The Hula Hoop of Truth

Title: The Hula Hoop of Truth
Author: Jilly James
Fandom: 9-1-1
Genre: Procedural Drama, Contemporary, Canon Divergence
Pairing: Gen, pre-Evan Buckley/Eddie Diaz
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Discussions of violence and canon-level situations, anti-Ana.
Author Note: There’s some discussion of the sniper shooting and mental health issues herein. Re: Ana. I don’t care for her, but I don’t hate her. It’s not my intention to portray her as evil, I just think she’s misguided in this.
Timeline: Occurs between seasons 4 & 5
Challenge: Big Moxie, Q1 2022 – Canon Divergence
Beta: meh.
Word Count: 8,410
Summary: Buck has something to say to the Diazes and finds an unconventional way to go about it.

~*~

Buck wrestled the custom hula hoop out of the back of his Jeep, being careful not to damage any of the holographic rainbow tape that wrapped the tubing.

It was huge at nearly five feet across and eye blindingly colorful in a way that Christopher would love. He’d had to flex the hoop to get it into his Jeep but Amanda, the friend who made custom hoops, had assured him that as long as he didn’t actually bend it that it’d regain its shape with no issue. It’d whacked him in the head the entire drive, so he hoped this was worth it.

As promised, the hoop was perfectly round the minute it cleared the rear of the vehicle, so he gathered the hoop and his bag and headed into Eddie’s house. He’d picked an afternoon for this when he knew Ana wouldn’t be available to drop by. She was actually in San Diego for a couple of days, visiting her family, and would be back tomorrow. Buck had been on shift yesterday, so today was his opportunity.

On the surface, there was nothing wrong with Ana, but Buck couldn’t stand her. He knew it was irrational, but he felt like she was taking something away from him. The truth was that if something were being taken from Buck, the person doing it was Eddie, but it was easier to focus on Ana than what the hell was going on with his best friend this year.

He also found himself nitpicking her interactions with Christopher, mentally finding fault with every little misstep she made in her interactions with Chris. Logically, he knew she needed time and a bit of guidance but, emotionally, he felt she should be doing better somehow.

Regardless of how he felt, he put up a good front for Eddie of supporting the whole Ana…thing. Ana wasn’t even the issue right now. The Diazes were.

Using his key, he let himself into Eddie’s house, calling out, “Hello, Diazes! I come bearing a gift. Well, it’s sort of a gift.” In the end, neither would likely thank him for this.

“Buck!” Chris called happily from the living room, peering over the back of the couch as he scrambled to his knees on the cushions, eyes going wide at the sight of the hoop. “Wow. What’s that?”

Eddie paused the movie they’d been watching and twisted to look, eyebrows shooting up and an obvious question in his eyes.

“I shall explain this in just a moment.” Buck kicked off his shoes and dropped his bag, taking note that Eddie had his sling on.

Eddie was at the point in his recovery when he only needed to wear the sling about half time, but he hated it, so fought putting it on. The only way he’d be wearing it was if he’d overdone it and couldn’t function without it, or if Christopher gave him the tragic eyes, having noticed his father’s pain. Buck would bet his Jeep on the latter. Christopher was getting really good at noticing when Eddie had pushed himself too hard and needed his sling.

He propped the hoop up and went into the living room, dropping a kiss on Christopher’s head, getting a hug around his middle in return. Chris didn’t sit back on the sofa like normal because he stayed on his knees so he could stare at the hoop.

“Is that really a hula hoop, Buck?” Eddie asked.

“Yep.”

“That’s a hula hoop?” Chris leaned over the back of the couch as if that’d make the hoop clearer until Eddie grabbed his shirt with an exasperated sigh.

“Chris, sit.”

With a huff, Chris sat and turned his attention to Buck. “Why is it so big?”

“Custom hoops can come much bigger even than that,” Buck replied absently looking around the living room then nodding decisively and began moving the coffee table.

“Are you going to use it in here?” Chris squeaked.

“No, he’s not,” Eddie said sternly.

“I’m not going to hula hoop, but I am going to use it. I’m not sure I even could use a hoop after all these years, but I bet your dad could. He seems like he’s got good hip swivel going on.”

Eddie made a little choking sound as Chris laughed.

When the floor was clear, Buck went for the hoop then came back, standing in the clear open space, propping up the hoop. He took a deep breath and steadied his nerves. “This is the hula hoop of truth.”

Chris gaped at him.

Eddie barked a laugh. “You can’t be serious.”

“Well, it was this or a spirit stick, Eds, and I just couldn’t bear the idea of it.”

“Tell me you didn’t actually see that movie,” Eddie said with a grin.

“Maddie made me.”

Eddie bit his lip and nodded. “Sophia.”

Christopher just looked confused.

Buck cleared his throat. “Anyway, this is your intervention, Diazes, because I am tired of this crap between the two of you.”

Eddie’s mouth dropped open, and Christopher’s eyes went wide.

Buck plowed on. “I love you two more than any other people on Earth, but these shenanigans have to stop. You two are so caught up in taking care of each other that neither of you are getting what you actually need.

“Eddie, you rightly want to take care of and protect Chris, but he’s not blind or oblivious to what’s going on. He’s a smart kid. He knows what happened to you, and no one talking about it isn’t helping. You trying to hide how you’re feeling isn’t helping.

“Christopher pretends to be okay so you won’t worry; you pretend to be okay so he won’t worry. Christopher has stopped wanting to go anywhere and do normal kid things like plan his birthday in two weeks.” He looked right at Chris. “It’s summer and you don’t want to go anywhere or hang out with your friends, and this has to stop. The co-dependency is freaking real.”

Buck pushed the hoop over so it fell with a little thunk, creating a five-foot across ring on the floor. “Inside this circle, you only speak truth. Your truth. You’re only allowed to speak about what is true for you and you can’t speak truth for anyone else.”

Chris had gone from looking a little indignant and defensive to looking curious. “What do you mean?”

“For instance, if I think you’re mad at me right now, I can say that, based on your expression, I think you’re mad at me because that’s my truth. However, I can’t say for certain that you’re mad because your feelings are your own, and that’s your truth; I can’t truly know how you feel.”

“Oh.” Chris’ brow furrowed. “My teacher says we can’t read other people’s minds, and sometimes their actions don’t match their feelings.”

“Right. Which is why it’s important sometimes to ask what’s going on.” Buck kept his focus on Chris because he had a feeling that Eddie was getting annoyed—at the very least. “That’s rule one of the circle—only speak personal truth. Rule two is that when you step into the circle, you must share something. Small or big, you must share a truth with the people you love. Rule three is no problem-solving.”

“Problem-solving?” Chris parroted.

“The circle is for expressing how you feel, not for other people trying to fix you or your problems or whatever. If you tell me you hate math—”

Christopher laughed at that because he was quite good at math and enjoyed it. Much more than his father, anyway.

“—I can listen and ask questions to try to understand, but within the circle, I’m not allowed to try to solve the problem. I can ask you if you want to brainstorm solutions, but if you say no, that’s it. If you say yes, I can then further ask if you want a tutor, I can ask if you want more study time built into your schedule, but I can’t decide the course of action that will ‘fix’ the problem. Talking is fine, solving is not unless you come up with the solution on your own. Now, some problem-solving will happen outside the circle, but within the circle, everyone has to feel safe to express how they feel without everyone trying to fix it. Because sometimes you don’t want to be fixed, you just want to be heard.”

Christopher bit his lip, eyes a little misty, and nodded emphatically. “I get it.” He began getting off the couch. “Can I get in the circle now?”

“After I finish with the rules, buddy, because there’s a special one. Even though there’s no problem solving and it’s about being heard not fixed, your dad is obligated to fix some things if you tell him about them. For instance, if someone is hurting you.”

“No one is hurting me!” Chris declared hotly.

“I know, and that’s why it’s a good example. If someone were, and you told him about it, he’d need to do something about it outside the circle even if within the circle he promised just to listen to you.”

“Completely listen?” Christopher hedged. “Like hear the whole thing?”

“Christopher?” Eddie sounded a little wounded. “Am I not listening to you, mijo? Please tell me.”

Chris’ lips pressed into a thin line. “In the circle, Daddy. I like the idea of it.”

Buck met Eddie’s eyes, seeing a lot of conflict there. “You guys need a different communication outlet, Eds. Please trust me.”

Eddie nodded slowly, obviously hesitant but going along with it.

Buck rubbed his hands together. “Okay, Diaz one,” he pointed to Chris, “and Diaz two,” he pointed to Eddie, “into the circle. Sit cross-legged on the floor. Like so.” Buck folded himself down into a half lotus.

“How come I’m Diaz two?” Eddie protested getting to his feet, expression a little pinched with pain. “I’m older.”

“I’m cuter,” Chris countered seriously, carefully getting his balance as he got off the couch.

Eddie barked out a laugh.

“Oooh. Burn, Eds. Beauty before age.” Buck held out a hand for Christopher to step into the hula hoop and allow him to hold on as he lowered himself to the floor then they fist-bumped. “Besides, you’re the one who said Christopher was always the top priority. Hence, Diaz number one.”

Eddie’s expression shifted to something soft as he stood above them outside the ring. “Yeah, I did. And I can always count on you to keep your word on that.” He blew out a breath. “All right, let’s do this.” He stepped over the hula hoop and took the hand Buck offered to brace himself as he lowered himself to the ground.

Despite the size of the hoop, their knees were touching.

Eddie immediately looked expectantly at Chris. “Am I not listening to you, bud?”

Chris opened his mouth then immediately snapped it shut. After a few seconds, he looked to Buck. “This is harder than I thought.”

Buck had been prepared for them to struggle with this, so he’d come ready to bare his own soul to get them moving in the right direction. “Want me to go first?”

“Please.” Chris leaned forward eagerly, arms braced on his knees.

Though he had a vague idea of some things he could say, he hadn’t wanted to mentally rehearse anything because he didn’t want to come across as over-prepared.

“I hate snow peas,” Buck finally began, taking a small thing to segue into something bigger.

Chris giggled and then clapped a hand over his mouth. “Sorry, Bucky. I know you’re being serious, but we already know that. It’s why Daddy always eats your snow peas when we eat out.”

Buck smiled softly. “I know you guys figured that out. Weird that most people don’t. But it’s such a small issue to dislike something, and usually I can tell people that I don’t like a thing. For instance, everyone knows I hate kiwi.”

“Yeah, but you won’t tell anyone why,” Eddie said dryly.

“Uhm.” Buck glanced at Chris, feeling the answer was way too adult for Chris. His mother gave him a kiwi to peel when he was a kid and, to his kid brain, it seemed like peeling a testicle. It grossed him out and set him up to loathe kiwi. “Maybe I’ll explain it sometime. Anyway, the thing about snow peas is that Bobby has this frozen vegetable blend he likes for stir-fries for our shift.”

He focused on Chris to explain a little about the fire station. “We’re limited in how many grocery store runs we can make, and perishable foods get consumed first, so we have to have a stock of frozen foods for days between grocery runs. There are a lot of really good frozen fruits and vegetables, and there’s this one blend Bobby really likes, but it’s riddled with snow peas. Sometimes, I swear it’s half.”

Buck rubbed the back of his neck. “When he found it, he was waxing poetic about how it was an organic blend and the quality of the vegetables was high and nutritious, and how it was affordable as well. And I know logically that telling him I hate snow peas, which I can easily pick out, doesn’t mean he can’t buy the vegetables, but it felt like I would be disappointing him. Like I was criticizing the vegetables he was enthused about or something. It’s really silly, but there is a point to this.”

“I think I get the point,” Eddie said gently, his expression soft.

Buck cleared his throat. “With people I care about, it’s really hard for me to assert my needs if I worry I’m going to disappoint them or upset them. I’m trying to get better about it, but it’s still a struggle because I don’t want the people I love to think I’m too much work.”

“Bucky…” Chris looked sad. “You’re never too much work, but even if were tons of work, you’d be totally worth it because you’re the best ever.”

Smiling, Buck reached out to squeeze Christopher’s hand. “Thanks, Superman. I appreciate it.” Christopher’s unreserved love for him had gone a long way toward healing some hurts Buck hadn’t even been aware that he carried.

“Are there things you don’t tell us,” Chris pressed, “because you think that? That we’ll think you’re work?”

“Sometimes,” Buck admitted honestly.

“I’d rather know,” Chris said firmly. “Because I never want to get rid of you. You’re my…” He hesitated. “You’re my Bucky.” And it sounded a lot like the way Chris said “Daddy” and it made Buck yearn for things that were further out of reach than ever before.

“Me too,” Eddie said softly. “I would rather know.”

“And that’s why we have this thing.” Buck gestured to the rainbow hoop. “It’s just a visual way to say, ‘hey, there are rules and boundaries for what’s about to be said,’ so that we can get things off our chest.”

Chris looked right at Eddie. “I’m scared you’re going to die.”

Eddie looked like someone had sucker-punched him, but Buck had no idea how that was a surprise to Eddie considering he’d been gunned down in the street less than six weeks ago.

“Mommy’s gone, so I’ll be all alone. And I’d miss you.” Chris sniffled and wiped at his nose. Buck reached outside the circle for a tissue and pressed it into Chris’ hand. He wasn’t at all surprised that this is what Chris needed to say. “Bucky and I talked, and I know it wasn’t about your job, that bad people try to hurt others, and sometimes those people are firefighters and sometimes they’re bankers and sometimes,” he stared at his lap, “they’re school kids.”

Buck hated that the world they lived in required kids to do active shooter drills.

Chris looked back up at Eddie, who looked like he’d been flayed wide open. “I know it’s not about your job, Daddy, I know it, but I also blame it.” Chris’ breath hitched. “I don’t want you to ever leave again, and I’m scared of being alone and being stuck living with Abuelo and Grandma. I just want you to stay.” He began to openly cry, shoulders shaking as tears poured down his face.

Eddie was reaching for Chris with his good arm, and Buck helped move Chris onto Eddie’s lap. There was a wince at a little too much pressure against his bad shoulder, but he held Chris tightly.

Buck rubbed Chris’ back and met Eddie’s pained gaze. When Eddie seemed set to say something, Buck shook his head, gesturing to the hoop. “Let him get his bearings first and decide where this goes.”

Eddie’s eyes were filled with tears, and he blinked them away as he held Chris close. His lips pursed with displeasure, but he nodded his acceptance of waiting to talk further.

These two really needed to get in the habit of fully listening to one another before reacting.

Chris was the one who finally pulled away, sniffling and wiping at his face, glasses pushed up so he could mop up his eyes. He settled back on the floor cross-legged, looking up at Eddie earnestly, eyes still glassy with tears.

“I don’t want to blame your job, but I get all mixed up inside, and I worry so much.” Chris blew out a breath and nodded decisively. “That’s it.”

Eddie cleared his throat and finally said, “I know I need to offer my own…truth,” he glanced at Buck with a vague accusation, “but before I do, I just want to say something about what you said.” He held up a hand quickly. “It’s not problem-solving. More giving you some information you didn’t already know.”

“What is it?”

“I will always do my best to come home to you, but if I can’t, even if I were just stuck in the hospital for a really long time, you wouldn’t go live with Abuelo and Grandma; you’d go to Buck. I made sure of that.”

Chris’ eyes got wide and his gaze flicked to Buck. “To Buck? Really?”

“Yeah, mijo. Is that okay?”

Christopher nodded fervently. “It’s perfect. I want you both, but if something happens to you, I want to stay with my Buck.”

“Then that’s good. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner.”

“Why didn’t you?”

Eddie blew out a breath. “Because I didn’t want to ask you to keep it a secret from your grandparents; it’s never fair to ask that kind of thing of you. I knew there’d be a big fight with them, and I didn’t want to deal with it. But that’s on me, Chris. I shouldn’t have let my issues with my parents get in the way of telling you about the arrangements I’d made for you.’

Reaching out, Eddie took Christopher’s hand in his. “Every parent is responsible for making sure their children are provided for in the event something terrible happens. I want you to have everything good and beautiful in life, and I know, if I’m not here, the person who’ll fight for you just as much as I would is Buck.”

Chris glanced at Buck and offered him a winning smile. “Yeah. Our Bucky is great, Dad. We should keep him.”

Buck gave a dramatic huff, and Chris laughed at him.

“We definitely should, mijo. Good idea.” Eddie’s expression turned pensive. “I think my own truth is that I’m…unsettled since the shooting.”

“Unsettled?” Chris echoed.

“I’m not sure why. I know it wasn’t truly a risk of my job but, like for you, it feels as if it was. It feels like I should avoid it so I won’t be in that situation again.” Eddie sighed. “It felt for a while there like I went back to war, and that scared me.”

Chris cocked his head. “It’s okay to be scared, Daddy. You tell me that all the time.”

“Fair point. And I know it’s okay to be scared up here,” he tapped his temple, “but sometimes it doesn’t quite sink in down here.” He set his hand over his heart.

“Does your heart hurt?” Chris asked guilelessly.

“It does,” Eddie admitted after a beat.

“Were you afraid of telling me?”

“I think so. I didn’t want you to worry about me more than you already were.”

“But—” Chris threw up his hands dramatically. “I worry because I don’t know.”

Buck set a hand on Chris’ knee to rein him in a little. Chris settled down and held on to Buck’s hand like that was why it had been put there. Buck bit back a smile.

“I know, mijo, but you’re my son, and it’s my job to protect you. Sharing all my adult worries with you wouldn’t be right.”

“But can’t you just say that? That you’re not all right but that you’re getting help.” Chris hesitated. “Are you getting help?”

Eddie’s mouth opened and closed several times. “Buck is a really great help to me—to us—but I know that’s not what you mean.” He blew out a breath. “I think maybe it’s time for me to talk to someone.”

Chris nodded fervently then picked at the side seam on his cargo shorts. “Maybe I can too?”

“You want to talk to a therapist?”

“You mean like I did after the tsunami?”

“Yeah, that’s the kind of therapist I’m referring to.”

Chris nodded. “I think so. He helped me set up my plan, and I like it.” They’d learned during those sessions that Chris was a little prone to anxiety issues anyway, but they’d gotten severe after the death of his mother; the tsunami had just been a catalyst. The therapist had worked with Chris and Eddie to set up a plan to structure Christopher’s life in a way that eased his anxiousness.

“Oh.” Eddie exchanged a look with Buck, seeming to be utterly overwhelmed. “Of course, mijo. Anytime you need that, you can have it.”

Christopher’s shoulders sagged as if a weight had fallen away. “But maybe not the same doctor as last time?”

“You didn’t like him?” Eddie prodded gently.

“He was good, but he was kind of for babies.”

“Then we’ll get you a new one,” Eddie said briskly

Buck fought back a smile as he offered, “Therapists who work with children sometimes specialize in certain age ranges. Those who work with a variety of ages alter their approach to suit the age in question or the mental and emotional needs of their patient. You’re about to be a pre-teen and you may be outside of his age range now, but it could just be that you need to let him know that you need a different, more grown-up approach. The bigger question is: did you like him? Because, if you did, it’s worth asking the question. If you didn’t, there’s no point in finding out if a pre-teen is part of his specialty.”

“I liked him,” Chris assured. “He was nice and easy to talk to. I just don’t want to play with toys at the doctor’s office. That’s for babies.”

Buck bit his lip. “Duly noted.” He was absolutely certain Chris’ sessions had involved more than toys, but Chris was very focused on the part he didn’t want to reproduce.

“Mijo,” Eddie began, looking thoughtful, “is this what you meant when you said I don’t listen to you all the way?”

Chris looked pained but nodded. “You try so fast to fix it, Dad, and I love you so much, but sometimes—”

Eddie waited for a few seconds but when Christopher didn’t continue, he said, “I get it. In full, living color just now, I got what you must be talking about, and I apologize for jumping to conclusions about what you were trying to tell me. We’re a team, and I promise we’ll sit and talk things through.” He looked down at the ground and gave an exaggerated scowl at the hoop. “Even if we have to get out this dumb hoop to do it.”

Chris laughed. “It’s not dumb, Dad.”

“Yeah.” Buck mock-scowled. “Don’t diss the Hoop of Truth, Eds.”

Chris fiddled with the edge of the hoop, rotating it a little. “Even if we have to talk about something more than once? Because sometimes it takes us Diazes a while to be coherent about our feelings.” Chris shot Buck a sly look.

Buck facepalmed. “You little troll,” he mumbled. He looked up to find both of them smiling at him. “What? It’s a totally fair observation. You’re both a little thick. I had to put you in a rainbow hula hoop to get you to talk.”

“And now we’re both going to get therapy,” Eddie said dryly. “Mission accomplished…?”

“You ask it like that was my goal, Eds. I’m not mad at the outcome, but I just want you two to be okay.”

“And what about you?”

“What about me?” Buck asked in confusion.

They both looked at him expectantly.

He held up both hands in a surrender gesture. “I’m already in therapy, thank you very much.

“I thought you had phased back…?”

“Not since the shooting, Eddie,” Buck said as gently as he could.

“Oh.”

Chris scooched a little closer. “Was it scary, Bucky?” The question sounded more like a need to understand rather than morbid curiosity.

“Yeah,” Buck conceded reluctantly.

“Daddy says he doesn’t remember much of it.”

“Flashes,” Eddie admitted.

Buck didn’t have that luxury. “I’m glad your dad doesn’t remember much.”

“Can you tell me?” Chris asked.

Buck shot Eddie an alarmed look.

Eddie gave a cautious nod, as if he trusted Buck to determine how much was safe for a kid to know. Chris already knew more than any kid should have to know. He knew a sniper had been targeting LAFD members and had ultimately shot several firefighters, including Bobby and Eddie.

“Um.” Buck cleared his throat. “We had just finished up with a call, and your dad was standing in front of me at the front of the engine from station 133. Your dad had come to work a few minutes early to check into this situation from an old call, and when he shared his concerns with me, we decided to take the command truck to join the 133 on the scene and check on this kid. So, I hadn’t even changed into my uniform yet.

“The call was over and we were talking about heading back to our station. And then it happened.” Buck would never forget that moment, frozen in time, of Eddie’s blood spraying across his face. “Your dad had been shot when he was standing right in front of me. I don’t think either of us knew what had happened at first. Maybe not until the second bullet. For me, anyway.”

“How many shots were there?” Eddie asked, brows drawn together in confusion.

“Uh. A lot. We were pinned down for a bit. I don’t remember.” Buck rubbed the back of his head. “Your dad fell back and hit the ground, and Captain Mehta tackled me behind the truck and held me in place as the sniper continued to fire.”

Buck stayed focused on Chris to make sure the story wasn’t going to overwhelm him, even though it seemed the greater risk for overwhelm was to Eddie. Christopher’s eyes were wide, but he didn’t seem freaked out. Yet.

“Your dad was bleeding a lot, but I couldn’t get to him because the sniper was still shooting. So, I rolled under the truck and grabbed him by the arm. The bad arm. Sorry about that, Eds,” Buck apologized belatedly.

“I think you’re forgiven,” Eddie said softly. “That part I do remember though.”

“I’ll bet.” Buck blew out a breath. “Anyway, I dragged him under the truck, then out the opposite side away front he sniper. I got him up on my shoulder and loaded him into the cab of the truck. The sniper was still shooting, so it was a little difficult to get out of there, but we managed it. The guys from the 133 did an amazing job getting your dad to the hospital. I did first aid in the cab.” He shrugged. “Honestly, your dad is okay because he was with firefighters when it happened. When a sniper shoots someone like that and there are no first responders to get them out right away, it can be much harder to save them.” He didn’t want to go too far down that path. “And that’s what happened.”

Chris’ lower lip was wobbling. “Bucky, you went under a fire truck? You hate to go under fire trucks.”

“Buck?” Eddie asked, sounding confused.

Buck sighed and finally met Eddie’s pained gaze. “Remember when Denny and Harry showed Chris the newsreels from the bombing?”

Eddie’s expression soured briefly, but he nodded. That had been a rough few days. Chris had had some epic meltdowns.

“Well, after that, Chris asked if I ever had a hard time being around fire trucks. I said no, but that sometimes I didn’t much care for being under them. Sometimes, maintenance days suck.”

Eddie swore softly under his breath.

Chris got to his knees and collapsed into Buck, rough in a way that he couldn’t be with his father while they were being so careful with Eddie’s shoulder. He clung as tightly as his little arms had ever managed. “Thank you for fighting your fear to save my daddy.”

“Jesus, kid, you’re killing me here.” Buck squeezed him back. “I’d do anything for you or your dad.”

“I know,” Chris whispered against his shoulder. “You prove it all the time.”

Eddie moved closer and carded his fingers through Chris’ hair, obviously upset and struggling with the fact that his mobility was hindered. He and Buck exchanged looks, and Eddie nodded while giving a faint smile.

Buck figured he had done okay with that explanation

Chris finally broke away, but he didn’t climb off Buck’s lap, he just turned around and settled back against Buck’s chest as if Buck were his personal seat. Buck gave a dramatic huff, and Chris laughed, though it was a little watery sounding.

“Did you have anything else, Daddy?” Chris asked. “I want to be sure I heard you fully.”

Buck was glad Chris couldn’t see the smile he hid in Christopher’s hair.

Eddie didn’t even try to hide his smile as he shook his head. “I think I said the important part. It’s hard for me to admit when I need help.”

“Even if it’s just a pain pill or your sling?” Chris asked.

“Wow. Busted,” Buck faux-whispered.

Eddie glared at them but then focused on Christopher. “I guess so. Though I think the pain pill is a little that it makes me fuzzy, and I don’t like feeling out of control if there isn’t someone around that I trust to take care of things.” Eddie’s gaze flicked to Buck’s briefly. “So, I’ll take one as soon as we’re done.”

Buck felt like that was a huge admission for Eddie, and he could tell Eddie was about shared out. He ruffled Christopher’s hair. “I think we did good for our first hoop session. We all shared something we’ve been keeping inside, and I’m proud of us. I think we deserve pizza and ice cream for dinner.” He held out a hand for Eddie to use to push himself up off the floor if he wanted it.

Eddie’s hand settled on Buck’s and he started to push up.

Chris was notably silent, sitting still in Buck’s lap. Suddenly, he blurted out, “I don’t like Ms. Ana!”

Eyes going wide, Eddie wobbled and sat back down hard, grimacing in pain. “What?”

“I’m sorry, Daddy, I’m so sorry, but I don’t. I just don’t want her around. She’s nice, but I hate it when she’s here.” Christopher was rigid in Buck’s arms, practically vibrating in place.

Buck smoothed Christopher’s hair back and pressed a kiss to his temple. “It’s okay. You can say whatever you need to say, kiddo. Just get it out. Your dad and I are both listening to every word.”

Chris took a shuddery breath. “You say it’s okay that I have anxiety and that I have my day structured to make myself feel better. That it’s all right to keep people out of my room if I don’t want them in there, that it’s all right to have privacy. That I don’t have to touch people or accept hugs from them if I don’t want it.”

“And I meant it, mijo,” Eddie says firmly. “I absolutely meant it.”

“But she says that I’ll only get better if I push. If I make myself uncomfortable. That I shouldn’t baby my emotions. And then she deliberately tries to make me uncomfortable! She changes the schedule and goes into my room and moves Mom’s picture!” Chris was panting for breath. “I don’t like it. She’s so nice, but I don’t like her.”

Eddie looked, again, like someone had split him wide open.

Chris knuckled at his eyes, wiping away tears. “One reason I don’t want to leave and be with my friends is that I don’t trust her with you. I don’t feel like you’re safe around her. I can’t let her hurt you the way she’s hurting me.”

Ay Dios, mi hijo.” Eddie crowded into Christopher’s space, getting his arm around Chris, even though he was in Buck’s lap. He leaned forward and pressed his lips against Christopher’s forehead, murmuring against his skin, “Lo siento, nene, lo sentimos mucho.”

Buck was utterly floored because he had no idea that Ana had been waging an exposure therapy campaign on Christopher’s anxiety issues. She probably thought she was qualified because of her degree, but doing this without consulting Eddie and a trained therapist was next-level bullshit.

He struggled with his own tears as Eddie pressed kisses against Christopher’s temple, continuing to murmur softly in Spanish.

Chris held tightly to Eddie. One hand on his good shoulder, the other fisted in the shirt at his father’s waist. He was always so careful with Eddie since the shooting.

Eddie pulled back and peered closely at Christopher. “This one you have to let me fix, mijo.”

“But you like her, Dad,” Chris replied with a distinct wobble in his voice.

Eddie’s jaw clenched, and Buck decided to intervene. He stood Christopher in front of him, keeping his hands out so Chris could balance as they stared at each other. “You are so much like your dad that it both charms and alarms me in turns. So, listen carefully, little Eddie. There is nothing your father wants more in the world than for you to be happy.”

“But I want him to be happy too.”

“I know. It’s so wonderful how you love each other so very much that the other’s happiness matters more than anything. But in trying to make each other happy, can you see that now you’re both unhappy? Sometimes you have to tell the truth and risk short-term unhappiness to gain long-term happiness. Make sense?”

Chris nodded miserably, actually quite a bit taller than Buck in this position.

“It’s hard to have these conversations, and you did so good expressing what you feel, and now your dad has to fix this because someone is hurting you.”

Sniffling, Chris nodded. “But it’s not like a physical hurt.”

“But it kind of is. Because when your anxiety gets bad, your heart races and you have a hard time sleeping. Now you’re not wanting to leave the house without your dad because you’re worried about what will happen to him without you. That’s taking a toll on all parts of you, not just your mind. Okay?”

Chris nodded again. “I just want everything to be okay again, Bucky.”

“We’ll get there, buddy, I promise.”

“You’re not going to go away?”

“Not a chance. You, favorite Diaz, are stuck with me forever.” He pressed a kiss to each of Christopher’s hands, getting a watery giggle. “You ready to leave the circle. Because your dad is going to want to tell you how he’s going to fix this problem, and we agreed not in the circle. And then you can get cleaned up while your dad tells me about myself.”

Chris fell into him, hugging tightly. “I love you,” he whispered.

“I love you more than anything.”

Eddie was already on his feet, eyes more pinched with pain than before, but he smiled down at Christopher, offering his hand for them to step out of the hoop together. Buck stayed seated and watched them.

Eddie dropped to one knee in front of Chris, still holding hands. “I’m breaking up with Ana. There’s nothing you can say or do to stop that. Also, you will never see her again. If, for some reason, she absolutely has to come here, I’ll arrange it to be on a day when you can be with Buck. I told you that your personal boundaries matter, and I meant that with my whole heart. I won’t allow people in our house who make you feel unsafe. That’s part of our deal, remember?”

Christopher nodded.

“Okay, then. No guilt, no sadness. You absolutely did the right thing by telling me. I have to be your father first in this and fix the problem.”

“Are you sad though?”

“About breaking up with her? Or about you telling me?”

“Breaking up.”

Eddie blew out a breath. “Mostly I’m angry with her. She had no right to decide to fix things about you that you were already working on or had under control.”

Christopher’s program for managing his anxiety was in part controlling his environment and his schedule. He’d been doing well with the steps he’d taken, so Eddie and Chris had never revisited any of it. Buck had written off Christopher’s emerging issues lately as being about Eddie and the shooting.

“So, I’m not sad,” Eddie continued. “I’m pleased you told me now, and I hope you’ll tell me these things sooner if something should ever happen again. Because what makes me sad is that you were hurting and didn’t feel like you could tell me.”

Chris sniffled and a few tears started to fall. “I’m sorry, Dad.”

“None of that, mijo. We’re fine—we’re a team, right? I love you. More than the sun, moon, and stars combined. You’re my very heart; just please talk to me when you’re hurt.”

“Okay.” Chris broke Eddie’s hold on his hand and leaned in for a hug, whispering something in his father’s ear that had Eddie turning red.

Eddie cleared his throat. “We’ll see.”

“Good,” Chris said firmly as he pulled away. “Can we keep the hoop?”

“Well, it’s Buck’s hoop.”

“It most assuredly is not,” Buck said firmly. “Do you have any idea how hard this was to get in my Jeep? Nope. No returns, no exchanges. Put it on a hook in the garage, Eds.”

“We should leave it in the house for now,” Chris said seriously.

Eddie raised a brow. “Oh?”

“We definitely need to talk more, Dad. Clearly, we needed an intervention.”

Eddie rolled his eyes. “I’m not sure letting you spend so much time with Buck has been such a great idea since you’re turning into him.”

Christopher giggled.

“So, maybe your Buck will take you to your room to play for a bit while I make a phone call?”

Christopher’s eyes went wide. “You’re going to do it now?”

“No point in waiting. Off you go.” He looked to Buck. “You mind?”

“Of course not.” Buck levered himself off the floor. “Come on, ultimate Diaz. Let’s go conquer your LEGOs.” Buck shot Eddie a concerned look.

“Don’t worry, Buck,” Eddie said softly. “I’ll keep a level head.”

Buck nodded and let Chris take his hand and lead him back to his room.

~*~

Eddie was sipping from a glass of tea, his phone resting on the table in front of him, when Buck entered the kitchen. His expression was no longer so pinched.

“You took your pain meds?”

“Before I even called. I didn’t plan to be on the phone long, and they take a bit to kick in. Chris?”

“He fell asleep against me in the middle of putting two LEGOs together. I figure the emotional overwhelm knocked him out. I know it’s a little late for him to nap, but I figure if we keep it thirty minutes or so, it won’t affect his ability to sleep tonight and it might recharge him a little.” He indicated his watch, which had about twenty-five minutes left on the timer.

Eddie nodded and gestured for Buck to sit at the table. “What were you trying to accomplish with this?”

“Honestly? I hoped you two would both get to the point that you got to fairly early on, which is admitting that you needed counseling. Because you do.” Buck rubbed his hand over his face. “I had no idea about Ana. You have to believe that.”

“Dios, Buck, of course I know that.”

“Because as much I respect your right to do whatever you want in your relationships, I’m not going to keep quiet if I know the person you’re dating is hurting your kid. I’d be all up in your face about that, Eds.”

Eddie gave him a soft smile. “I know. You’d never let Christopher be hurt, not even to protect my feelings. It’s the best thing about you.”

“Even better than my hula hoop?”

“Ass. That hoop. Chris is going to have my ass in that hoop all the time, telling me about stuff that I’m not supposed to fix.”

“Eh. If he gets out of control, turn it around on him and start telling him stuff he’s not allowed to try to fix. But I think he really just wants you two to talk—like, really communicate.

“Yeah, I’m getting that.” Eddie blew out a slow breath. “I had a hard time keeping my cool with Ana.”

“What’d she say?”

“Something about how children’s anxiety issues don’t get better if you let them wallow in them, and that letting a child keep adults out of their bedroom doesn’t make sense. That if she’s an authority figure in his life, she has a right to go into his room. She also said that she assumed I wouldn’t mind.”

Buck’s eyebrows shot up.

“Yeah, I called bullshit on that since she chose to only push his boundaries when I was asleep or not at home, typically when you were taking me to PT or to see the doctor. If she really thought I’d be okay with her changing the structure in Christopher’s life, she’d have talked to me about it and done it in front of me.”

“So, it’s over?”

So, so over. I told her I never want to see her again, that she’s not welcome to approach me or Christopher in any way. She has a few things here, but I told her to text me when she can come to get them; they’ll be left in a bag on the porch.”

“Wow.”

“I kept my cool. No yelling or anything.”

“I know, I’d have heard you. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry it came to this, but I’m not sorry we found out.”

“Well, hell, Buck, neither am I. She was hurting my kid. It makes me feel like I do want to yell at her, so it’s best I never see her again. Chris was settling after his mother’s death and the tsunami. The pandemic has been rough, but his program was working to help him deal. It makes me want to…” He trailed off and shook his head. “I have thoughts I have no business having.” The look he gave Buck was pleading. “How are you so good with all this and most people so bad?”

“You guys matter to me.”

Eddie was silent for a few moments. “You said you loved us more than any other people on Earth. Was that hyperbole for Chris?”

“No.” Buck decided not to elucidate.

“I’ve been neglecting our friendship for a while, and I apologize, Evan. I was getting…” He glanced away and shook his head. “I could only see an outcome where you moved on with your life and left us, and now I think I underestimated you.”

“Maybe you did, but it’s okay.”

“Don’t say that.”

“Then how about, I forgive you, Eddie, so let’s move forward.”

Eddie gave a half-smile. “I’ll take it.” He blew out a breath as if he were steeling himself. “I have to focus on Chris for a while—”

“Jesus, Eds, were you not listening? Chris needs you to focus on yourself. You’ve got help. You’ve got me. You know my shift schedule like the back of your hand, and I can drive you guys, go with you to appointments. Just tell me what you need and let me help.”

“That’s a lot of involvement with us, Buck—”

“How is that any different than…ever?” Buck snapped.

“I just meant that Taylor might have an opinion about you giving up that much of your time.”

“What does Taylor have to do with it?” Buck frowned.

“She’s your girlfriend.”

Buck sighed. “Sort of.” He rubbed his hand over the back of his neck. “We tried, but it’s become more friends with benefits situation. And I was always clear with her that you and Chris were my priority.”

Eddie’s eyebrows shot up. “I…see.”

Buck had revealed way too much today, but he had no fucks to give at the moment. “I’m neurodivergent myself.” He knew it was a non-sequitur, but he didn’t want to delve deeper into the Taylor discussion.

“What?” Eddie stared.

“I had severe ADHD when I was a kid. It drove my parents nuts. I used to blame myself for why they avoided me, thinking my brain was broken. I learned to cope, but I was always that guy who fidgeted too much, who talked too much, who was just a little bit…extra. I get what it’s like to feel out of step with the world around you, to feel judged by people for not being in the behavior box they think you should be in. I loved Christopher so fast because he’s Chris. I relate to him because my brain works differently, and it’s a struggle to exist in this world sometimes.”

“You two talk about this, don’t you?”

“Yes. Mostly when he was first struggling with anxiety issues after his mother and the tsunami. I told him about how anxious I’d get sometimes about stuff, and how I managed it. I tried to be honest with him without being too adult about the whole thing.”

“You always manage to tell him the hard things in the best way.” Eddie reached out and squeezed Buck’s wrist. “You were able to tell him about the shooting in a way I don’t think anyone else could have, but I know that was hard for you.” He hesitated. “We’ve never really talked about it.”

Buck looked down at the table. “You almost died.”

“And we should talk about it. I’m…sorry that we haven’t yet. Have you talked to the others?”

“I started to talk to Hen about a bit of it one day, and Chim made a remark about me making you and Bobby getting shot all about me again.” Buck lifted one shoulder. “What’s the point? I knew I needed to talk, so I increased my therapy sessions.”

“It absolutely is about you too. I never realized how long you and the others were pinned down under fire. Maybe I’ve deliberately not remembered because it’s too…much.”

“I get why it would be.”

“When did you make up those rules for the…hoop?”

“I got the hoop this morning from a friend. The only one she had in stock that was the right size was the rainbow one, and I knew Chris would like the colors. The rules…those are the discussion rules for the trauma therapy group I attend.”

Eddie blinked a few times then abruptly pushed back from the table. “Come with me.”

Frowning, Buck got up and followed, surprised to find Eddie standing at the edge of the hula hoop, staring down at it.

“Want me to take it to the garage?”

Instead of answering, Eddie stepped over the boundary of the hoop and held out his hand in invitation.

Buck gaped at him for several beats before taking the hand and stepping over the hoop line. “What did you need to say?”

“Thank you for this.” Eddie didn’t release his hand.

“For getting you a giant rainbow hula hoop that you’re now stuck with?” Buck asked with a faint grin.

“Yeah, Buck, for the hoop.” Eddie huffed. “Thank you for being you and for loving us so much.” He tugged Buck a little closer. “I don’t think I’m misreading this, and if I am, you need to let us forget it so it doesn’t affect all of us.”

“You’re not,” Buck said on a shaky breath.

“I think we’re all a little bit broken right now, but we’ll get better, yeah?”

“Together?”

“I don’t think Christopher would let us do it any other way.” Eddie’s smile was soft and something Buck had never seen before. “And in a little bit, maybe you and I can figure out what’s next for us. Because my truth is that the second most important person in the world is you.”

Buck had to blink away some tears. “Eddie.”

“Christopher told me to just date you and quit this silliness.”

He couldn’t help but chuckle. “Was that the blush?”

“Yeah.” He tugged on Buck’s hand, pulling him into a loose, one-armed embrace. “Thank you, Evan. Thank you.”

The End

38 Comments:

  1. Awesome story. I love your stories

  2. Thank you for a great start to the day.

  3. Oh. This is beautiful and I’m gonna sit here for a while and wallow in all these feels.

    Thank you

  4. Ooooh, this post just gave me serious feelings of righteousness and aaaww. Great story!

  5. I love this. Thank you for sharing your gift with us.

  6. This was beautiful. Thank you for sharing it!

  7. I adore you, and this, and I’m so overwhelmed with love for the way you portray Buck. The underlying anxieties and the neurodiversity you not only acknowledge but bring into the light to help with… how I wish you could write for the show! Even though it was your writing in the first place that made me watch and fall in love with it! Thank you so much for sharing this. xxx

  8. Inside outside upside down are all the ways I love this story. It’s this beautiful therapy session for all of us in the most exquisite package. Thank you for my morning session and for sharing.

  9. The Hoop of Truth. I’m going to remember that.

  10. all your work is so gorgeous!!! this is written beautifully and handles the topics so amazingly. i’m just so in love!

  11. This is beautiful! Thank you Jilly.

  12. I really enjoyed this and I love the hula hoop! Thank you for sharing! 😀

  13. I am loving all the therapy fics lately!

  14. I loved this. I love a fic that recognizes how important mental health is, and how much better relationships would be if we all just talked with each other and listened.

  15. Absolutely Amazing. Thank you. I wish I’d had a hula hoop of truth when I was raising my kids. Chris is one lucky kid to have parents who work so hard to let him grow and be happy. 🌼

  16. This is lovely and made me cry a little. Thank you.

  17. So many things in the world could be fixed by the Hula Hoop of Truth. Loved this a lot!

  18. This was super stinking cute and made me smile.

  19. Oh, hell, you’re killing me here! This was freaking amazing.

    Chris nearly broke my heart. I’m sitting here all wibbly-wobbly, sniffling and smiling.

    Thanks for this!

  20. ❤️❤️❤️

  21. Awesome story. Thank you

  22. Great Story. Thank you for sharing

  23. Oh this was lovely, I’m in tears at the ending. I’ll be rereading by this soon.

  24. Gah. I’m overloaded with feels. This was perfect. Hard but much needed conversations and a whole lot of hope for them all moving forward. Thank you for this. <3 <3 <3

  25. Lovely. I adore everything about this.

    Thank you for sharing,
    ~ Sibyl

  26. That was lovely. Thanks for sharing.

  27. This was absolutely Fantastic!

  28. I like the safe-space confessional method of communication. It’s been helpful for me and it’s nice to see it in fic used well.

    Also, Christopher absolutely is the Ultimate Diaz.

  29. The Diaz boys need all the healthy communication they can get and I love Buck giving them a safe space for it. Thank you for this!

  30. You make these two together so right and delicious. I’m a huge fan of actual adulting and the open love these three have for each other.

  31. Blue_Eyed_Dreamer

    I love the Hoop of Truth, and this conversation was really well done and sorely needed. Because Eddie is reactive when Chris is having problems, and like any good parent just wants to fix it, but Buck has nailed it when he facilitates a way for Chris and Eddie to just listen to each other. It’s very in character for him, as while he’s been named the “fixer” in canon, what he really seems to do is try to give people the tools to help themselves. Like introducing Carla to Eddie, organizing Christmas dinner at the station in Season 3, the skateboard… you really embrace this part of his character, where he’s able to look at problems a different way than most people, and finds a solution that way. It’s one of the things that makes him a really interesting and lovable character, and you really do him justice.

    And as always, Christopher Diaz is a national treasure! Love the fic!

  32. I love your view from the inside of this lovely family relationship. Buck love his Diaz boys and they love him right back. The hula hoop was a great way for Buck to give his boys a physical representation of the safe space they both needed to get some things out in the open and it worked so well. Thanks for sharing and making me smile at all the adorableness.

  33. This is so awesome and amazing and beautiful!! I love Buck coming up with a creative solution to fix the Diazes and they all love each other so much!

  34. Very good, i enjoyed reading it

  35. Oh my gosh, I love the Hula Hoop of Truth so much! This was perfectly lovely, Jilly

  36. First, thank you for fueling my addition. And secondly, I think I need to borrow this idea for my own house. Communication definitely needs to be worked on here! As always thank you so very much for sharing your work with us. I enjoyed every word.

  37. This was lovely. The art is also great. “I relate to him because my brain works differently, and it’s a struggle to exist in this world sometimes.” This line really struck a chord with me. It really is a struggle sometimes.

  38. I love both the idea and the actual rainbow hula hoop of truth.

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