Magnificent Seven Alternate Universe
Tolerance by Sue M

Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em…damnit!

Thanks to Phyllis for AU/BL2

Summary: New family, new routines, new issues.

Author's Note: This one steps back to the earlier days of the new family coming together. I fancied tackling some 'filling in'.

As his car rolled up the driveway to the Double L ranch house, Ezra rubbed his eyes. The occasional visits to his business in Vegas were becoming more and more tedious. At first, he thought it to be due to the driving back and forth, but had recently come to realize that, while away, he was missing home. Only months ago that very idea would have not existed, but the recent coming together of Linc's seven sons had, while suffering many ups and downs, seen the birth of a brotherhood which became quickly accepted as always meant to be. Even before he reached the garage, Ezra could see his family milling around the yard outside the house. He grinned at the wave from JD.


Vin was first to hear Ezra's car on the drive. JD noted his glance, and turned to look. He watched the car draw near, causing the others to chuckle at his cheery wave, before standing together behind JD to do likewise, only more teasingly. Their smiles on seeing him, however, were very real, as was Ezra's, whose grin broadened when JD jogged toward him in greeting, and took his bag as they walked to the house.

"Good trip?"

"The drive was long and laborious, the hotel was not up to my preferred standard, but I successfully concluded my business and verified that it is in substantial profit, so I will therefore answer, 'yes'."


Standish chuckled. "Indeed." He extended his right hand to shake those of his brothers' reaching out in greeting. Chris simply gave him a nod, and Vin waited for Ezra to get closer before patting him on the back.

"Busy day, gentlemen?"

"Always," Chris replied with a wry smile, "and on figuring how much you'd miss helping out around here, I put you on mucking out duty tomorrow morning."

The mask almost slipped, but Ezra kept control. "Marvelous, my eagerness to assist simply cannot be measured..." the southerner replied, his tone chipper. "...There is no gauge with low enough degree, to do so," he said under his breath as he continued on to the house.


The next morning, Ezra yawned widely as he entered the stables. He checked his watch. '5 am...good Lord.'

"Watch it, Ezra, y'almost sucked me right in there."

The southerner snapped his jaw shut and arched one eyebrow. "Please, Vincent, refrain from humor at this ungodly hour." He sighed. "Alright, I openly admit to my lack of devotion to duty in this particular chore, and so must assume that, as by now this normally astute family would appreciate not all ranch tasks are suited to everyone, that I've been...set up. Therefore, I grant you victory, and insist you allow me to return the comfort of my feather bed."

Vin stared and then handed Ezra a pitchfork. "Y-e-a-h, not happenin'." He pointed. "Start over there."

"Wonderful," Ezra muttered. Appreciating there was nothing he could do about it; the southerner gripped the pitchfork, but was unexpectedly nudged off balance by what felt like a miniature tornado passing him. It could only be one person.

"Sorry. Oh, hey, Ezra, sure is a nice morning, huh?"


Ezra frowned. He woke to loud, repetitive birdsong, what could be deemed nice about that? A stunned Standish looked first at JD, then out to the gray, pre-dawn light, and then back to his grinning sibling. He shook his head. "Good Lord; batty, every last one of you...all totally unhinged. You clearly don't get enough sleep."

He took a step away from his youngest brother and straight into a fresh, juicy horse apple. With a heavy sigh, Ezra's gaze dropped to his galoshes. "Delightful."

"S'posed to be lucky," Vin said with a grin from his position up in the hayloft.

JD chuckled hard at the comment and walked away to start his chores. Ezra simply stared up at Vin before stomping off to the first stall.

"Or not," Vin laughed to himself.


A little later, JD came in for a snack and found Ezra sitting at the kitchen table and enjoying a cup of coffee. While JD made a sandwich the pair chatted, which prompted JD to make extra of what he was having for Ezra to try. Seated across from the southerner, JD propped his chin on his hands, and watched with anticipation as, after much procrastination, his brother bit into a PB&J sandwich. Making an equally long exhibition of chewing and swallowing, Ezra finally patted a napkin to his lips and sat back in his chair.



JD grinned. "Aww, come on, Ezra, be honest…you liked it."

"Like is possibly too strong a word…"

JD stood, took the uneaten half of the sandwich off the plate and bit into the bread. "You liked it."

Their gazes locked until finally the southerner smiled. "Yes, I liked it."

Punching the air, JD nodded. "Cool. I knew it."

"My God, have I become that transparent?" Standish half queried, half fretted.

"Huh? Ah no, I was just pushing to see if you'd say yes...and you did." JD swallowed his bite. "Folk who never tried it before, are most always pleasantly surprised when they take that first bite." He thumbed toward the kitchen door. "Well, gotta go. Later, dude."

Ezra smiled and raised a hand. "Most certainly." He yawned and rolled his shoulders. "But first, a siesta, I think."


JD exited the house in time to see Vin drive Linc's old Deere 3020 tractor into the yard. Chris had lovingly maintained the old girl, insisting it was perfect for Nettie's vegetable garden, though everyone knew his efforts were more down to his fondness for his father's tractor. Vin also became interested in her upkeep, and in their spare time, the pair could often be found in her parking bay and up to their armpits in grease and oil.

Across the way, a more up to date Deere was depositing a large hay bale, speared and balanced on its forks, into the hay barn. Seeing the driver pondering where to drop it, Vin parked the idling vehicle and directed the ranch hand into the hay barn. The pair then discussed where the next four bales should go. Knowing Vin would happily grant him a look-see, JD approached the 3020, and began to walk around the idling old girl. Something at the back caught his eye and he squatted down on his haunches to take a look.

Work talk over, the ranch hand fired up to leave. Vin returned to his vehicle, but instead of moving forward, the tractor jumped backwards and stalled. One of its large back tires hit JD hard enough to bounce him off his feet and roll a foot or two.


Smiling to himself at the amazing condition Chris kept this old farm vehicle in, JD was about to stand when the tractor's engine roared. It jumped backwards and one big tire smacked JD in the side, sending him sailing into the dirt and rolling a couple of feet. "Oooff!"


Cursing the momentary blip, Tanner easily fired the tractor back up, but it was only when ranch hands started running his way and yelling, did Vin realize there was a problem. His gaze following to where the running men were pointing, but he saw nothing. Vin cut the engine, jumped down, and jogged around to the rear of the tractor. He paled to see JD lying on his back as white as a sheet, and panting.

"Shit! CHRIS! NATHAN!" Vin kneeled next to JD. "What happened?"

JD coughed. "Aaahhh."

"Stay put, Kid. Try not to move."

"I'm fine, Vin," JD puffed, "just a little winded, is all...really." Try as he may, he was unable to get up due to the firm Texan hand holding him down.

Nathan appeared from the house and ran straight to the huddle of men in the yard. "What happened?"

Vin was speechless, he didn't actually know.

"Nothing," JD assured, trying to sit up. "The tractor jumped out of gear, I think, and I got bumped on my butt. I was a little winded, but I'm fine now, honest."

Regardless of JD's promise, Nathan checked him over. JD waved off the concern, but winced when Nathan poked an area on his side he figured was bruised.

"How bad?"

Vin stood to greet Chris as he approached. "Nothin' serious."

"How could you miss him out here?"

Vin swallowed. "I left the tractor idlin' to direct Hank, I didn't see JD come over, let alone walk behind the tractor."

"It's your job to see these things," Chris scolded.

"Don't you think I know that?" Tanner hissed. "Mistakes happen."

"Mistakes kill." Chris's words hung in the frigid airspace between the pair.

Helped to his feet by Nathan, JD looked guiltily at Chris. "Don't yell at Vin, it was all my fault, Chris."

"First off, believe me, you'll know it when I'm yelling. Secondly, while you should know better because of the safety rule I drummed into you about standing behind horses and vehicles, Vin, and even Hank, should have been aware of who was around them."

Chris noticed JD's apologetic glance to a fuming Tanner. He sighed. "You know what? Actually, it's down to me. I forget how new all this is to you guys, I'll make sure either myself or Buck is on hand more."

"Don't need no babysitter," Vin warned.

Chris arched an eyebrow. "A bit extreme, but...if you think the shoe fits..." He took JD's arm. "C'mon, you should sit down for a while."

Vin and the gathered ranch hands watched Chris and Nathan escort JD into the house. After a while, Jake, a ranch hand, spoke.

"Chris really doesn't tolerate rule-breaking. Don't take it personally, he's just mad, but he'll simmer down as fast as he gets riled up."

Vin gave a nod and walked away. "Yeah, well I don't."


Dinner that evening was a hushed affair, and prompted the unusual move of all six on the ranch having an early night. The next morning JD's designated chore for the morning was to clean out the stalls and lay fresh hay, and despite a little stiffness, he set to it. Sometime later, Vin was walking down the central aisle toward the tack room when his stomach flipped on spotting a pair of motionless boots in a stall. He peered into the freshly cleaned stall to find JD flat out on the hay and fast asleep. Crouching next to the inert form, he set a hand on JD's shoulder and shook it.


JD jolted, causing Vin to startle and almost fall on his butt. Luckily, his fast reflexes kept him upright.

"Jeezus, Vin, you scared me."

Tanner laughed, softly. "I know the feelin'. You okay?"

The boy stared at his brother. "Sure. Why'd you ask that?" He struggled to his feet and nodded his thanks when Vin helped steady him.

"Ooh, I dunno...maybe 'cause you were out cold in a stall?"

"Just tired, nothing more."

Vin's hand rested flat against the wooden dividing wall and he rested his weight on it. "Why are you tired? You went to bed before me last night." He noted JD's hesitation and a slight hand movement toward his side. "So you did hurt yourself yesterday."

JD huffed. "Just a bruise...a really little one..."


JD shook his head at Vin's shrewdness. " kept me awake." He grabbed Vin's extended arm. "Please, don't tell anyone. I finished my chores, I was just tired. I lay down and..." He shrugged. "You know the rest."

Vin nodded. "Does Buck know?"

"Buck didn't come home last night, and he stayed in town to open up. He called to say he'd be back for dinner."

Vin pursed his lips as he straightened. "I'll make you a deal. Speak to Nathan, and it'll stay between the three of us."

JD's smile lit up his tired features. "Thanks, Bro. I owe you one." He moved to leave.


The youth turned back. "Yeah?"

"You owe me nothin'. We're family, right?"

JD smiled again, but this time his eyes misted over. "Right," he rasped.


"Hello the house! Buck's home!"

Linc's third son looked around the almost empty living room as he made his announcement.

Josiah waved from the armchair near the hearth. "Welcome home, Buck."

Buck waved back. "Where is everyone?"

Josiah pointed to the stairs. "JD and Nathan went that-a-way. Vin's in the kitchen making himself a sandwich, Ezra's in the study, and Chris went out to the stables. Not sure if he's still there."

"Why did JD go upstairs with Nathan?"

The eldest brother laughed. "Trust you to pick up on that. JD was walking, talking, and looked to be in one piece, although..." Josiah cursed inwardly at his near slip.

"Although?" Buck walked closer. "Although what?"

The ex-preacher closed his book and nodded to Nathan as he came down the stairs. "Why don't you wait to talk to JD."

Buck's mouth opened to argue the point but he was interrupted when Chris exited the mudroom, bellowing.

"Who cleaned out the stalls this morning?"

Ezra poked his head out of the study and glanced over at Josiah, Buck and Nathan. Vin was leaving the kitchen mid-bite of a sandwich, and on hearing Chris's angry tone, all of them stopped and looked.

Chris stared around at them. "Josiah made breakfast, Nathan just got off shift at the hospital, Buck was at Rosie's, Ezra did it yesterday..." He looked toward the kitchen. "Vin?"

The hesitation from the Texan wasn't lost on the blond. He nodded in a dawning understanding and bellowed again. "JD!"

Vin swallowed his bite. "Chris..."


Chris glared at his brothers' attempts to silently ask him to let it go. "Don't give me those looks, the kid knows the score. JD!"

Vin grabbed Chris's arm. "Chris, let me explain."

"JD!" Chris shook his head. "Damnit Vin, you know sloppy stable work can result in horses getting Hoof Thrush, having lung problems, insects..."

"...Chris, you called me?"

Larabee's head snapped around toward JD who was just reaching the bottom of the stairs. "You bet I did!" He walked to meet the youth. "Your work in the stables this morning, it was sloppy. Go do it again, please." He raised a warning hand at the murmurs of protests.

JD nodded. "You're right. I'm sorry, I was tired, and rushing a little. I'll go do it now."

Chris was a hard taskmaster when it came to the care of their horses, but he was foremost a loving brother, and the fact that JD didn't argue, prompted him to look at the boy more carefully. His frustration instantly dissolved. "What's up?"

JD's teeth gripped his lower lip and fingers brushed his bruised side before he started to explain. "I..."

Chris's hand rested on JD's shoulder at the same time as he looked to Buck. The brunet nodded his understanding and moved to JD's side. Chris gestured toward the stairs with his head.

"Go rest up. I'll get the stalls." Though the sighs around him were silent, Chris sensed the relief. "Sorry I yelled."

Unsure of what was happening, JD stared in confusion at a man he'd come to idolize. Did Chris just apologize to him? He felt Buck wrap a hand around his shoulder.

"C'mon, Kid, I was heading upstairs, too. I'll walk you up." As he guided their youngest away, Buck's glance back made it clear he wanted answers.


In the hushed room, Vin turned to Chris. While it wasn’t going to be easy, he knew his next words needed to be said. "I know you don't want to hear this, Chris, but I'm sayin' it, anyway. Cut us some slack. On my way to the tack room earlier, I found JD crashed out in a stall. From the looks of him, he shouldn't've even been out of bed, let alone cleanin' out ten or so stalls, yet he'd done it. Was it perfect? I guess not, but he didn't give up 'til he'd done as much as he could physically handle. You need to quit checkin' up on where we are, and what we do, and then maybe JD'd be more inclined to tell you stuff. We're tryin' to fit in here, but we ain't you...we ain't perfect. JD ain't perfect."

There was a long, awkward pause before Chris shifted feet and smiled. "If he was perfect, he wouldn't be one of us."

Vin's palm smacked against his own thigh and he grinned. "Now you're gettin' it."

Chris nodded and slowly raised both hands in a placating gesture. "Alright, I'll make a deal. I'll back off some if you guys can promise you'll come to me if unsure of anything...and I mean, anything."

Everyone nodded. Vin extended his hand. "Deal."

Chris returned the gesture. When Vin's fingers curled around his forearm, Chris smiled and did likewise, fully aware that this was more than just a simple handshake from Vin, it was a mark of trust, respect, and acceptance.

"I'll go finish up the stalls," Vin offered

Chris released his arm. "We both will."

Josiah, Ezra, and Nathan watched the pair leave. The former smiled and opened his book. "Crisis averted," he said.

Ezra and Nathan exchanged glances before going their own ways. "Until the next time," Nathan muttered to himself, unaware that Ezra had also mumbled something similar.


In JD's room, Buck stuffed pillows behind JD's shoulders and head as the boy got settled on the top of his bed. "Okay?"

JD barely nodded. "I'm fine, Buck, just need to catch up on sleep is all."

"Yeah, sure." Buck smiled. "You know, Kid, Chris can bark a whole lot, but he rarely bites family. Now, anyone else..." He nudged the youth. "You've been here long enough to know Chris is just looking out for us...the ranch hands...the horses..."

"Sure I know but...darnit, why do I keep screwing up around him?" JD sighed. "I try real hard, yet somehow I keep causing trouble. Chris must think I'm an idiot."

"Ah, we all think that." Buck's smile broadened when JD huffed out a soft laugh. "You ever think maybe you're trying too hard?"

JD looked at Buck, a lost expression on his face. "It's the only way I know how to be." He looked down as long fingers curled around his wrist.

"Then I take it back...don't change a thing. Kid, all you can be is yourself, and if that's what's going down, then leave well alone." He squeezed the wrist in his hand. "You'll just have to live with the fact that now that we know you're naturally ham-fisted, we'll just worry all the more about you. Is that such a bad thing?"

JD giggled. "Buck!"

He grinned. "In the flesh and ordering you to rest up. If you haven't appeared downstairs by dinnertime, I'll come and give you a nudge." Buck patted JD's arm and stood to leave.

"You know..."

Buck turned back. "Yeah?"

"...There've been times when I've wondered if Chris actually likes me."

Buck's gaze softened and he shook his head. "He doesn't..."

JD's eyes saddened.

"...He loves you. Chris loves us all; he just has a funny way of showing it, sometimes. Get some sleep, Kid."

JD watched Buck leave. With his heart lighter, he fell asleep quickly.


One week on, and breakfast was concluding for the seven brothers. Chris was studying the worksheet on Vin's clipboard and seemed happy with what was being covered. Nettie came out of the kitchen to start clearing away the dishes.

"While I think of it, Christopher, the wood box is getting low."

Chris looked up from the worksheet and smiled. "Thanks." His gaze searched around the table for a volunteer.

"I'll do it," JD offered.

"You chopped wood with an axe before?" Chris asked.

JD shrugged. "No, hard can it be?"

For the first time since his and Vin's talk, Chris felt that nagging pang of concern. He tried to dismiss images of what damage an axe could do to flesh and glanced to Vin, but the lack of expression offered no help at all. Even Buck was quiet, though to a man who'd known Buck all his life, Chris knew the brunet wasn't staying quiet easily.

"Okay. Bring out the wood from the bottom for the hearth box for indoors, and then fill the outside bin to the top."

JD nodded, excused himself from the table, and left for the mudroom.


Nettie squeezed Chris's shoulder before she picked up the dishes she'd stacked and walked back to the kitchen. Vin stood, picked up his clipboard, and moving to leave, gave Chris a dimpled grin.

"Breathe, Buck." Nathan's words broke the tension and everyone laughed.

One by one, the men left the dining area to set about their chores for the day, and each one smiled on hearing the steady thump and crack of wood being split.


The morning flew by and as his stomach growled for the umpteenth time, JD figured it had to be almost lunchtime. He stood to stretch his shoulders, and smiled at the nearly full bin. Chopping was tough work, but he found the action to be oddly cathartic. Snatching up his water bottle, JD swigged it back, only to find he'd only got a couple of mouthfuls before it ran dry. He glanced between the unchopped woodpile, the nearly full bin, and his empty bottle. Deciding he could manage to split a few more before refilling his water bottle, JD used a rag to dab at his forehead and neck, and then picked up the axe.

It happened so fast. JD swung the axe down, and as he did so, a chunk of wood bounced awkwardly off the axe blade and straight up at JD's head. He suddenly found he was sitting in the dirt, and staring at the blood coating the fingers he'd just touched to his head. JD fought back the emotion caused by pain and shock. The last thing he needed was his new family to think him a crybaby.

For some reason, as he sat there, all he could think about was Vin's defensive side emerging after JD failed to complete a chore properly due to a previous accident bruising his side. Chris had backed off and even agreed to Vin's stipulations to cut the newer brothers some slack. JD's world began to spin and he clung to a porch prop for support as he worried that Chris would take back his promise...

...and it would be his fault for being such a klutz.


Nettie smiled when each of the brothers came into the kitchen and washed their hands before picking up prepared plates of sandwiches, sliced up fruit, pots of coffee, and a lemon drizzle cake for their lunch. They placed the food and drink on the dining room table and the hungry men eagerly took up seats.

Her coat on, and purse in hand, Nettie walked toward the front door, dropping off plates, cutlery, and napkins on her way. "Someone should tell JD it's lunchtime before he starts chopping again. See you tomorrow, boys."

Barely seated, Josiah stood. "I'll go."

While waiting for their brothers, Vin coughed lightly, drawing attention. He looked at Chris. "Did you manage to steer away from JD?"

Chris nodded. "Didn't think I needed to check on him, I could hear him chopping."

Buck shifted in his seat and Vin grinned. "Bucklin?"

"I...uh, I took a sneak peek...just to see how he was getting on."

The others laughed.

"What?" Buck mock protested. He pointed. "It was Chris made the promise to quit hovering, not me." He looked around in an attempt to distract attention away from him.

"What's keeping 'em, I'm famished." Buck stood and edged toward the mudroom. He noted the grins. "And now I'm just...stretching my legs." With that, and to the backdrop of laughter, he quickly disappeared through the door.


Josiah stepped outside and walked along the boards of the wraparound porch and toward the back of the house. He couldn't hear chopping, so called out. "JD?"

Surprised there was no reply, he called again, but was already stepping up the pace. Reaching the back, he instantly spotted JD sitting on the ground and clinging to a porch support. "JD!"

Josiah crouched down in front of the boy and his large hands enveloped JD's face. He could see blood matting the boy's bangs and dripping steadily down his face and onto his shirt; he could also see that JD wasn't fully focused. "JD...JD!"

Eyelids blinked and hazel eyes stared back at the ex-preacher. "Hey, Josiah...could uh...could you help me up, please? My knees feel kinda weird."

"I think that's a good idea," Josiah soothed, while checking the rest of the boy was uninjured and in working order. He took up a position to raise JD to his feet. "Hold on tight to me."



Looking suitably abashed, JD held up his bloody hand. "Don't tell was just a...a stupid accident, coulda happened to anyone."

"Let's worry about that later." With a count of three, Josiah's arms went under JD's armpits and he lifted, but the youth's legs went in different directions, and struggled to hold him up.

"Stoopid knees," JD mumbled. With a determined push up, he managed to straighten, but no sooner had that happened, JD's head fell against Josiah's chest before it lolled backwards.

"Damnit!" Josiah changed position and with a grunt scooped JD's legs up. The mudroom door banged and he looked that way. "Buck...hold the door!"


In the mudroom, Buck stomped on his boots and opened the outer door. He walked the same direction as Josiah, but was greeted by a shocking sight.

"Buck...hold the door!"

Even as he ran to do so, Buck was wondering why Josiah was carrying JD. For no apparent reason other than instinct, he snatched up a fresh towel from the linen hamper before moving to hold open the inner door.


Josiah knew JD was still awake because the boy raised a hand to cover his eyes. He maneuvered through the inner door and headed straight for the leather sofa in the living room. Inevitably, he had to pass four shocked brothers, though Buck's yell out to Nathan had already alerted them to a problem. Josiah gently set JD down, and stepped back for Nathan, who had already taken the towel off Buck, to move in.

All but Chris and Vin moved to find out what happened. The blond simply stood by the table and stared down at its surface while a number of emotions played across his features. Vin left the table and walked toward the mudroom.



"Keep still, JD, I need to see how much damage there is," Nathan scolded.

"I was just a little dizzy is all. Let me up, I'm fine, now."

Buck grasped the waving hand. "Yeah, sure you are. Hold still."

"What happened?" Nathan asked.

Both Buck and Josiah shrugged.

As the doctor carefully parted JD's hair to locate the bloody gash, he asked JD a number of questions. Vin's voice coming from the direction of the mudroom caused all but JD to look his way.

"Lumber split and bounced up off the axe blade."

Vin walked closer and held up a piece of chopped firewood. It had blood on one edge. "Could happen to anybody," he added.

"But it happened to me..." JD sighed out. "I don't know why I'm all thumbs...I try real hard not to be. I'm sorry." He felt a warm hand take his and he opened his eyes expecting to see Buck, but instead Chris was standing there. All JD could do was stare while Chris took some time to speak.


Chris snapped out of his musings and walked over to the others. He took up JD's hand and turned his head to Nathan, his eyes flashing a question.

"It's not bad," the doctor assured. "I can easily glue it. He bled a lot because he got so hot from all that chopping, but JD says he hasn't passed out, so I reckon he'll be fine if we keep an eye on him, tonight."

Chris nodded and turned back to their youngest brother. "JD...Lord, could find a sharp edge inside a feather pillow." He smiled. "Yeah, you're right, you're a natural klutz, and a goofball, but you're our goofball, so it doesn't count."

JD blinked. "You're not mad?"

"Not at you," Chris assured. "Accidents happen, JD. No matter how hard we try, we can't avoid 'em all."

There was a pause.


"Yeah, Kid."

"If it helps, you can keep an eye on me...I don't mind."

The blond chuckled, patted JD's hand, and set it down. "Already a done deal, son...there are some things we just have to go with." He took a step back.

JD relaxed, and then giggled. "Done deal..." he pointed to himself. "Dunne deal, get it? Chris made a joke."

Chris scowled at the grins aimed his way. He thumbed toward JD. "You sure he's not delirious?"


Two days later and, with a steaming mug of coffee in hand, Chris sat in a porch chair and stared across the yard at the six men hovering there. They were laughing, and he raised a hand to return waves from Vin, Buck, and JD. He sat back, sipped on his coffee, and pondered their time together so far.

One day several months back, not long after they all first met, and before his truck took a long, hard roll down a steep banking, Vin and Ezra were about to leave after deciding Linc's wish for his seven sons to live together as family was not for them. On that day, and while driving with JD to a stock sale, Chris's heart was heavy at the thought that, by the time they got home, the seven would be no more. He wanted Vin and Ezra to stay, and he blamed himself for being unable to tell the pair, or any of the guys, that he loved them, and Chris feared that failing was part of why they were going.

While he recovered from the accident in which he and JD suffered, and despite assurances everyone now wanted to see Linc's dream through, Chris continued to be bombarded with the guilt and fear of his new brothers slowly leaving one by one. It took some time to come to terms that was not going to happen.

It was a shame that a near-fatal accident caused them all to realize no one wanted to leave, and from that moment, their bond grew from strength to strength. The instant Chris was finally free of his crutches, he promised himself from that day things would be different. While constantly aware that he was still figuring all this out, he appreciated there would be mistakes; and he'd finally come to terms with that truth. He could at last accept that every curve ball thrown and caught was another step toward learning how to protect something he hadn't even realized he wanted...until it was almost taken away from him.

A family of six wonderful, strong, diverse, crazy, funny, loving brothers.

The End

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