't writhe so enticingly, Mr. Baggins. I assure you, I am immune to your hobbit wiles." The man standing over the bed let his face twist into an expression of disgust. "Seeing you thus, unnatural creature that you are -- no, tears will not move me, either." But he moved away quickly, his face turned away.

Halbarad wasn't really disgusted with young Frodo's condition. He'd seen this too often in the past, innocent hobbits with no money taken in by the lowlife men of Bree and used as their playthings. Some men ran brothels out of their shacks, renting the prettier ones to anyone who could pay. Usually the hobbit's usefulness ended with the beginning of the unwanted pregnancy -- and men taking hobbits always resulted in pregnancy. Hobbits seemed infinitely fertile, and both sexes could carry men-children, though few lived past delivery.

But Frodo had somehow managed to keep pleasing his unworthy scum of a man, despite a body now ludicrously swollen with child. Halbarad had studied him long enough to see that even with the disfigurement of his belly, Frodo was still beautiful, and more delicately built than most hobbits, which didn't bode well for him.

Now Frodo's face was red from tears and his large eyes glowed with emotions Halbarad could not identify. There was some fear, but Frodo was stubbornly keeping silent, probably out of misguided loyalty. Hobbits could be like that, though not many hobbits would withstand so many hours of questioning. Halbarad had taken over from the Bree lawmen when frustration turned their threats into actual violence. The marks of their anger still showed on Frodo's arms and face, bruises now purpling on the pale, fine skin.

The sight of those uneven marks from large, rough hands only reminded Halbarad of Frodo's involvement with the man responsible for the child the hobbit carried. Vik had probably left Frodo with such bruises before, from hands clutching too tightly on those slender hips or holding down the elegant wrists as he burrowed his cock inside the tight heat of the hobbit's body...

Halbarad shook away these unwanted thoughts and took a deep breath. Frodo must believe he was in love with this Vik, a man completely unworthy of such affection. During his time in the cell, Halbarad had seen Frodo's strength and a kind of nobility. Frodo belonged with a man equally pure of heart, someone who cared for him beyond the use of his body. But Halbarad knew Vik wasn't that man -- the worthless scum had vanished last night, leaving the hobbit to face the consequences alone.

And so they were still locked in this struggle, Frodo's misplaced trust keeping his lips sealed. Halbarad wished there were time to teach Frodo to trust him, and to show him the kind of gentleness and love that would banish any thoughts of Vik. But they did not have the luxury, and even Frodo's beauty would not distract Halbarad from his duty. He would force the information out of Frodo, or the crowd outside the jail would take matters into their own hands. The mob was far too angry to make fine distinctions about complicity in the crimes. They wanted blood and would make someone pay. Halbarad didn't want it to be this hobbit.

Still looking away from the sobbing figure on the bed, Halbarad hissed, "Control yourself, and answer my question. What do you know about the recent robberies in Staddle and Bree? Has Vik been going out at night? We know you live among those responsible -- only men from The Hollow would commit such crimes." Sniffles from the bed, but no words. Halbarad turned back on the bound figure with his most somber, intense look.

"A woman was killed two nights ago. They found her this morning."

"No!" Frodo struggled against the ropes holding his arms stretched over his head. "You're lying..."

"Yes. Missus Rollins was murdered in her bed by the thieves. Her house was cleaned out, meager as it was, poor widow. They used her before they snapped her neck."

"No, Rob wouldn't..." The hobbit gasped as he realized what he'd said, and Halbarad pounced.

"So you do know who's behind the thefts. Tell me, and perhaps your child will be born in the free air, rather than in the darkest prison of Breeland."

"No, I don't know anything. I only..." Frodo stopped himself, pulled in a deep breath, and continued, "Release my hands and I'll tell you what I overheard last week. It might mean nothing... As I've told you over and over, I don't know. I merely suspect."

"You are far from the wronged innocent you pretend to be, Frodo Baggins. I will release you -- but I warn you, one wrong move and you will feel the bite of my sword." Halbarad used his hunting knife to slice the ropes holding Frodo to the headboard, then stood well away as the hobbit painfully pulled himself into a sitting position, semi-reclined because of the huge belly, his legs dangling off the bed without reaching the floor.

"Vik had nothing to do with these crimes," Frodo began. "I don't know why you'd even suspect him. He's a good man."

"Forgive me if I cannot trust the word of a foolish, lovestruck hobbit," Halbarad snapped. "Vik lives among the worst trash of Breeland. No good man would do so."

"He might, if he hoped to help the people or to change them. You would condemn all the poor to living side by side with trash, with no one to turn to for assistance."

"If there truly are law-abiding, honest people living in The Hollow, they can come to the law here in Bree for assistance." Halbarad wasn't sure how his interrogation had turned into this odd debate on the society of Breeland. Frodo was a sorcerer, and even as this fed Halbarad's anger, his desire for the hobbit increased. Oh, to be able to stop that pouty mouth with his own, and to taste the struggle and sweet, sweet surrender as he plundered it with his tongue.

"Yes, we all see how wise and benevolent the law can be," Frodo replied in a snippy tone, rubbing at his raw wrists. "Who else has been arrested and interrogated this evening? How many innocent people do you terrorize, lawman?"

Halbarad deliberately released his control and grabbed the hobbit by the shoulders, oddly gratified by the flash of fear in the wide eyes as he lunged forward. "You do not ask the questions, Frodo. You answer them. You said you overheard something -- tell me, now." Those rosy lips were open as Frodo gasped in fear, and Halbarad wanted to lean in and claim them -- oh, he wanted it badly, but instead he shook the hobbit and released him to fall back against the rough mattress. "No more nonsense."

Frodo pushed himself up and slowly spoke. "I was in the woods last week and saw Harle Oakes in a glade with Bill Ferny and a few others. I only wanted to get away from them, but as I walked back toward the village, Rob Applegate came running along. I tried to stop him, but he wouldn't listen. He was going to meet with them, I'm sure of it... But Robby wouldn't be a part of stealing, and he certainly would never harm anyone." The hobbit was telling the truth, Halbarad could see it in his eyes.

"Your Vik wasn't in that group of men, I suppose," he said, trying to look skeptical.

"Of course not!" Frodo's indignation was clear. "Do you know what Bill Ferny does for a living? Vik does not associate with such men."

"Yet he lives among them. Save me your arguments, Frodo." Halbarad waved his hand dismissively and rejoiced to see the fiercely indignant sparkle in Frodo's eyes. Oh, this hobbit was one in a million, feisty and gorgeous. Was Vik wise enough to know how lucky he was to be championed by such a loving heart?

Halbarad turned away for a moment, firmly denying himself any thoughts of what might have been had he met Frodo Baggins first, before Vik. "So, Frodo. If Rob Applegate is not involved in the crimes, why would he have been with these ruffians?"

"Well..." Frodo paused, but Halbarad knew he wasn't delaying to think up a lie. It seemed that the hobbit was really cooperating, now that he'd been told what the robbers had done. "Robby's uncle is a trader -- perhaps they are selling their stolen goods to him, since they would be caught if they kept identifiable items?"

Smart as a whip, too, Halbarad noted. Frodo understood how to think a problem through. But the angry mob outside would not stop to listen to reason.

"I will question Mr. Applegate, Frodo," Halbarad announced, moving to the cell door.

"So I'm free to go?" Frodo asked.

"I'm afraid not. You must remain here, where I know you'll be safe, until we find those responsible for the rape and murder." The reminder of the widow-woman's fate made Frodo's face pale momentarily, but then he stood up and hopped off the bed.

"But I'd be safe if you escorted me. You have to go past our house to find Robby."

Halbarad hesitated for a moment, but only that long. "No, I cannot spare the time to walk at your pace, Frodo. Wait here, and try not to antagonize the jailer again."

"I didn't do anything!" Frodo said, sounding very young and indignant. Halbarad swung the door open, exited the cell, then carefully locked Frodo inside and tucked the key into his money pouch.

"You forget, Master Hobbit, I've heard how disrespectful and contemptuous you are when you speak to the authorities."

"Only when they're being pigheaded," Frodo muttered, and Halbarad had to suppress a smile as he strode down the hallway toward the exit. All it took to destroy his mirth was to remember that Frodo could never be his.

***

When Halbarad returned to Bree's jailhouse he was escorting four men, bound together hand and foot, and Vik was at the other end, assisting him. Well, that wasn't precisely what had happened. Halbarad had assisted Vik, who'd already rounded up the murderers and had been subduing them quite nicely on his own.

He'd misjudged Frodo's man, Halbarad would not deny that. Vik wasn't trained like the Dunadain, but he seemed to act as a Ranger nonetheless. When not hunting to support himself, Vik guarded the weak and elderly. Halbarad could even understand what had happened with Frodo, though understanding didn't lessen his jealousy. Duty had become love, and what began as an attempt to protect the hobbit had blossomed into a lifetime commitment.

"What's going on at the jail?" Vik called, and Halbarad pulled his attention to the scene ahead. There was smoke coming from the jail's roof, but the crowd assembled outside wasn't fighting the fire -- they were replying to weak, choking cries for help with jeering and laughter.

Halbarad dropped the rope and ran like a madman, bursting through the door and into a cloud of black smoke as he fumbled and spilled the coins from his pouch. There, he had the key -- damn, he couldn't see anything. Where was Frodo's cell?

"Hold on, Frodo, I'm here!" Vik called as he pulled Halbarad toward the cell door, both men coughing. Halbarad found the lock and jammed the key in despite his tearing eyes, and both men pushed on the door so hard it slammed into the wall with a crash.

Frodo was on the floor -- oh, please, let it only be a faint, Halbarad thought as they picked up Frodo between them and stumbled to carry him out of the jail and into the fresh air. Frodo began coughing as they laid him on the ground, and after a moment of intense relief, Halbarad suddenly remembered his prisoners.

He glanced around wildly, and saw the four men were in the custody of the now-silent, shamefaced group of citizens that had replaced the bloodthirsty mob. They were all watching Vik minister to Frodo, and Halbarad, too, listened as the hobbit's faint voice poured out words of love and reassurance. His hands clutched his belly, and Vik's big paw covered them, gently soothing.

Halbarad turned away from the two glowing, soot-smudged faces, knowing they were lost in their own world. His duties had always demanded that he remain alone and without a settled home. Nothing had changed this day.

He shouted for the lawmen to assist him and sent the crowd scurrying back to their homes though the jail still burned. It was too late to stop the fire -- Oakes, Ferny and the rest would have to be taken to the lockup in Staddle for their trial. But the local people could handle these tasks. It was time for Halbarad to continue his regular patrols.

That night, outside the Prancing Pony, two tall men in long cloaks and high boots met in the shadows. One of them spoke in an urgent whisper. "There is a hobbit who requires your assistance, Estel, if he is to survive birthing his child..."

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