Revival of Ancient Errors
Rating: R (for language)
Word Count: 10,538
Summary: He's never liked the name Wonder's Star, but he lets it stick for sentimental reasons.
A/N: So, I have wanted to write a little AU where Star stays at Townsend Acres for the longest time. This is that story. (And, of course, it is huge!) Some Brad/Ashleigh, and a little Christina/Parker. All errors are mine, becuse I wanted to get this posted before I go watch the Derby. Happy Derby Day!
The foal is a fuzzy ball of chestnut fur and spindly legs, white markings placed just so, and he thinks to himself I’ve been here before.
The mare is dead and gone. The foal remains, blinking innocently, waiting. Its legs are curled; its chest rises in quick succession. It’s alone in a sea of straw.
He says, “It’s a damn shame.”
He doesn’t think of her once on his way back to his car, avoiding the spring puddles and feeling the wet breeze at his back. He doesn’t think of her staring sightlessly with teary eyes, doesn’t think of her curled up on rumpled bed sheets, doesn’t think of the grass stains on her jeans every time he’d see her ride the mare back from those sessions he always thought were such a waste of time.
He runs the tips of his fingers over the hard edge of his car keys and presses down, feels the jagged metal teeth bite against his skin.
He doesn’t think about any of that at all.
The next day he comes back with a horse van, backs a giant down the ramp. He does this himself, outright refuses help from his immense staff, like he has some tribute to pay.
Mike blinks stupidly at him when he leads the new mare, a docile creature that desperately wants to nurture, right into the barn.
“Her foal died this week,” he explains, slapping a hand on the mare’s thick shoulder. “I thought we could put her to good use.”
“Thank you,” Mike says, although he sounds so aghast that Brad smiles. It is nothing more than a tick, a grim acknowledgement. “Let’s see if they get along.”
Within the hour, mare and foal are inseparable. They lead the gentle giant out to a separate pasture, Ashleigh’s girl steadying the foal’s teetering steps as it rushes to keep up.
He stands there on the opposite side of the fence with Mike and the girl, and they watch the pair. The big, dark mare and her tiny, amber foal doze in the early spring sun, and he thinks that it’s not what any of them want to see at all.
The foal nuzzles the mare’s flank, and she swings her head around, checks him out, and guides him home.
He leaves them to it. Frankly, he’s got better things to do. It’s always there, though, in the back of his head. He thinks that Wonder’s last colt should be something more than just a sentimental pet, a project for some horse crazy teen that refuses to know the business she’s grown up in. He thinks that Ashleigh should have one last thing to look forward to, because he inexplicably knows she’s practically done.
It pisses him off that she’s never out there anymore, spewing her self-righteous shit and irritating the ever living crap out of him. Weird as it seems, it’s not right. It’s not a fitting end.
He’d aim to do something about it, but he doesn’t know quite what.
It’s a day in late June. The farm is quiet when he drives up, and he doesn’t expect much else. Whitebrook has always displayed itself as small and quaint, family-run. When half the string moves out to New York for the summer, the farm nearly stops. The grass grows unchecked, the phones go unanswered, and the remaining employees work their fingers to the bone to get it all done.
Ashleigh reigns over it all like some divine queen, mistress of her chunk of mismanaged earth. He remembers Caroline’s stories. He’s not surprised.
He kills the engine and climbs out into the sweltering heat. A band of mares and foals nearly old enough to wean rush past, kicking up clods of dirt and grass. He walks up to the battered, abused fence and watches, picks out Wonder’s colt in a heartbeat. His giant nurse mare looks less large with her gangly son catching up to her.
He nearly jumps out of his skin, and spins around. Ashleigh’s standing there behind him. She looks like she’s at least bothered to rouse herself from sleep to do something on the farm, if her dirty tank top and beaten up jeans riding low on her hips is any indication. Her hair is falling out of a ponytail, in her classic fashion. “Fuck, Ash.”
She doesn’t wince at his curse, which is new. “He’s grown.”
He wonders if she’s even stable these days, and by the way she lets her gaze drift off of him and onto the foal, there’s room for argument. “No shit,” he tells her. “That’s what foals do.”
She actually smiles, a little wryly, and he feels uncomfortable. “What are you doing here?”
“It’s been a while,” he shrugs, like he needs a reason to wander by Whitebrook. He’s got investments to look in on, not that he has in months. There’s no reason, really. Princess only had the one foal, and Honor is not what one would call a blue hen. He doesn’t really give much of a shit about the stallions, so long as they’re healthy and the stud books are in order.
He’s here for only one reason, and she knows it as well as he does. This foal is all the reason he needs.
Ashleigh clears her throat and says, “While you were gone, Christina gave the foal a name.”
“Did she,” he says, already underwhelmed. “What’s it to be this time?”
“Star,” Ashleigh says simply, and he can’t help the bark of laughter.
She doesn't even bother shooting him a glare. He's almost disappointed.
“Regardless,” she says tonelessly, “since I hardly think you'll want to sell him, I thought I'd take the opportunity to suggest we just fill out the paperwork. Better now than later.”
“Because there are a lot of Wonder's Stars running around?” he asks, and she stares at him blankly. He holds her gaze for a moment, before finally turning away. He watches the colt, finds reassurance in the antics of the foal as he bounds across the grass. It occurs to him how ridiculous it is that he ever found comfort in the sheer impossibilities of Ashleigh Griffen, how ridiculously off-putting it is to test her and find virtually nothing left.
“Because it would mean something to Christina,” she says after a moment, shrugging, like it doesn't mean much to her at all.
“Fine,” he says. “By all means. And when do you want to have the great negotiation on where he's going to train?”
He's thought about this. It's been so long he doesn't know if he's relishing this fight or dreading it. History would suggest she's won plenty of fights, despite giving up more than she needed to in return. The truth is, he's never really cared where the horses trained. It's all about what he can make her give up for nothing. Years ago, he considered it an art. If he'd really pushed her, he could have talked himself into an owner's share in Whitebrook. Easy.
Ashleigh watches the foal, crosses her arms over her stomach and says, “Later. We'll decide later.”
When the foal and his nurse mare arrive at his doorstep, he calls her and says, “When did you decide?”
She says, “Don't kid yourself, Brad. You knew when Wonder died that he would be yours.”
He's not all that bothered when she hangs up on him.
There are conditions that he has, of course, expected. He's standing with the colt, now a yearling that is all legs and unchecked attitude, running his hands down one leg and then the other. The colt picks up his feet, drops them back to the bedding, while Brad smoothes his hands over the colt's back and presses down.
Star is in the middle of cocking an ear backward, not sure about this development, when Parker appears in the aisle. Ashleigh's girl, Christina, stands next to him with her arms crossed and her face set.
“Dad?” Parker says, and Brad doesn't bother turning around. He just mutters an acknowledgement, presses again. Star moves sideways.
“Chris wants to have a minute of your time,” Parker says, shifts his feet.
Brad smiles to himself. He says, “I need another groom around here like I need a hole in the head.” He drops his hands from Star's hide and turns to look at Christina. “That's what you want, right?”
She stares at him, mouth gaping. The first word out of her mouth is directed to his son. “Parker?”
“He didn't tell me,” Brad assures her. “You're your mother's daughter, aren't you?”
Christina swallows and steps forward, puts her hands on the stall door. He watches her eyes flit to the colt and then back to him. It's an effort for her to focus on anything other than the colt, and he finds himself smiling again. History, it would appear, loves repeating itself. It's interesting how everything feels turned on its head this time out.
“I just want to be a part of his training,” Christina says. “I don't care how involved, or in what capacity.”
“Unlikely,” he scoffs, and he loves how confused she looks.
“I could volunteer time after school,” she suggests when she recovers. “Brush him, spend time with him, whatever needs to be done with him.”
He leans his shoulder against the stall door, while the colt steps forward to investigate his visitors, leans his neck against Brad's back and peers into the aisle. Brad reaches back and scrubs his fingers underneath the colt's orderly mane. Christina watches, waiting him out. Parker stands behind her, his arms crossed and his face unreadable.
“I'll tell you what, Chris,” he says. “If you want, swing by on your free days. I'll have someone put you to work. Clear it with your mom first.”
She smiles, throws a look back to Parker, who remains unmoved. He wonders if she'll tell Ashleigh about any of this at all.
The first day Christina appears, Star is out in the paddock with the other yearlings and his coat is a mess. It's a muddy day, and the horses have rolled in the slop to their hearts' content. She looks positively bright-eyed at the prospect of getting dirty on her first day. He's got other ideas.
“Get in the truck,” he orders as soon as she arrives. She looks at him quizzically, but he just points to the massive vehicle and she does as told. They go on a quick jaunt over the farm, and he points out where Star will most likely be whenever she arrives. What pasture is what, what trail goes where, what the rules are that she will absolutely follow with no theatrics or dramatics involved.
“Why are you doing this?” she eventually asks him. He gives her a look. “I mean,” she tries again, “why are you letting me get involved? I didn't think you'd let me.”
He pulls the truck back into its spot outside the barn, kills the engine and leans his hands against the top of the steering wheel. “I'm sure you know my history with your parents,” he says. “At the very least, you know about this farm's history with Whitebrook. I get that this feels awkward for you.”
“Just a little,” she admits. “And, I know this is going to sound horrible and suspicious, but I want to make sure Star is getting the care he deserves.”
“No,” he says, leaning back into his seat and looking at her. “You're like your mom. Driven by selfish desire, which is something I actually respect.”
She tries to protest, but he cuts her off. “It's natural, Chris. You helped raise that colt, and you want to be with him now. I get it. We've all been there.”
He notices a bit of a pout. “A piece of advice?”
“Sure,” she says, unbuckling her seat belt and keeping her back ramrod straight.
“You'll get further with me if you're fucking honest.”
She gasps. He smiles. “So be honest, Chris.”
After a second, she nods. “I'll try to do that.”
“Good,” he says. “And as far as your other question? You're here because we were all starry-eyed kids once. God forbid I rip that opportunity out from under you.”
He can tell she doesn't know what to say to that, so he opens his door and says, “Star's not going to bathe himself, you know.”
That sends her scrambling.
She's the first one on the colt's back, and he tells himself he lets her rest her belly across the saddle like a sack of grain because he wasn't about to give her an opportunity to take matters into her own hands. Surreptitiousness runs in that family.
That isn't the real reason.
By the fall, he's got the colt under saddle and on the track. Star's group goes out in the afternoons, just after Christina and Parker come rumbling up in that beat up truck. She usually goes running by him, waving a hello because she's too busy making a bee line to the colt. Someone throws her up into the saddle, and they head off into the day's lesson.
He'll watch from the rail, his son standing nearby but not close.
There are arguments occasionally. Case in point: Star's first breeze.
Christina is adamantly against it, despite the fact that other, older yearlings have been breezing for weeks. He tells her to bitch to someone who gives a fuck.
“You have no right to speak to me that way,” she says, hands on her skinny hips and her chin raised.
“That doesn't mean it's going to stop any time soon,” he informs her, nodding to one of the other exercise riders and instructing him to take the colt on the easiest breeze that's theoretically possible. Christina still glares.
“I can see how my mother never once got along with you,” she says, voice no more than a hiss. “You're...”
“Selfish?” he asks, and if looks could kill, he's pretty sure he'd be dying a slow, miserable death by Christina Reese. “Like minds never do get along too well, huh?”
“Fuck you,” she says, which does almost shock him, right before she turns on her heel and marches off. He watches her grab Parker, who's been approaching from the barn, and drag him back to the truck. The old piece of shit coughs and starts up, leaves the farm with a shower of gravel spitting out from behind its wheels.
The colt's breeze is smooth and clean. Textbook.
He has been expecting Ashleigh to come storming back into his life at any moment. Over the past year, he's treated Whitebrook like a blip on his radar. He has no point to swing by anymore, and what he sees of the little farm that could on the track is in allowance racers and high end claimers.
It disgusts him.
So he's pretty pleased when she appears on his front step in the middle of the night, her face a maelstrom of disbelief and anger and probably a little bit of guilt. She's known about Christina's escapades. How could she not? So he swings the door wide and says, “Did she finally tell you?”
“About what?” she asks, pushing his arm off the door and walking into the foyer. She turns around as he closes the door and steadily approaches, looking down at her as she tips her head up to meet his eyes. He's always liked this, her screamingly obvious height disadvantage. He thinks he's used it plenty on her to get what he's wanted.
“What?” he asks, inviting her to continue.
“About her coming over here at all, working with you of all people,” she says, “or that you two are at each other's throats? What the hell were you thinking, Brad? Letting her come here every day, playing like she has some say in what's happening with Star only to beat her down at the first opportunity?”
“What are you actually upset about?” he asks her. “That she's here at all, or that I'm apparently playing with her? She's your daughter, Ashleigh. You know she has her reasons for coming here. You also know that she's not going to get her damn way with me. She's not you.”
“Oh, don't,” she says. “You know why I'm upset. You should have told me what was going on here.”
“I'm not obligated,” he says. “She does what she wants. Besides, you had to know. You're not fucking blind, Ash.”
That gets a rise out of her. There's a spark of recognition he hasn't seen in her in months. “Don't make me think giving you Star was a mistake,” she says. “I can take him back so easily, Brad.”
“You don't want him,” he shrugs. “Seems to me you don't have much to threaten me with. Just say it, Ash. Tell me you knew.”
“If you're going to have my daughter involved to this extent, I need to have greater control of the decisions being made with this horse. It's only logical, Brad. She's my daughter, and I co-own that horse.”
“Tell me,” he says, ignoring her for now. “It's just a few little words, Ashleigh.”
“Fuck you,” she says, and he watches her carefully. “I'm not going to let this get out of hand. I'm going to be involved from here on out.”
“Ashleigh,” he says, stepping closer. She stays put, looks down at his chest. “You can do whatever the hell you want,” he says, because he knows exactly what her limitations are. She's not going to run down to the barn and pack the colt into a trailer bound for Whitebrook. She's hates Star, because Ashleigh has never been any good at distinguishing the shades of gray between black and white. She hates and loves and does it passionately, which he admires to an extent when she's not being vastly irritating. Sometimes he wishes for such simplicity.
She keeps staring at his chest, refusing to meet his eyes. “Just say it,” he says, gently, like he's talking to a startled horse.
He watches her stare at a point on his shirt, her arms straight by her sides, and when she finally looks up at him she says, “I'm not blind.”
At first, her presence smooths everything over. Christina does as asked, hops onto the colt and performs the scheduled works. Ashleigh just stands by the rail and stares, says a few comments to Chris, and more or less ignores him.
It works, until it doesn't.
Christina is a sharp tack, and she gets Ashleigh's determined pessimism just as well as he does. She starts to make comments, little digs, subtle insults, that Ashleigh takes like a punch to the gut every time. Even Parker, when he's around, stands by and winces.
Brad rolls his eyes as Christina finishes another coup de grace. “Mom used to use that technique all the time,” she says, leading Star through the gap. She's looking right at him. “I haven't seen anyone try that move at Whitebrook in ages.”
Either Christina is a cold bitch who could own him heart and soul, or she's just this side of conniving. He watches her go and sends Parker after her, because the mood between the ladies has been deteriorating. He needs someone to clean up the mess on that end.
Ashleigh staring at her hands is enough of a mess on its own.
“Don't say a word,” she says in advance.
“Well,” he shrugs, “you do know me.”
“That's part of the problem,” she sighs, pushes her hair back behind her ears and watches the rest of the afternoon works. “Maybe this was a mistake.”
“I don't think so,” he says, which is honest. She looks at him like he's amusing her. “No, really,” he clarifies. “Besides, something has to get you out of your batcave and working again.”
“This isn't working,” she informs him. “And I am working at Whitebrook. I work there. It's my damned livelihood, Brad.”
“According to the shit coming out of Christina's mouth,” he says, “I'd believe a little differently.”
“I don't work with the horses like I used to,” she admits, rather freely. “But that's my decision to make.”
“Fine,” he says. “You sound like you're okay with that. Move on.”
“Easier said than done,” she mutters.
He laughs, and she looks so irked with him it only fuels the fire. “You do realize who you are, right?”
She says nothing, just looks at him like she's waiting for him to get to his point.
“Ashleigh Griffen,” he says, leaning his arms next to her on the rail and looks out over the training oval. “Not just Ashleigh Griffen, though. The Ashleigh Griffen. Girl Wonder. Greatest Female Jockey of her Generation. The Pain in My Ass. All of those titles ringing any bells?”
Her silence is stubborn at this point. He moves to put an arm over her shoulders, and she tenses underneath its weight. He ignores that, pulls her in so he can say quietly, close to her ear, “Ash, if you're not going to do something with her memory, what are you holding on to it for?”
It doesn't happen overnight. But when Ashleigh suddenly yells at Chris, like, puts her whole body into it to carry her voice across the track to the unsuspecting horse and rider, he swears he sees Christina grin.
“They're dating, you know,” Ashleigh informs him one day, and he winces because he's already had that talk with Parker. He's still not sure how that happened, but there you have it.
He's also not sure he's okay with it. It's just weird and wrong and uncomfortable.
“I know,” he says, watching her bend down to check out the pasterns of a filly he's running later in the week. He's a little too proud of the filly, wants to show her off, and Ashleigh seems to know his game plan because she's making these appreciative noises in the back of her throat as she goes over the animal. Nothing gets to Ashleigh like inspecting conformation, apparently.
“What do you think?” she asks, looking at him over her shoulder as she straightens up, pats the filly on the flank.
“I don't like it,” he says, matter of fact. She laughs, and it's weird to him because laughter didn't seem like it should be bubbling up around him, or out of her.
“Why not?” she asks, walking around the filly.
He rolls his eyes to the ceiling and says, “Doesn't it scream two rival houses, doomed love, tragic end to you?”
“I hardly think Christina and Parker are prone to suicide pacts,” Ashleigh giggles, which makes him tilt his head to consider just what the hell got into her.
“No,” he says. “They're remarkably dedicated workaholics prone to hormones. Two teens who actively decide to come here every day after school, shunning all other activities? Ashleigh, that's lack of options.”
It's her turn to roll her eyes. “What do you know?”
“Enough,” he says cryptically.
Christina finishes the breeze on Star, the two galloping out the last furlong, when he says, “She reminds me of you.”
All she says is, “I know.”
They’re preparing for the colt’s first race when the divorce papers arrive on his desk. He signs them without thought, throws the heavy pen down on top of the impressive stack of legal work and thinks he may have wasted twenty years of his life.
He stands there next to his desk and looks down at the messy contents covering it, wonders what he got out of this union with Lavinia that he couldn’t have gotten elsewhere.
The farm is safe, and he has his son. Arguably, he gained everything. His life is richer, if empty. Sometimes he wonders if that isn’t his own damn fault. He pushes the papers into a fresh envelope and throws them back into the mail.
Christina wants to get her jockey’s license, and she’s been hounding him for ages to support her against her mother in what can only be described as a self-absorbed quest. Ashleigh, he knows, isn’t too thrilled with the prospect of Christina becoming a jockey. He’s not too thrilled by the idea of an amateur on Star, so he strikes her a deal.
He’ll support her getting her license if she can sit on the sidelines during Star’s two-year-old campaign. He’s not fucking around with this colt, and the last thing he wants is Christina’s overconfidence throwing a wrench in the plans. In return he’ll throw her up on any of his allowance runners and local claimers that he thinks will teach her a lesson. She reluctantly agrees, and he goes to meet with Ashleigh.
“No,” is what she says.
“No,” she says again. “She’s sixteen. What is the rush?”
“Star is the rush,” he says, like she’s dense. “He’ll only be racing age for so long.”
“Christina is too tall,” Ashleigh says, like he doesn’t know. “Making weight will be harder for her, and I don’t want her to totally wreck her health on some mission to ride Star. It’s a passing fad for her as it is, so I don’t see why I should give in to this supposed urgency.”
He knows what he’s about to say might set him back a few thousand steps, but he says it anyway. “Wasn’t it all about Wonder for you?”
She pauses in what she’s doing, which appears to be a whirlwind attempt at organizing her office. He doesn’t think she’s going to get far. “Don’t bring up Wonder,” she warns him. “This isn’t about me or her.”
“Actually,” he says, “it is about you. It’s about you not letting your daughter do what you did when you were younger than her, Ash.”
“Those were extenuating circumstances,” Ashleigh argues. “Christina just wants to do this, unthinking of any possible consequences it might have for her in the long term. I’m looking out for her. Besides, I can’t imagine you actually want her on Star.”
“We’ve struck an agreement,” he says simply, and now she really stops what she’s doing.
It’s time to tread very carefully, so he tells her very clearly what their arrangement is. She stares at him like he’s lost his mind. “Why the hell would you do that?”
He shrugs. “She’s been riding Star since the beginning of his training,” he says. “It can’t exactly hurt, if she knows what she’s doing. I’m not exactly putting a green rider on a green horse in this plan, Ash.”
“No,” she says. “You’re raising her hopes and leaving it to me to dash them. You’re playing a game with her. Again.”
“I’m offering her a chance to pursue a career path,” he says right back. “If she chooses to go down that road.”
“Again,” Ashleigh says, “why?”
“We’re business partners, Ashleigh,” he says. “You tell me.”
Ashleigh rolls her eyes and looks down at the chaos covering her desk. “The answer is still no.”
He raises his hands in surrender. “Then you be the one to tell her,” he says. “I’ve done my part.”
He leaves, letting the door rattle on his way out.
For Star’s first race, he puts the best jockey he’s got under contract in the saddle. Christina watches enviously, her hands clasped together. Ashleigh and Mike sit in their box in the grandstand, while Christina sits with Parker in the Townsend box. Brad doesn’t even want to think about what this means, so he just goes along with it and watches the race unfold.
They come in second, a hair behind after a slow start and one misfire later. It’s a good finish. He claps the jockey on the shoulder afterward and tells him he did a good job steering the colt home.
Continue to Part Two!
- Revival of Ancient Errors (part one)