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where the west begins

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Tommy found the song booklet in Sidney’s closet a couple days ago. (What exactly Tommy had been doing in Sidney’s closet, Tommy won’t tell, but one of Sidney’s favorite kerchiefs is suspiciously missing, and two weeks from now Tommy’s gonna give it back to him with his initials monogrammed in satin embroidery thread. But, for now, Sidney doesn’t need to know that.)

So Tommy found the songbook, and he’s the one who brought it to Sidney, almost shyly, acoustic guitar in hand. “Thought I could accompany you out at the stables, Jersey.”

“Accompany me?” Sidney scratched the back of his neck and glanced down at the guitar. “Which definition of ‘accompany’ are you using?”

“Both, if you’ll have me.”

“Oh.” Sidney blushed. “Alright. Of course.”

So the afternoon finds them at the stables on Banzai ranch. Tommy’s sporting a cowboy hat, with a piece of straw hanging from his lips as he picks out arpeggiated chords from the songbook, and Sidney’s brushing down the paint horse mare, Daffodil. As Tommy plays, Sidney sings along, almost absentmindedly.

Out where the handclasp’s a little stronger,
Out where the smile dwells a little longer,
That’s where the West begins;

Sidney’s voice is a low, rich tone. Whenever he’s down in the stables, he sings these old frontier ballads and it keeps the horses calm while he works. So, Tommy just likes being here; it calms him too. Makes him feel like an old white-kerchief dame swooning over the freedom riders.

Out where the skies are a trifle bluer,
Out where friendship’s a little truer,
That’s where the West begins;

New Jersey sure is a cowboy.

And Tommy doesn’t like the bible belt, doesn’t like contemporary country music, doesn’t speak to his parents or his siblings or anyone from the town he grew up in. But there’s something romantic about old frontier music. Or maybe that’s just because Sidney’s singing it.

When Sidney’s back is turned, Tommy spits the straw out of his mouth, because it tasted like barn dust. It was worth it while it lasted, though, for the way it made Sidney laugh.

Where there’s more of singing and less of sighing,
Where there’s more of giving and less of buying,
And a man makes friends without half trying,
That’s where the West begins.

Before Tommy can pick out the last notes on the strings, there’s a sound from the other side of the barn that makes him flinch and look up; he’d thought they were alone with the horses. Sidney, too, comes around the side of Daffodil to peer at the open barn door.

Hands deep in the pockets of his bluejeans, Buckaroo himself steps around the barn door. Hard to make out his features when he’s backlit by the sunny outside, but for some reason his voice sounds a little raw when he says, “That’s some mighty fine singing, Sid.”

Sidney takes his hat off his head, holding it in front of his chest bashfully. “We didn’t… um, if we’d known we had an audience… well, thank you, Buck.”

Then there’s the sound of a sniffle, and it doesn’t come from the horse neither. Cautiously, Tommy sets the guitar down against one of the support beams. “You alright, Buckaroo?” Buckaroo nods, but now Tommy can kinda make out the way his skin looks pinker, the way he starts rubbing at his eyes. 

“Oh, Buck…” says Sidney.

Tommy stands from his seat, almost like a reflex, and then he’s got himself wrapped around Buck. Can feel the shaking in Buck’s shoulders – Sidney comes closer, too, a hand on Tommy’s back.

“It’s – it’s nothing,” Buckaroo coughs out with a weary smile. “I just… I think it’s been decades since I last heard that song. Masado used to…”

“Your father?”

“Mmhmm. I heard you singing in here and… like I was five years old again, watching him build a propulsion engine.” Buckaroo sniffles again, still smiling. This close, Tommy can make out the smell of oil on his clothes, he must have come from the garage. Must have come out here just to find them.

“I’m really sorry to have upset you, Buckaroo,” Sidney murmurs into their makeshift group-hug.

Buckaroo shakes his head, wiping his eyes, “You remind me of him a lot, Sidney. You from New Jersey, him from Osaka, both of you falling in love with the American West.” Buck pulls gently out of Tommy’s arms, and pats a hand on Sidney’s chest. “You keep singing, Sid. It’s, uh… Cowboy tradition, alright?”

“Yes, sir,” Sidney nods.

“Alright.” For a moment, Buckaroo stands there, just shuts his eyes and takes a breath. Then he turns to leave, pushing his hands back in his pockets as he goes. “I was just passing on the message that, um, Rawhide’s cooking team dinner, be ready in an hour.”

“Hey, Buck,” says Tommy, and Buckaroo stops. “You want to stay a little while, sit with me? I’m sightreading the music, you know. Could use a hand to turn the page if you’re up for it.” Tommy glances sideways at Sidney, and Sidney nods in agreement – the expression on Sidney’s face looks the way Tommy’s heart feels right now, sore for their friend and his long-old grief.

“Maybe just a little while,” says Buck, turning to offer Tommy a small smile.

Not enough stools in easy reach, so Tommy and Buck just settle on the dirt floor, Buck’s back against the wooden stable, and Tommy leaning back against Buck’s chest, picking out the notes lazily as Buck holds the book up like a makeshift music stand.

Sidney brought Daffodil back to her stall, and now he brings out Big Red, runs the brush down her flank while he sings.

Buck tucks his face down, warm against the back of Tommy’s shoulder, and Tommy breathes a great sigh as he plucks the strings, and Sidney smiles warmly down at them both, eyes twinkling.

And a man makes friends without half trying,
That’s where the West begins.