Caring

He watched the horses, admiring their grace and beauty. The fact that he could barely see them through the darkness of night was beside the point. He knew them. Knew how they moved: how their powerful sleek muscles stretched and contracted, moving their long delegate legs; how their manes whipped in the cool wind; how their nostrils flared when riled; how their ears twitched at the slightest sound...

He smiled ever so slightly, realizing that he could of been describing Buckaroo Banzai. Graceful, intelligent, majestic... and it came all so easy, so naturally, for both man and beast.

Yet, he, so- called "Perfect" Tommy, struggled just to breath properly... forget about anything else. He always seemed a step behind, too late, too dumb, too weak. And, when he tried to catch up, he ended up blowing everything out of proportion. Damned if he do; Damned if he don't!

So, why the hell does he even try?

Why the hell does he even care?

He could stop trying. He could stop caring. It would be so easy. A little needle prick and nothing in the world, in the universe would matter. He could just drift away, lost in the brain-numbing, drug induced fog, oblivious to all the trouble that simple existence brought with it. Oh, sweet, sweet oblivion... a careless nothing.

Not that the world itself would cease to exist. It would go on and on, continuing to do all the nasty stuff it always did... that it always did to him.

He just won't care any more.

Sure, he would hear and see and even feel the worse of it. He just won't care. Insult him, smack him, cut him, brutalize the hell out of him... why not? Not like it would be anything new. He just won't care. He just won't give a flying fuck!

And, in that, laid the problem.

He had come to like caring.

He liked to care when he helped a little girl get a new heart, care when they put down the bad guys, care when they helped feed a starving village, or when an experiment was a success, or when the crowd cheered when they took the stage... his friends... his family... or for hundreds, thousands of other reasons. Damn it, he liked caring about those things!

But was it worth it? Was caring about all the good stuff worth caring about all the bad stuff?

It was so much freakin' easier when he didn't have any good stuff to care about. So much easier before ol' Bucky showed up in his life. Before that his one and only concern, the numero uno in his life was Perfect Tommy. Hell, no one else cared about him. Why should he care about anyone else?

Buckaroo should of figured it out, should of taken the hint, should of yanked back the hand he held out in friendship before he got bit.

Not that Tommy would of ever turned down the offer to join the Hong Kong cavaliers. Yea, not even he was stupid enough to turn down a chance to, not only be one of the world's top scientist, but be rock star with thousands of screaming fans!

Sure, he knew, they would eventually get around to being bored with him, irritated or intimidated, or just figure out how worthless he was. And that would be it, out he would go, back on the street, all alone, just him.

"Me, myself, and I." Perfect Tommy mumbled. He shivered, suddenly feeling chilling in the warm night air.

He had always been in demand, wanted to fix this, create that, make everything perfect as perfect can be and then some. And, if he wasn't fast enough, perfect enough, or, hell, if he was too good and finished the job, out he'd go, tossed out on his butt, abandoned, gotten rid of. Well, if that was the way the world was going to play hi, he would play it right back. If he was going to get the boot, he was going to give them reason to do it! Prod, push, kick, scream, sleep with everything in a skirt that looked even half way decent, married or not...

Hell, he was going to get something out of life! If only a momentary satisfaction, it was something!

They called it an attitude problem.

He called it getting them before they got him.

Ha! Rawhide would of called it a preemptive strike.

Only, Buckaroo Banzai didn't get rid of him.

And, damn it all, that just screwed up everything he knew about the universe! People were supposed to screw him over! That was what he was on earth for! That was what life was all about!

So, what the hell was wrong with these people? Why didn't they give him the boot? Why didn't they kick him out, toss him out on his butt? Why didn't they hurt him like everyone else had always done his entire life?

It didn't make any sense. Buckaroo and the HKC didn't hate him. On the contrary, they encouraged him, supported him, stood by him, listened to his opinion, ASKED for his opinion... they did all that stuff Tommy had only read about in children's books or saw in Disney movies. No one laid claim to his achievements nor condemned him for his failures. No one used him, then abused him.

But, even with all these new experiences Buckaroo and gang showered down on him, it wasn't enough to teach him to care. No, after all that, he was still the only one in his life. He knew it was only a matter of time. They'd come around. They'd come to their senses. Nothing they could ever do would be enough to convince him, a kid who'd been beaten down too often to trust in another living soul, that here, in this place, with these people... someone cared about him.

Surprise, surprise... It was Rawhide who gave him that revelation.

Practically the only words the big, mean looking cowboy had said to the boy the first couple moths of his residence at the Banzai Institute had come in the form of growled out rules and reprimands for breaking said rules. When Rawhide had caught him shooting up, Tommy was sure he had finally done it. Out the door he would go.

But Rawhide grabbed him, shook him until his ears rang, dragged him off somewhere private where Buckaroo and he spent the next forever getting him clean.

It was then, suffering bad in withdraw, that Tommy demanded "Why? Why the hell are you wasting your time on me?"

Rawhide, being every bit of his big, intimidating self, snapped "'Cause you're worth fighting for!"

It was like being slapped across the face... or, maybe, more like being reborn... as sappy as that sounded.

It was only a couple days later when, on shaky legs he had made his way out here, leaned up against this very same fence, and watched those very same horses. Rawhide had followed him out and leaned up against the fence beside him. And, for a very long time, they just stood there.

"Whoever convinced you that you were worthless was a damn lier." Rawhide said suddenly, his voice gentle and... loving? With that, he reached up, laid a hand on Perfect Tommy's shoulder, gave it a pat, and walked away.

And nothing was ever the same again. Trusting, caring, even loving... it was all new and wonderful and he never wanted to not feel those things ever again.

And life was good. For the first time that Perfect Tommy could ever remember, life was good.

Sure, he still had the attitude. He had had it too long, it was part of his personality now. But when he pushed and prodded this time it wasn't to get in the first strike... it was just having fun with his friends... His friends... Now, that sounded good. Felt good too.

But everything comes at a price. When somebody felt good, they could also feel bad.

Rawhide was murdered.

And that hurt. Hurt more than anything he had ever remembered hurting. They had convinced him that they would never make him leave. But, apparently, they could leave him.

Sure, they got him back and that felt great. But, Perfect Tommy was no longer innocent of the price that came with caring. Pain, guilt, hate...

He suddenly became aware of consequences. When you play with guns, when you mix stuff that goes boom, when you fight bad guys, when you had a curiosity that killed the cat a few dozen times... you became all too framilar with the painful side of caring. And, of late, he had more than his share.

And, that morning, when he had left his lab assistant for two minutes unsupervised, which his own little experiment, when half his lab took the big boom, busting up the intern... it was the final straw.

That was it! He didn't want to care any more! He failed! He screwed up!

Buckaroo should of taken the hint! He should of left him where he had found him! He should of kicked him out long ago! He wasn't worth it! He should never have believed in this so-called "Perfect" Tommy!

A step behind, too late, too dumb, too weak...

So, why the hell did he even try?

Why the hell did he even care?

He could stop trying. He could stop caring. It would be so easy. A little needle prick and then nothing in the world, in the universe would matter. He could just drift away, lost in the brain-numbing, drug induced fog. Oblivious to all the trouble that simple existence brought with it. Oh, sweet, sweet oblivion...

"Hey, there, Perfect Tommy."

He looked up sharply to see the big frame of Rawhide lean up against the fence beside him. His heart skipped a beat, his mind screamed something he couldn't quite make out, his muscles tensed... and every ounce of his heart, body, and soul went to war with itself: run, escape into that world where nothing mattered, where he just didn't care; or stand, be strong, care, and take the pain.

"Been a rough day. Thought you'd of turned in by now." Rawhide said. He didn't look at the boy. He didn't have to. He'd been watching him long enough to know what was going through his head. And, despite the darkness, he knew what he clutched so desperately in his hand.

"Yea, well...." It surprised him to here his voice shake and crack. Damn it, why did have to care?!

Why? Because, if he didn't hurt when somebody died, he wouldn't care about the little girl who needed a new heart.

They stood in silence, watching the horses through the darkness, not really seeing them, but knowing every bit of them. Forever went by.

"What costs nothing is worth nothing."

Perfect Tommy glanced at Rawhide.

Rawhide continued to watch the horses. "I could never give up the bad times." he admitted as if talking to himself. "It isn't worth giving up the good."

Perfect Tommy stared at him. The good? Getting a little girl a new heart, putting down the bad guys, helping to feed a starving village, an experiment's success, cheering crowd, fighting back a volcano, delivering medical supplies, saving the world from aliens, setting slaves free, strumming on his guitar, playing cards, getting drunk with the guys, Christmas, morning coffee, driving fast, teasing the hell out of New Jersey, reprimanding Rawhide about his wardrobe, flirting with with the girls particularly with their boys standing right there, his friends, his family...

He turned back to the horses. "It isn't worth giving up the good." he agreed. Taking a deep breath, feeling as if it was the first fresh air he had breathed in in a very long time, then let it out in a long sigh. "Do me a favor?"

"Yup?"

Without looking at the cowboy, he held the syringe out to him. "Take this away."

"Yup." Rawhide took it without explanation, without another word about it. Once out of Tommy's hands it simply no longer existed.

Perfect Tommy looked up at him once again. "How'd you know where I was?" he wondered.

Rawhide nodded to the opposite hand of the one that had clutched so tightly to the drug.

Perfect Tommy glanced down. Clutched even more tightly was his go- phone, open and connected to Rawhide's. He didn't remember calling him. How... He looked up at his friend one more time.

But Rawhide was already walking away. "Get some sleep, Perfect Tommy." he ordered over his shoulder. "You've got breakfast duty... and no left over pizza!"