Disclaimer: not mine. the end.

Note: This takes place before Rex starts to receive threats about his family's safety, in my mind sometime right after he became well known in the racing world.

Comments are always welcome. It's my first time feeling these guys out. I barely remember the series and I only saw the film once so we'll see how that goes. Consequently this is going to borrow heavily from Movieverse canon.

Mugen

By Nicole Silverwolf

"Don't you know that I'll be around to guide you

through your weakest moments

to leave them behind you

Returning nightmares, only shadows

We'll cast some light and you'll be all right"

-excerpt from 'Crosses' by Jose Gonzalez from the album Veneer

The sun was low on the horizon bathing most of the track in deep shadows. Only the bare edges reaching the highest points in the sky burnt red and gold. A lazy wind breezed through the metal mountains, enough to cool the edge of heat that the track radiated. The air lacked the blazing heat reserved for midday in July.

Had it been a race night there would have been thousands packing the stands. But it was midweek and right before two very important qualifiers halfway around the world. Thunderhead was deserted.

For the most part at least.

A scant few technicians were finishing tear down for the night; more involved in coiling cable and accounting for expensive equipment and lights than for the lone car finishing up the last mile of track over their heads.

While the techs appreciated watching a well run race, they knew how much Rex coveted this private time away from the media, from rivals, and from the spotlight. This particular racer had earned the right to traverse here undisturbed of all places. Generally they did their best to leave him alone, except for the casual friendly gestures they gave the entire Racer family—all of whom were legends in this town.

For those who looked more closely they could tell Rex wasn't driving the car. This was also a well tended secret of Thunderhead's technicians. If anyone knew the young racer was letting his eight year old baby brother take the wheel of the Mach vehicles, they'd have child services banging on the family's door.

But as the red vehicle effortlessly rounded the last turn there seemed almost no difference at all between the up and coming racer and his much younger sibling. The brakes engaged with an effortless hiss and they slid to a perfect stop centered on the checkered squares painted across the metal.

"Let's go again!" That voice most definitely belonged to the youngest Racer. It was boisterous, exuberant and eager in a way that only eight year olds could effect.

There was a warm laugh in reply. "Nope Speedy You were supposed to be in bed a half hour ago. Mom's gonna have my head."

"But it's summer!" the youngster protested as Rex unbuckled them both.

"Yeah well, I'm pretty sure the techs wanna go home for the night too," he gestured to two longtime technicians who'd taken a special liking to Rex and his little brother. They were making their way across the track, talking over radios in their shorthand jargon--as much a foreign language as Swahili to the brothers. A few more of the tracks lights snapped out in the gathering twilight at their commands.

Speed could see them coming up, and slumped against his brother's lap. "Alright..." he consented.

"Nice turns in the dogbowl kid. You're getting the hang of this fast." Michael's genuine compliment sent an ear splitting grin across Speed's face.

"I bet I can go even faster if I cut her harder on the top of the turn...we can try it right now..." and the child trailed off after catching Rex's almost glare.

"Speedy," he warned. It wasn't mad, more exasperated than anything.

"We are heading out," the young woman assured Speed, making a mild adjustment to the bandana holding back a set of dark dreadlocks, "we've been here all day and I have to go home to walk my dog, and Michael needs to feed his cat."

"Track lighting and safeties'll be off. But stay as long as you need. The south gate will have its core locks disabled. Just close the doors behind you on the way out." This was directed at the elder brother.

Rex nodded, scooping his brother into a typical over the shoulder hold. Speed obviously adored it to tell from the shriek of laughter. He dipped his brother upside down and spun, burning the edge of adrenalin from his own system. It wasn't an unusual display of affection from the two; rather quite the opposite. Everyone was astounded on some level at how close the two were despite nearly a decade between them.

"G'night guys," they pronounced with warm, laughing voices as each snatched up the piece of equipment they'd come out for (very expensive cameras used for photo finish and to record lap data). In a moment both of them were off the track and far from earshot.

Rex propped his brother on the hood with a flourish and loosened the jacket he'd almost hadn't put on due to the summer heat. "Not bad at all Speedy, you're really starting to listen to her." His tone was clear approval and excitement. Though they hadn't been pushing the Mach 4's top speeds (for safety alone Rex wouldn't put his brother in such a dangerous position) the adrenalin felt wonderful. Maybe even better than when he was racing alone.

"You mean it Rex?" The eyes were bright with joy.

"Course I do. The car doesn't lie anyways."

"And I felt it when she wanted me to turn; it was awesome! It got all quiet and it was almost like the car wasn't moving at all, and then it just turned and I knew where to go and I didn't even have to look at the track..."

Speed's explanation continued, waving arms illustrating instinct and feelings he didn't have the ability to describe adequately. It was wonderful to watch. Pure joy. Rex soaked it in at his side, leant against the hood so they were as level as they could be.

He was finding that he needed these reminders a lot more now.

Little over a week ago, he'd been invited to race for Uniron.

The change to one of the large multinational teams would necessitate moving for fairly obvious reasons.

He'd miss Mom's pancakes. Probably not Pop's famous temper or those arguments they were getting into all too often. Sparky? He'd ask his best friend to come with him to Uniron of course.

But it would definitely mean no more of these lazy summer nights with his little brother or the after school lessons Speed begged from him almost every day. That gave him true pause.

Pops didn't race much anymore (though he had when he was younger). And he was so busy running Racer Motors; the man was rarely home before dinner, and never in time enough to get Speed from school, or badger him through homework, listen to childhood woes or about teachers who "just didn't understand!".

And then there had been the ledger his mother balanced for them, the one he shouldn't have been looking at that showed them in much more dire financial straits than he had ever been led to believe. The money he could earn from Uniron...it wouldn't be long before he could pay off all of his family's debts...

Speed grabbed him back to the present, small hands tugging his jacket and pulling him back to the track.

"Rex you're not listening!" the child accused. He looked more hurt than upset at having his favorite audience distracted.

"Sorry," he admitted as he pulled himself to a sit beside Speed.

"You didn't answer the question Rex!" Speed accused again. He was swinging his feet casually but was also careful to avoid banging them against the car. That would certainly make the vehicle unhappy.

Rex teased, in the way that only brothers could. "Well...you'll have to ask it again," he wheedled with a pinch to the child's side. That brought a resultant squirm and a returned shove.

Speed's response wasn't long in coming. "Why do you always stop the car right here? Is it special or something?"

That took Rex by surprise. It was one of a thousand things he did on instinct--like shifting gears in a turn or tying sneakers. But Speed was right, he always banked and stopped in the dead center of the checkers on the track. And it was deliberate as much as it was habit. He hadn't expected Speed to pick up on it.

"No racer EVER does something without meaning to Speedy. That's why you don't steer," and Rex grabbed his brother around the midsection and tugged him so he was on his lap.

"You drive," Speed pronounced firmly.

The fact was a hard one (some might argue impossible) to teach and probably the one thing he was constantly trying to drill into Speed's head on the track. Like all new drivers his little brother had the tendency to let the car drive for him, sit in the metaphoric back seat. The steer verse drive reminder was one of Rex's most important pieces of advice.

And despite the fact that this particular habit was not related to any racing strategy, it was important to him.

"You know that this is where the race starts and finishes yeah?" he began. Thunderhead was one of several loop tracks still in use these days (many newer designs and most of the rally's were favoring unique start and finish points).

The look that Speed shot him clearly wondered what kind of fool his brother thought he was. Rex laughed full and honest because it had been a silly question to ask. "I know, I know...but that's why I like to stop right here."

Speed didn't look very satisfied by that response.

"Because right here, there is no beginning and no end...there's no difference."

That seemed a contradiction and Speed didn't deal in those. "But if its the end of the race you've won and if it's the beginning you haven't won. That's a difference."

"Winning isn't everything Speedy," his brother was immediate in squashing that idea.

"Besides, the track doesn't know if it's the beginning or the end. And your car doesn't know that either. It doesn't care if you came in first or fiftieth. It knows if you listened to her though. And if you're here," he gestured to the track with his palm, "you have the chance to go again. That's what I mean."

Regardless if the statement was much more complicated and more true than not. Because winning meant money, media exposure, the ability to keep the cars maintained and to continue racing.

Winning was not the reason he wanted his brother to get in a car though.

He must have been doing a poor job of explaining because Speed contemplated his response. The Racer family was all about instant decisions and if he had been clearer then Speed would have had something to say before Rex had even finished speaking.

"So...it's like infinity?"

Rex had never made that exact comparison actually. But it fit. Better than any explanation he'd ever heard before. Right here, infinite possibilities stretched out before them both.

"Yeah, kiddo it's exactly like that," Rex smiled. And as they sat together talking about nothing, Rex felt a peace he hadn't felt in what might have been months. There wasn't anything better than moments like these. Not milk, not victory lane.

Nothing.

But his big brother instincts were still pointing out how Speed had slowed, leaning a little more fully into his lap, slightly more incoherent in his chatter.

There were still things he had to do with the Mach 4 before they could go home, routine maintenance that couldn't be ignored even for a night. At the risk of Sparky or heaven forbid Pops finding out that he'd neglected the care of his vehicle it was time to call it a night.

"C'mon kiddo, time to head home."

"But it's not that late! Can we get ice cream at least?" This was coupled with an impressive yawn that could have split Speed's jaw.

"We'll see. Gotta clean her up for the night." Rex slipped them back into the car and they made their way back to the garage the Racer family rented at Thunderhead. No one but their family had access to it and when they weren't working on the car it was housed here.

Rex pulled into the spotless place, and went about his routine for the night. Speed helped where he could, dragging parts and tarps where they were needed and sitting on Rex's shoulders while they both went over the car's suspended chassis in minute detail. Speed took in his brother's advice with due gravity.

By the time Rex was satisfied enough to call it quits for the night, another hour had crept by.

Speed was flat out listing now, only the support of the wall keeping him upright. Rex didn't make a comment (though a brotherly 'I told you so' might have been appropriate) as he scooped the youngster up. The true test of how tired Speed was, came when he didn't complain. The child simply wrapped loose arms around his brother's neck, tucked his chin under Rex's and sunk into the hold. It was comfortable, familiar...home. The smile that barely curved the elder's lips was proof enough of how right it felt.

The jostling he got as his brother disentangled him into the passenger seat of the Mach 5 woke Speed from the near doze he'd never admit to. "Ice cream?" he mumbled as he turned on his side and absently reached for the seat buckle. Fingers tired by the day clumsily worked at the latch until Rex's hands guided them into their proper alignment and the lock clicked home.

"Not tonight Speedy. Maybe tomorrow 'kay?" Rex bargained as he settled into the drivers seat and the engine purred to life beneath them. He'd tossed his coat over his brother, casually to appear as if he was just overheated. But there was a carefulness to it, and the youngster tucked his knees under the welcome warmth.

Speed made a token protest ('nooooooooo Reeeexxxxxx!' Was becoming one of his best rehearsed lines) but Rex knew what the result would be.

Five minutes onto the road and Speed was fast asleep. His mother had mentioned it was sometimes the only thing that would put Rex to sleep as a child and it worked as reliably now as it had back then. The Mach 5 glided into the Racer's garage twenty minutes later. There was still a light on in the kitchen (mom was up) and he sat for a long moment in the driveway, the cooling engine ticking in the silence.

The executive who had offered him the Uniron driving position wanted an answer. Had really wanted an answer a week ago; but Rex had managed to convince them he'd needed time to consider the offer. He glanced over to his passenger curled under the jacket, clutching it like a talisman.

And he knew what his answer had always been.

TBC