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Rhinestone Cowboy

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Shiro’s from a small town, as many of the men in professional bull riding are, and boisterous crowds don’t do much for him the night before his go at the gates. They don’t do much for him most nights, but he braves the rambunctious public to scope out the competition. One can never be too prepared, and Dallas brings in mean competition despite it being home base. The crowds are thick on opening night of the rodeo too, excitement high for the festivities to come.

In the arena, the ladies have put on a pretty parade with the flag presentation and national anthem, but that’s just a warmup for the hype show and the lights are dimming to make way for the lasers. Shiro grimaces at the loud sound of “Born to be Wild” playing on the speakers, heavy bass thrumming the metal walls of the large arena.

Keith huffs in irritation besides him, neither of them really enjoy the opening acts at this point in their careers. The laser light show is cringey and loud, so they usually just skip it. They would’ve gotten here during the bronc rides, but Shiro would really rather not brave the crowds since his accident. Keith obliges him, bless his heart, though he’ll be a bit of a grump about it until he sees someone get flung off of a large bucking animal.

Right now though, there’s a barrel rolling around in the dusty arena, bedazzled cowboy boots sticking out of one end as another rodeo clown pushes the poor soul inside around. Shiro laughs along with the small part of the crowd who can see them goofing off through the flashes of laser lights, smiling fondly as he leans over the bar in the VIP section to peer down at whoever is in the barrel. He’s always respected rodeo clowns more than his peers have; when he fell off the bull they ensured his safety at the expense of their own- and with a smile to boot.

Once you were in the rodeo scene, no matter which part you participated in, you started to get to know people as your regulars. The broad-shouldered man pushing the barrel was Hunk, Professional Bull Riding’s (PBR for short) lead mechanic. Impressively sturdy, despite his sweet as pie disposition; he made plenty of pie too- could whip you up anything you asked and make it taste better than momma made it. Shiro didn’t know he was rodeo clowning these days, didn’t seem the type to enjoy the adrenaline rush of running with the bulls.

A tap on the shoulder pulls him from his thoughts, and he turns to greet Coran’s smile which is almost as blindingly bright as his mustache. The other riders say that Coran is more hat than cowboy, though Shiro knows he’s always come through whenever Miss Allura needs him- whenever the late Mr. Alfor needed him. He’s Allura’s coordinator and arena announcer, but he’s really a jack of all trades when he needs to be. Shiro thinks his fancy Kiwi accent just throws folks off. “Shiro! Just the man I wanted to see,” the redheaded man pulls him into a familiar hug, and Shiro reciprocates, his ‘good hand’ clapping loudly on Coran’s smaller back.

“Good to see you, Coran! What is it that I can do for you today,” Shiro asks cordially, smiling at the assistant’s coughs spurred on by his forceful clap on the back.

“Could clear the remains of a dust storm out of a man’s lungs with strength like yours!” He hacks, straightening himself on Shiro’s broad shoulder. His good-natured smile still remains, “Miss Allura would like to speak with you when you get the chance.”

Nodding his assent, Shiro motions to Keith who is still looking at the laser show with bored disinterest, “You remember Keith, don’t you Mr. Coran?” At the mention of his name, Keith turns and leans on the metal bars of the VIP booth, hat tipping in acknowledgment to the announcer with a small friendly smile playing at his lips.

“Of course, my boy! Come along, I’ll bring you to Miss Allura,” Coran greets, giving the nod to Shiro’s unspoken request of bringing Keith up with them to the tech booth. Keith was one of PBR’s best riders, but he figures it’s always better to be polite than sorry.

Boots and spurs clank loudly as they traverse up the metal slatted stairs, and into the dark-windowed tech booth. The loud music dulls to just the thumping of the bass when they close the door behind them. There are wires everywhere, little blinking lights lighting up the dark room like it’s Christmas. A person slouched in the roller chair behind the large lit up console swivels to greet them, doe eyes hidden behind largely framed glasses.

“This here is Pidge; they’re managing all the tech behind the rodeo for the summer internship program. Hunk was helping them, but Pidge here is a genius who don’t need no man,” Coran exclaims with gusto.

Pidge purses their lips in a cringe, eyes wide in secondhand embarrassment, “Yeeeaaahhh, thanks, Coran. Nice to meet y’all.”

Shiro extends his ‘good arm’ and shakes their hand, grip firm but mindful of his strength and how petite their hand is in his, “Nice to meet you, Pidge.” He shoots them a warm, friendly smile.

Keith simply tips his hat, “Likewise.”

Coran puffs his chest proudly, “Pidge here is gonna redo our laser show! Such talented youth we have in our intern program this year! Miss Allura and I are so proud to have them at PBR!”

Pidge reclines in their chair, eyes staring distastefully at the laptop displaying the current laser show in front of them like it has personally offended them, “I’m fixin’ to rewrite and reprogram this entire laser show, and with better songs too. Three Days Grace has been played more than one too many times in this arena.”

This ropes in Keith’s interest and he nods emphatically, regarding the program preview on the screen in front of Pidge. “I’ve got the opening show memorized I’ve seen it so many times; a change would be nice.”

Coran motions to the door behind them as Pidge and Keith conspire over ideas and complain about the same old light show that’s played every single rodeo for the past ten years. Shiro quietly excuses himself and knocks on the door twice, metal fingers of his artificial hand rapping loudly. He winces at the hollow sound it makes and opens the door to greet Miss Allura who is sitting behind a large oak desk carved to perfection- must’ve cost her Daddy a fortune when he first bought it. Professional bull riding was at its finest then, it probably seemed like pocket change at the time.

“Oh Mr. Takashi, do sit! Lovely evening isn’t it,” she fawns, smile bright and welcoming, every bit the rodeo queen debutante she was raised to be.

Shiro sits in the chair before her desk, posture polite and alert, friendly smile plastered on his face as he waits for her to get to business. Miss Allura always did rattle him, he was wily enough to know when a woman was willing to hogtie you and shoot you down in the midst of buttering you up. Allura pours herself a whiskey and gestures to the crystal set. He tips his hat, “No thank you, miss.” One would rather keep his wits about him when around a clever fox, no matter how much he actually liked that fox.

“Let’s cut the pleasantries, shall we?”

Shiro nods, fiddling with the brim of his hat in his hand. She never was one for chewing the fat when she didn’t have to.

“We’re glad to have you back Shiro. We’ve been struggling,” Allura states, friendly smile turning severe.

“Shucks, I thought we were past the pleasantries Miss Allura,” he was starting to get jittery, Allura did not admit weaknesses easily, and she didn’t bellyache for no reason. When she or the program had issues, there were few she relayed her anxieties to. Coran was probably the only other person besides herself who knew about what went on behind closed doors.

Allura sighs, overstuffed chair squeaking as she leans back to sip on her drink, “I’m afraid it’s not just flattery. We’re on the edge of bankruptcy Shiro.” Biting at the inside of his cheek, his brow furrows waiting for her to tell him what his part is in all of this. “We need a revamp. A new image. People are tired and put off by the same old hick-ass rodeo. We’ve distanced ourselves from a lot of people, mostly women and people of color- out of fear of being met with crumbling old racist benefactors closing our doors.”

She’s getting fired up now, nostrils flaring like an angry mustang as she takes another biting sip from her crystal glass, “Daddy broke a lot of boundaries by being black and stepping into the professional bull riding circuit and taking over. There was a fuss, but he supported a lot of people and let them fulfill their dreams.” Her whiskey nearly sloshes out of the side of the expensive glass, despite not pouring more than a quarter of it full. “I’m not letting all his hard work go to the pigs!”

Shiro has taken off his hat in respect to her dander, holding it over his chest like he’s saying a prayer. He feels like he walked into a hornet’s nest.

“I’m not gonna let them cash us in, Shiro! We’re going out with a slamming of the barn door, and we’re pushing our best out there on the way out.” Allura swivels her chair to look out the window behind her, taking slow calming breaths. Vividly bright colors flash in the otherwise dim room, windows showcasing the lights of the rodeo’s carnival brilliantly. She’s silent for a long while, chewing over her words so she doesn’t spit them out. “Shiro, I need you to become the face of PBR to get us out there.”

His blinks in shock, brows shooting into his hairline, “Me? My first ride is tomorrow, and it’s the first one since my accident. Most people don’t even want me riding anymore.” Swallowing, he adds, “Not that I’m ungrateful for the chance, y’all have done so much for me since my accident... but this is risky, right?” He wouldn’t consider himself an insecure man, but this is a tall order. Shiro, Asian in a white man’s sport, recently handicapped, and becoming the public face of the drowning PBR? Their circuit barely got to ride in the big competitions anymore. Word had it that the Professional Rodeo Cowboy’s Association (PRCA) turned their noses at PBR’s best riders out of ‘lack of good breeding’. Putting him out there was like turning cows out to withered pastures.

“It is risky,” Allura’s white hair reflects the rainbow lights outside beautifully, “that’s why we have to do it. We can’t sit down any longer. I can’t. The rodeo deserves more, the talented riders deserve more. I don’t want anybody to be told to go back to ‘where they came from’ any longer. This is the 21st century and folks should start acting like it.” She turns back to him in her chair, stunning blue eyes sad but determined.

He remembers the same determination in her eyes when he came to her a year after his accident, pleading to get back out there in the arena. Shiro had lost more than his arm in his accident, he’d lost his life-long passion too. Allura had grinned and said, “You know what my Daddy used to tell me?” He’d shaken his head no. “Life isn’t about how fast you run, or how high you climb, but how well you bounce.” He’d hugged her back then, lack of a full arm not dampening his show of gratitude.

She said he’d chosen the right career, though; you only need one hand to ride a bull. The others had put up a stink when he first announced his comeback, claiming that he had to wear a prosthetic during his rides or he’d be cheating. Can’t get points redacted for not keeping your hand in the air if you haven’t got one to put up. The prosthetic is cumbersome and harder to balance now that he’s used to being without his arm, but he wears it to hush them up. He doesn’t need a handicap (isn’t that ironic) to win anyway, and he’ll show it with his scores.

That’s what pushes him forward, eyes set and just as determined as hers, “Of course I’ll do it Miss Allura. By good rights, I’m at your beck and call.” One side of her mouth lilts into a tender smile, body slumping into a relaxed slouch of relief. She takes another sip of her drink, and stares into the amber remains of her glass, swirling it as she states, “He would’ve wanted me to go out spittin’ mad and fightin’, I think.” Allura glances up at him again, shy and sentimental. She must’ve really been at her wit's end to show him this face.

Shiro leans forward, real and prosthetic elbows on his knees and smiles gently, “I don’t think he would’ve expected any less of you. I’m sure he’s more than proud. Hell, Coran’ll tell ya that.”

Swirling her glass once more, she toasts the air and tips it back, swallowing the remains of her drink and sending it off with a gratified ‘Ahh’. “Welp! Back to business,” Miss Allura exclaims, setting her glass down with a clack. She’s a firecracker if he ever did see one. “We gotta get you ready for action!”

He must look as confused as he feels because Allura expands, “I don’t feel right puttin’ you behind the gates with no training on a quick getaway from those bulls with your new arm- and no trust in our new superstar arena entertainer!” Shiro raises a brow at ‘arena entertainer’. “Our rodeo clown, but don’t you go callin’ him that to his face- he’ll come at you spittin’.

“I’ve never practiced the night before a competition,” Shiro frets, nerves uncharacteristically fraying. One didn’t usually risk the soreness that came from the eight seconds in the arena the night before a big competitive ride. One also didn’t do this before their first public ride back in the arena.

“You think I went into this with no plan? Ain’t got me figured out yet, do ya, Shiro,” a wink and a packet of papers are thrown his way. “Here’s your training program and your schedule. Your first ride has been rescheduled a week out from now; we’re in Dallas for two before we move on to Austin.”

Nodding, Shiro ganders at his new schedule with regard. She’s really cutting dirt on this thing; his first training session with ‘Lance’ is at 7am sharp tomorrow morning. Shiro runs through his mental address book, searching for a face to match the name and comes back fruitless. He’s been gone for a year since his accident, but it’s peculiar that he doesn’t know someone in the industry.

“He’s new. Well, new to us. He’s been stuck in the El Paso circuits despite his talent,” Allura states, addressing what must’ve been a befuddled look on his face.

“Circuits in El Paso? I thought he was a rodeo clown?”

“He is now. He wanted to ride initially, though. Guess he fell in love with entertaining and bull fighting- once you meet him you’ll understand,” Allura smiles fondly. Huh, this guy must be one hell of a character.

The resonance of Coran’s voice booms from the tech room. The New Zealander is probably ending the opening acts and announcing the rodeo clowns. “C’mon, you can see Lance in action before I put y’all to work tomorrow.”

Shiro pulls open the door and holds it for Allura, being mindful to shut it quietly so the mic doesn’t pick up the sound and follows closely behind her into the tech room. Coran is currently leaning over Pidge, sputtering indignantly into the mic. Pidge is slouching, trying to slump onto the floor to escape Coran’s spittle, but he has an iron grip on their shoulders in his huff. Keith glances from Coran to the arena to eyeball the person he’s yelling at, amused and a little disgusted. Shiro arches an eyebrow.

“Wow, this must be a record for Lance,” Allura stage whispers, thinly disguised hilarity seeping through her tone. “He’s already got Coran all fired up.” They couldn’t have been out in the arena and talking on the mics for more than a minute.

Shiro steps forward to peer through the window only to be met with an ass. A literal one with an orange mustache painted across both bronzed cheeks. The young man attached to said cheeks is in the arena, looking over his shoulder with a devilish grin directed at the tech booth. Shiro’s eyes widen in shock, mouth ajar at the display. He can’t decide if he looked out the tech booth window at exactly the right or wrong moment.

“I made myself real purdy for ya tonight Coran,” the young man’s impish voice resounds in the arena over the mic. He bats his eyelashes and digs the toe of his rhinestone cowboy boot in the dirt in faux bashfulness.

Spit is flying everywhere and the redhead pushes himself away from the tech desk to march down the metal slatted stairs to give who Shiro guesses to be Lance a piece of his mind. Pidge darts after him to quickly clip a mic to Coran’s outlandishly fringed jacket. His angry sputtering is picked up on the mic, and the audience laughs at Lance’s outrageously flirty show. Once the redhead hits the dirt Lance takes off running, top of his cheeks still hanging out of his pants to tease Coran like a red flag to an angry bull.

Pidge sighs and hits a button on their control panel, and the sound of ‘Yakety Sax’ fills the arena.

Shiro watches as Lance jumps onto Hunk’s back and spurs his ass to get him to take off running. Fist raised, Coran chases after Lance’s sparklingly rhinestoned and cackling form. Allura crosses her arms, her gaze on Lance a mixture of fond and annoyed, “He’s a handful, and you may not see it yet, but he’s talented at what he does.”

Shiro shakes his head grinning, “He sure gets people fired up.” Pidge snorts in affirmation.

“Hopefully your training with him tomorrow morning will be much more relaxed. He’s not much of an early riser,” Allura reassures.

It’s Keith’s turn to snort. Shiro sighs. Tomorrow morning was going to prove interesting.