Chimerical: an A-to-Z writing prompt.
Series A/N: I decided to do something new, because I like to have as many fanfic projects going on as humanly possible. I decided to create my own little A-to-Z writing prompt series for Ashleigh and Brad. Ideally, this will mean 26 stories. Not all will be Ashleigh/Brad. There might be some Ashleigh/Mike, some Brad/Lavinia, but at the core it's Ashleigh and Brad.
Fire Knows Nothing of Mercy
Affray: n. a public fight; a noisy quarrel; brawl.
A/N: during Samantha's Pride. I always found this scene irritating, and so I rewrote it with an emphasis on reality. I'm starting off as far from Ashleigh/Brad as I can get in this one. Some slight Ashleigh/Mike.
Her name is written on the blackboard in the jockeys' room. It's the first time this has ever happened, and Ashleigh, despite her nature, walks to the backside with her hands curled into fists.
The past hour has been torture inflicted by the multitudes, by those drunk on disappointment or perversely thrilled to see trouble steamrolling her way. It is compounded by her name written in messy chalk that says more than any taunt or bald-faced insult can deliver. She wants to be indignant, because she knows that she is right. She always does the right thing, after all, regardless of what others might think of her actions. Her decision was right for her horse, and in that she knows she will never waiver, but this is something she will have to prove now that the stewards have come down on Brad's side.
She rounds the corner of the shed row, takes two steps and stops. Pride stands in a puddle of water, his body soaked a dark copper. Samantha holds the colt's lead, looking worried and upset. Mike and Charlie are in the open doorway, heads bent in quiet discussion. Brad stands near the colt, his arms crossed, purposely ignoring everyone. He looks like he could kill something, and Ashleigh thinks that's just great. It is a mood to fit her own.
"How dare you."
He looks at her, but nothing on his expression changes. It is solid stone, set, and it would frighten her if she wasn't angry enough to match it with her outrage. She launches herself forward, striding up past everyone's startled expressions to meet him head on. She repeats herself, grinds the words through her clenched teeth, and he grabs her arms to keep her from plowing right into him.
"Clarify yourself, Ashleigh," he says, his fingers tight around her skin. "Because I could say the same fucking thing to you."
She wants to laugh, wants to keep trying to shove him back, but he's holding her and she can see Mike easing toward them. A little part of her is panicking, but she pushes it aside and rips her arms out of his grasp. He lets her, but gives up no ground.
"What did you say to the stewards, Brad?"
At this he smirks. "You're getting called in? Good. Finally there's something to enjoy about this day."
"What did you say to them?"
"Nothing," Brad says. "I wouldn't have to, and you know that."
"What's going on, Ashleigh?" Mike breaks in, all concern and wariness. He looks at the two of them like neither can be trusted, and she thinks that he might be right.
"There's a stewards' inquiry," Ashleigh tells him.
"For what?" Samantha gasps, like all the air has been sucked out of her lungs. Brad rolls his eyes.
"For just sitting there," Brad says, all traces of earlier bemusement gone. "What do they call that again? Oh, yeah, failure to persevere."
"Pride wasn't capable!" she nearly shouts, looking at Charlie, who shakes his head.
"Wasn't he?" Brad asks. "Exactly how was he not capable, Ash?"
She flinches, and he takes the opening, advancing on her. "Because what I saw was a horse that could have won had his rider given him some modicum of support, and what I heard between my own rider and trainer was a conversation before the race that backs up every suspicion that you never intended to fully ride that colt."
"Pride ran," Samantha bites out from the colt's side. "He was amazing."
"Sammy," Ashleigh says, "please walk him for me. He's done here."
"Go on, missy," Charlie says from the doorway. Samantha gives them a look that says under no circumstances does she agree with their decision to remove her, but she takes up the slack in the lead and urges the colt forward and out of earshot.
"So what are you suggesting, Brad?" Ashleigh asks. "That I intentionally threw the race by not using my crop? You saw Pride, and he's exhausted. If I'd used the crop we'd have an injured horse or worse."
"Don't try that shit with me," Brad warns her. "Trotting out some hypothetical is melodrama you're not exactly good at spinning, Ashleigh. You said it yourself; using a crop would have gotten a response. If you didn't want a response, you shouldn't have agreed to run him."
"It wasn't only my decision."
"Fuck, Ashleigh, you're co-owner. If you wanted to play passive-aggressive, this isn't your game. If you didn't want to run him you should have come up with a better plan than deciding that a stretch duel for the goddamned Triple Crown is the perfect time to not push our horse."
Ashleigh is speechless, a position that makes every nerve in her body twinge. A part of her wants to come back at him, insist that what power she did have in making the decision to race Pride would have been dismissed. The only thing that stops her is the knowledge that saying such a thing is an admission. It would make her position in his eyes so much less stable.
"That's really enough," Mike warns, but Brad just gives him a look that implies he shut up.
"I did the right thing," she says, almost under her breath. Brad laughs, and out of the corner of Ashleigh's eye, she can see Mike's right hand tighten into a solid fist.
Charlie moves out of the doorway, lifting his hands. "She made a gut decision, and I stand by it."
"That's great," Brad says, nodding his head up at Charlie like he couldn't care less. "Why don't you go tell the country that we lost the Triple Crown on jockey error. Better yet, we can say our co-owner here never wanted to run him to begin with, but her confidence issues led her to endangering a multi-million dollar stud prospect and probably got her suspended. Our golden girl is so upstanding, isn't she?"
And that is when Mike's fist arcs past her and connects with the side of Brad's mouth.
There's a scuffle of gravel when Ashleigh pushes Mike back, getting between them before Brad can give back in kind. She doesn't need this, and right now she's horrified when she watches Brad straighten and lift his hand to the cut on his lip. He's bleeding, and his fingers come back stained red.
With a satisfied smile in Mike's direction, he wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. Ashleigh can't help staring at the smear of red across his skin. It's an effort to shake herself out of it and push Mike further back, because he's edging forward again based on the open invitation of a grin.
"Stop it," she says to Mike, and he stills behind her. He's thrumming with energy, and she can feel his heart beating rapidly under the palm she keeps pressed to his chest. She gives him a look and turns back to Brad.
"Just stop," she says to him. He doesn't say anything, but he doesn't leave either. She realizes that he's waiting, and she lowers her hands to her sides and nods. "Can you give us a second?"
Only Charlie seems to understand, and he comes up to Mike. "There's a time and a place," he tells Mike. "Now isn't either."
"I'm not leaving," Mike says, but Charlie shakes his head and pats the younger man on the shoulder.
"Let's go, kid."
Brad looks like he wants to say something, but Ashleigh shuts him up with a hard glare she's had years honing. His eyes track them as they leave, and finally fall back to Ashleigh when Mike and Charlie are out of sight.
"You'll need ice for that," she says, crossing her arms over her chest.
"Yeah, I need lots of things," he sighs, and scrubs a hand through his hair. She doesn't reply for a moment, just lets the silence fall over them. It's uncomfortable and thick and she wants to break it, but doesn't know what to say. She's still angry, and it clouds everything.
"You'll be suspended."
That really isn't what she wants to hear him say, but she goes with it.
"How long, do you think?"
"Last year," he says, "a jock was suspended a year for giving up a race to his brother. Finished second, never went for the crop, and that was a maiden claiming race, Ashleigh."
She just stares at him, her shock devolving quickly into fear. Her eyes must have widened because he shrugs. "Or it could be month. A week. Ash, I don't want you out of commission either. I'll do what I can here, but don't ask me to help today."
He sighs, and shakes his head. "I'll say no."
"Never do this again," he says, and she can't help the sneer that curls up her lips.
"As if I had a choice."
There it is. She shuts her mouth quickly, but it's too late.
"If we're going to do this," he says quietly, pausing to touch his lip again, doing it far more gingerly than he allowed in front of Mike, "we have to meet in the middle. If another race ends up like this, I'm not going to be the only one with a cracked lip."
"To meet in the middle, you'll have to listen to me and Charlie," she points out.
"And you'll have to ride responsibly and stop demonizing me," he says. "Think that's too hard for you?"
"Shut up," she says, but her heart's not in it anymore.
"I'm never going to do that."
"I want Pride healthy and racing," he says. "Just like you."
"I know," she nods. "But the devil is in the details, Brad. Our methods are too different."
"Ashleigh," he chides. "Between the two of us we won a Triple Crown. We can't be that different."
She gives him a leery smile. "You'd be surprised."
"Then it's up to you," Brad tells her, turning halfway away. He looks at her darkly. "Just don't do this again."
He walks away. She watches him go, her hands loose at her sides.