Pairings: implied past Aramis/Marsac, mostly shippy gen.
Summary: Western AU.
As the three men rode back into town, those they passed fell into a shocked silence as they saw what the extra horses were carrying.
Athos rode at the head of the line, self-contained and showing no emotion. Aramis rode with head bowed, lost in his own thoughts and barely noticing the scrutiny they were subjected to. Porthos though, looked nervously from side to side, starting to wonder how this looked and whether for a man of his precarious standing, showing up in the company of seven corpses was not the smartest move he could have made.
Word raced ahead of them, and by the time they arrived at the town hall Treville was standing in the road waiting, arms folded and glaring up at them in speechless astonishment.
"What the devil?" he managed finally, as they dismounted. "I sent you out to uphold the law, not commit a massacre!"
Aramis cleared his throat. "We should possibly point out that technically we only killed one of them," he said.
Treville looked at Athos, who nodded confirmation. "Vadim killed the rest."
"We think to stop them - " Porthos started, then broke off as Athos held up a hand.
"Perhaps we should speak inside?" Athos said quickly.
Treville finally nodded, and after giving instructions for the bodies to be taken care of, lead them up to his office.
Once they were arrayed before his desk, Athos gave Porthos an apologetic look. "Sorry for interrupting you down there. But I felt it might be more to our advantage if it's not widely known that we didn't learn anything from them."
Between them, they laid out the events of the morning. Athos calmly took responsibility for the death of Vadim, merely saying it had been in defence of Porthos' life, and making no mention of Aramis' involvement or his insistence on the outcome.
When they were done, Treville sat back with a tired sigh. "Well. What's done is done and I can't say any of them will be missed. You've certainly kept your promise to rid us of them Athos."
Athos gave him a grim smile. "I think there may yet be more to learn, if you will permit us to continue investigating."
"Be my guest. You've certainly caused a stir, who knows what might shake loose in the fallout."
Taking their leave of Treville they made their way across to the saloon, not entirely sure of what their reception would be. The reaction of the town thus far had seemed one of shock, and there had been little opportunity to explain to the wider crowd that they had not been responsible for such wholesale execution. They sensed the prevailing mood could easily swing against them and were tense as they entered the room.
To their surprise they were greeted as returning heroes, Bonacieux hailing them with more bonhomie than any of them had ever witnessed from him and going as far as to gift them with a bottle from his private supply. He slapped Athos and Aramis on the back, and even reached out towards Porthos before catching his eye and hastily thinking better of it.
Their attempts at explaining or downplaying the events were swept away, and they suffered the hearty congratulations of the gathered patrons with a certain amount of embarrassment.
"Why is it that the approval of that man makes me feel like I've done something wrong?" Athos muttered to the other two, when they finally had a moment alone.
Aramis laughed. "Consider yourself honoured. I've never known him give away anything before."
"Probably just hoping this means his supply will be restored," Porthos said, still suspicious of the seeming hand of friendship following the way he'd been treated before.
Athos looked thoughtful. "You have a point there, the wagons should be able to get through again. I think we should pay another visit to Captain Alleyn. Press our advantage. If he is mixed up in things, I'm guessing he's a worried man right now, wondering what we know."
When they reached the site of the new station building, they were surprised to find it deserted. Rather than the bustling gangs of men and clamour of tools, the piles of stone and timber lay untended.
"Hello?" Athos shouted suddenly, making the other two jump and glare at him. "Anyone here?"
Somewhere a door creaked, and Captain Alleyn appeared round the corner of a stack of barrels. When he saw who it was he looked less than pleased, but schooled his features into a semblance of polite interest.
"Good afternoon gentlemen. What can I do for you?"
"Where is everyone?" Aramis asked, curious.
Alleyn folded his hands together. "I've given everyone leave to attend the funerals of the two men who died yesterday," he said solemnly.
"That's - very thoughtful of you," Aramis said, taken aback.
"Yeah, and won't set work back again at all," Porthos muttered under his breath. "First works captain I've ever met who was that generous."
"You didn't wish to attend yourself?" Athos asked Alleyn mildly.
"Someone has to keep an eye on the place," he said smoothly. "As you can see, Garvey and myself remained behind. One can never be too careful, don't you think?"
He gave a slight nod behind them and they swung round to discover the mean looking overseer that had hit Porthos standing a way off. He'd come up silently, and was holding his wooden cane like a club, clearly anticipating trouble.
"I'm assuming you'll have heard by now what happened to Vadim and his gang?" Athos asked. Alleyn didn't seem as worried as he'd anticipated, and Athos wondered for the first time if there wasn't more to this emptying of the site than merely further delaying the progress of the railroad. It meant there were no witnesses should something happen to them.
But it was still three against two, and in any case Athos would have put money on all of them being able to take Alleyn and Garvey even had they been alone. Alleyn struck him as a man used to getting others to do his dirty work, and Garvey could probably be outsmarted by a child. Not that it would do to underestimate them.
Alleyn was watching him thoughtfully. "I have indeed. Rather a drastic solution perhaps, but certainly effective. I admire a firm hand."
"Before he died, Vadim was - persuaded - to tell us some very interesting things," Athos said, wondering if it was just his imagination or whether Alleyn's expression had become tighter. "We'd be glad of the chance to discuss them with you."
Alleyn's gaze flickered uncertainly to Garvey, then back to Athos. The fact they hadn't arrested him outright meant it could be nothing too incriminating, but Athos was gambling on the fact Alleyn would be unwilling to take the fall for someone else.
"Why would I be interested in the words of a dead bandit?" Alleyn asked.
"Because your name was mentioned," Porthos put in. He sensed Athos was unwilling to tell too many outright lies, in which case he was quite happy to assist.
Alleyn sneered at him. "You're no better than he was. Why should I believe you? You might have a tin star on your breast for now but you're still a convict and a murderer. I presume now your friend here has done what he came for, you'll be coming back to us? I know Garvey has missed you."
At this, Garvey gave Porthos a wide and unpleasant grin, displaying a range of blackened and missing teeth. He thumped the head of his cane into his hand meaningfully.
Porthos shifted uncomfortably. It was true, in the excitement of the last couple of days he'd paid no mind to the fact that this might all come to an end for him, regardless of the outcome.
But Athos briefly laid a reassuring hand on his back, and Aramis moved closer until his shoulder was bumping Porthos', and he breathed a little easier.
"I'd be careful of what I said, if I was in your position," Athos declared. "We have reason to believe Vadim was part of a wider conspiracy, and before he died he implicated you."
It wasn't entirely a lie. Vadim had been seen in Alleyn's office, which was at least a connection between them. It occurred to Athos that he only had Porthos' word for that, but so far he'd never had reason to doubt him. Their only option lay in bluffing Alleyn into a confession.
"You're crazy," Alleyn blurted, eyes moving restlessly from one to the other of them. "I've never so much as spoken to the man."
"Liar," Porthos said immediately. "You've had the whole lot of them here."
Athos unclipped his holster and slowly drew out one of his pistols, making a show of checking it was loaded. "We made Vadim talk," he drawled. "I see no reason to suppose you'll hold out longer than he did."
At this point Garvey's thinly held patience snapped, and lifting his cane he ran towards Athos snarling curses.
Porthos stiff-armed him in the throat, then, when he refused to go down, rabbit-punched him in the jaw.
Athos span round at Aramis' warning in time to see Alleyn taking advantage of the distraction to make a run for it.
"Damn it." He took off after him, and Aramis looked from him to Porthos, torn.
Porthos, who was by now grappling with the enraged Garvey, nodded brusquely. "Go!"
Trusting Porthos to be able to take care of himself, Aramis ran after Athos. The deserted site was a maze, stacks of building materials piled high in seemingly haphazard order. He heard a muffled shout in the distance and picked up speed, unable to tell if it had come from Athos or Alleyn.
Athos chased Alleyn past teetering piles of wooden sleepers and metal rails, sacks of sand, and crates of something that he was moving too fast to read the stencilled label of but really hoped wasn't the gelignite it had looked like.
He rounded a corner and suddenly sparks flew across his vision as something crashed into the side of his head. Athos reeled sideways, grasping for something to balance himself on but finding only empty air.
Something crashed into his arm and he dropped the pistol, numb to his fingertips. He caught a glimpse of Alleyn rushing at him clutching a timber spar, held high for a third blow, and managed to duck just in time.
Off balance, Alleyn stumbled past him and Athos managed to blink his vision clear, rubbing his arm to try and restore circulation. Part of him was gratified that Alleyn had decided to incriminate himself so obligingly, although as the timber came slashing down towards him again, he conceded that any thought of celebration might be a touch premature.
"You kill me, they'll hang you," Athos shouted, ducking back out of the way of Alleyn's desperate swipes.
"Only if they catch me," Alleyn spat. "Besides, it's worth the risk. If I told what I know, it'd be a fate worse than the noose for me, I can tell you. With all three of you dead I'll just say your criminal friend back there turned on you. That we had to kill him in self-defence. Who's going to know?"
Athos had been moving steadily backwards, giving ground before Alleyn's attack and unwilling to take his eyes off him. It proved his undoing when something caught the back of his knees and he toppled backwards onto a platform, hard enough to wind himself.
Alleyn leapt forwards with a triumphant cry and Athos raised an arm to ward off the expected blow - but Alleyn had a different target in mind, and slammed home a large lever.
A metal whine started up close to Athos' head, adding to the existing background chuffing of a steam engine at rest and he realised with a sick sense of clarity that he was lying across the bed of the timber saw.
Athos tried to roll sideways away from the teeth, already moving so fast they were nothing but a silver blur. Alleyn hit him in the stomach with the spar and he rolled back, choking with pain.
Alleyn slammed home a second lever and thick leather belts started to wind around the pulleys, as the track Athos was lying on jolted towards the saw.
"You're insane!" Athos yelled, trying to fight his way off while Alleyn kept him in place, jabbing at him with the spar. Athos tried to work a hand down to his second holster, but it was trapped beneath him, and now the saw was just inches away.
At the last moment Alleyn stepped back, breathing hard and watching with a horrified anticipation. And then the metal blade of a shovel hit him over the back of the head and he crumpled to the ground without a sound.
Aramis grabbed Athos' shirt and hauled him bodily upwards and forward, until they were both sprawled in the dirt together, clinging to each other with a startled and desperate alarm.
When Athos finally accepted the fact he was still in one piece and Aramis could breathe again, they rolled apart and sat there panting.
"Well you cut that fine," Athos declared, giving Aramis a look that was full of the gratitude lacking from his words.
Aramis grinned. "Not as fine as you'd have been cut a second later." He scrambled to his feet and shut off the saw again with a thump of levers.
Athos was busy tying Alleyn up with his own belt. He picked him up and slung him bodily onto the saw platform, and slapped him round the face. "Wake up."
"I didn’t kill him, did I?" Aramis asked. "I was going to shoot him, but I figured we'd need his testimony."
"No, he's still breathing," Athos said. "Although I think he might be out for a while. Come on, let's go and find Porthos." He tied Alleyn firmly to the frame, and they hastened back towards where they'd left Porthos and Garvey.
They met Porthos halfway, running to find them in turn. He had a split and swollen lip, but seemed otherwise unharmed.
"Where's Garvey?" Athos demanded, having quickly explained what had happened with Alleyn. "If we can get a matching confession from both of them, it would be conclusive."
"Back there," Porthos said with a jab of his thumb and a grin. "I left him trussed up like a chicken for the pot."
They walked back with him, but when they turned the final corner everyone stopped in shock at the sight that met their eyes.
Garvey was swinging slowly a foot above the ground, a rope around his neck and his tongue protruding obscenely between his lips.
"Jesus!" Athos dashed forward, trying to take Garvey's weight on his shoulder while Aramis and Porthos cut him down, but it was clearly too late. Aramis cut the rope away from his throat and checked for a pulse anyway, but straightened up shaking his head grimly.
Athos looked at Porthos in shock, but Porthos looked just as stunned as they did.
"He was alive when I left him," Porthos stuttered, seeing Athos' look. "I swear! I just left him tied up on the ground."
"Then someone really didn’t want him to talk," said Athos grimly. They all looked at each other, as the same thought occurred.
"Alleyn," said Athos urgently, but even as he uttered the name the distant whine of the timber saw came slicing through the silence.
As one they turned and raced back through the site, redoubling their speed when a hideous scream rent the air.
Porthos was the first one on the scene and managed to close down the saw, but it was far, far too late for Alleyn.
Athos and Aramis ran up and Aramis clapped a hand over his mouth, fighting the urge to gag. Everything was covered in blood and bone, including Porthos, who'd had to run through the spray to reach the controls.
Porthos looked at them both disgustedly. "Well, fuck," he said feelingly.
Aramis crossed himself and walked away on unsteady legs to sit down on a pile of sawn timber. The others followed him, and for a minute or two nobody said anything.
"Someone's serious about covering their tracks," said Athos finally. "But this might at least be an end to it. With Alleyn and Garvey gone, on top of Vadim - I'd doubt there was anyone else involved. Too many and a conspiracy becomes impossible to keep secret."
"Someone's been running rings round us," sighed Aramis heavily. "Literally. They must have been watching our every move."
"I thought - " Porthos hesitated. He'd been trying to wipe the blood spatters off his arms and face with handfuls of dry sand.
"Go on," said Athos. "What?"
"I thought I was imagining things at the time," Porthos said slowly. "It's why I didn’t say anything before. But when I was fighting Garvey - I could have sworn someone walked past. Just on the edge of my vision, like. But Garvey had his hands round my throat at the time, and I was a bit preoccupied. And if it had been someone - well, they'd have helped right? One of us, I mean, even if it was Garvey. You don’t just walk past a struggle like that without so much as saying something, do you?"
"What did he look like?" asked Athos.
Porthos shrugged. "Dunno, they had some sort of robe on."
"Ecclesiastical?" said Aramis sharply, but Porthos shook his head.
"Nah, more like a cloak, you know? With a hood. I never saw his face. I couldn't even swear it was a he, to be honest."
"What do you mean?" asked Athos immediately.
"Well, it's funny. Like I said, I didn't get a good look. But something about the way they moved - it could almost have been a woman."
"A woman!" Aramis looked taken aback. "I hardly think a woman could have done this."
"It would only have been a matter of pushing a lever," Athos said thoughtfully. "Well within a woman's strength."
"No, I meant - " Aramis tailed off. "To kill someone like this - such a hideous death. Surely a woman couldn't have done such a thing."
Athos and Porthos exchanged a glance, and clearly both thought otherwise.
Porthos slapped Aramis on the back and gave a sudden grin. "I've known 'em would slit your throat for the coins in your purse," he said cheerfully.
Aramis gave him a sour look. "I was talking about ladies. Athos, surely you don't think - ?"
Athos shook his head pensively. "You never know what someone is capable of until it comes down to it," he sighed. "It's less likely a woman strung up Garvey, but then again not impossible. He was already tied up after all. I can think of at least one who could have managed it."
"Who?" Aramis asked in surprise, and Athos looked startled.
"Oh. No. I just meant - as an example. No, she - she's long dead." He stood up and walked over to retrieve his pistol from where it still lay in the dirt. "Come on," he sighed. "We'd better go and find Treville. He's not going to be happy about this."