"A man should know how to use one of these," his uncle was telling him. "Time might come when you need to defend yourself, defend your family. There's fear of this thing, and there's respect of it." Uncle Joe pointed at the gun, then looked directly at Eric again. "Fear can be good. It can help you keep a healthy respect. I had to promise your father a lot to get him to let me teach you, so you remember what I tell you."
"Yes, sir," Eric replied quietly.
They spent the afternoon at the shooting range. Eric had no trouble learning guns, ammunition, safety rules. He recited Joe's lessons back to him verbatim. But the aiming, the doing, the putting into practice the lessons he memorized proved more difficult than he had expected. He grew frustrated quickly that he could not make the holes in the target appear where he wanted. He thumbed the safety on and started to unload the weapon.
"Whoa, Eric," Joe was suddenly behind him. "You can't expect to be good at this with just six shots."
"I can't do it." Eric had always been the best at whatever he tried. The best, or not at all.
Joe pressed the target pistol back into his hands, and stood behind him. Together their arms pointed down the range, toward the target. "This takes practice, and time. Don't aim the gun, aim your hand. You've got to train your eye and your arm to work together, teach your arm and the rest of you to be steady. Now focus, and don't quit until I tell you."
As he practiced, Eric followed his uncle's instructions to focus. The world narrowed to the ground beneath his feet, the breath in his lungs, the gun in his hand, the target in the distance.
He had been alone for twenty minutes, but his heart refused to slow down. He shivered in the clammy air, but he couldn't stop sweating. He had been alone for twenty minutes, stewing in his shame and his fear. Eric had no idea when his father would arrive.
All he wanted, all he had ever wanted, was to fit in. Fat kids had two options in school: be funny or be alone. He had always been too smart and too proud to play the clown. Even when he lost the fat that was his social anchor, patterns were too well-established to change. High school was no different than anything that had come before. He was left alone because he always had been.
So when they approached him, inviting him to their table and into their group, who could blame him for following? How could he resist the lure of simply belonging? At first it felt wonderful, and he began to like his new friends. Sometimes late at night, when he was alone, he questioned why they liked him back. He wasn't particularly athletic or cool--but he desperately wanted to be. So he went along with everything they did, willfully ignoring the twinges in his gut and his father's voice in his ears.
Tonight's escapade wasn't any different, really. They had been getting more confident as their hoarded wealth grew, as it became obvious that the easiest way to get what they wanted was to take it. Tonight the only difference was, Eric got caught.
He had tripped on his suddenly-too-big feet and landed hard on the kitchen tile. His 'friends' hadn't even looked back.
The door opened suddenly, causing Eric to startle in his chair. An officer stood in the doorway. She said, "Your father just got here. He's filling out some paperwork, and you'll be out of here shortly." She gave him a small smile as she closed the door—the poor boy looked scared enough, and she hoped she'd never see him again.
Eric didn't see her smile. Instead he had caught sight of her gun in its holster at her waist. He felt the blood run from his face and he let out a rush of air as pieces started to fall into place. The shoplifting, the break-ins, the cajoling and coaxing. Uncle Joe teaching him how to shoot, his friends teaching him how to pick locks. The gleaming metal in Uncle Joe's shop.
He had never belonged. Not really. Those nagging questions came back. Why did they like you? They didn't. Why did you like them? Eric wasn't sure he could answer.
He had been a tool, a means to an end. At least he figured it out on his own. At least he figured it out in time, before he did something really stupid. A man should know better.
Foreman straightened his t-shirt and wiped at his sweating face. He had been alone for twenty-five minutes, and his father was coming.
Foreman was startled to recognize the violently orange motorcycle in the gun club's only handicapped parking spot. House wasn't supposed to be back at work for another week. There had never before been a danger of running into him outside of the hospital; the man never went anywhere. Foreman smiled as his eyes narrowed. He knew Cuddy had approved the ketamine treatment, and that only Wilson had been in contact with House. For once, he would be the first to know something.
House was at the counter filling out paperwork, his back squarely to the door as Foreman entered. Foreman stepped up next to him and nonchalantly signed himself in, flashing his membership card at the attendant. Five, four, three...
"What the hell are you doing here?" came a familiar snarl two seconds early.
"I'm a member here," Foreman replied, using his best 'talking to small child' inflection. "You?"
"Concealed-carry permit. Think Cuddy would mind?" House pushed the paperwork to the attendant, who disappeared into a back room.
"It might have come to your attention only recently, but it's pretty common knowledge that crazy people and guns don't mix." At this House rolled his eyes, and Foreman had to ask. "Why get a permit now? You've had a gun in your office for months."
"I've had a permit for years," House sighed as he waved a dismissive hand. "Having that pistol in my desk drawer didn't help me much, now did it?"
"You think one of us should have used it?" Foreman asked incredulously. "To defend you? Seeing as you were bleeding out, I'll forgive your missing the little detail that the shooter was between us and that gun."
"Oh, don't get your panties in a bunch," House wheedled. "I know that." He set his elbow on a gun case on the counter. "I'm here for target practice." As the attendant returned, House muttered under his breath, "When I shoot back, I want to be sure to hit the guy."
"I can't tell you how that comforts me," Foreman said as he headed toward the shooting range.
A few minutes later, Foreman's shouted name echoed down the empty range. Foreman looked up and arched an eyebrow as House strode toward him, gun case in one hand and earmuffs in the other. No cane.
Foreman opened his own gun case and retrieved his ammunition. House stepped up next to him and set his own case on the counter. As Foreman assembled his target pistol, House pulled a snub-nosed handgun from his case. "How sad that Babyshoes never got his gun back," Foreman remarked as House began to load it.
House looked from the small silver .38 in his hand to the sleek black .22 in Foreman's. Once, twice. He frowned. "Yours is bigger."
Foreman smirked. "Can I get that in writing?"
House canted his chin at Foreman's gun. "How good are you with that thing?"
"Fifty bucks says I'm better than you."
"A hundred, three target sheets. And you keep your mouth shut." House pointedly shifted his weight to his right leg and stuck out his right hand.
For the first time since he'd been hired, they agreed on a bet with a handshake. "You're on." Foreman settled his hearing protection over his head.
House put his own earmuffs on and walked past him. He didn't take the booth next to Foreman's but kept walking until an empty booth was between them. He looked back and wiggled his eyebrows. Foreman raised his in response.
"Wazt go oo cudd ache coff!!" House shouted at him.
Foreman moved an earmuff. "What?"
"You know it ruins a joke to have to repeat it," House sighed, exasperated. Foreman smirked back, pleased to have House's goat for once. House repeated, "Wasn't too long ago you couldn't even make coffee. I don't want to get shot again." House turned and stepped into his booth.
Foreman replaced his earmuff and stepped into his own booth. He hadn't been to the range since the biopsy. As he brought the gun up and fired the first few rounds, he decided that he didn't particularly care if he lost to House, or if he had to work to regain his aim. He liked the way target shooting had always required him to quiet himself and focus.
He hadn't been able to concentrate like this since the isolation room. Since his father had left him, alone and in pain, to go pray for him. With each squeeze of the trigger, his world shrank until it encompassed just the target and the gun that was an extension of him. The world narrowed, and life was simple. Foreman reveled in the surety of it.
A man could find himself with such focus.