Disclaimer: I do not own Speed Racer nor do I profit financially for writing. I do profit in the joy of another story completed to be enjoyed by the reader. ^_^ Darius and other OCs appearing throughout this ficlet DO belong to me. Paws off!

Author's Note: This is one LONG piece. I suggest you settle in with a cup of coffee or chai or hot chocolate. There is a back story to the relationship presented in this story. You'll know which one I'm talking about once you see it. The story is forthcoming. I just need to work out some finer details . . . like not repeating myself with something I've already done in a previous story.

Warnings: Male/male relationships, implied themes, a bit of language for colour, and I think that's it. Enjoy!


"Greg!"

Speed groaned and whimpered at hearing the distress in his lover's voice, annoyed Darius was calling for him yet again. Ten minutes had not even passed since the last time the other man asked for his presence, and it was only nine in the morning. His lover's narcissism, while adorable most days, was downright irritating at that moment, and Speed wanted to simply bury his head in a book so Darius could not bother him.

However, he could not ignore Darius. It did not matter the reason for his partner's constant need for attention, Speed simply could not pretend he never heard Darius when he called. There was something about the other man's voice that resonated throughout Speed, and he was always filled with a desire to see what kind of mischief had befallen Darius when he could not be there.

"Coming," he called back. He pulled himself forward and onto his feet, wandering down the hallway to the bathroom. It was the day of Halloween, and the blond-haired man was attempting to get into his costume before noon. Speed intended to wait until later in the afternoon to don his costume, especially since his partner had chosen a Santa Claus suit for him to wear. Apparently, one of the last weekends he had gone to his fathers' house for a visit without him, Darius had driven to Frankenmuth for some holiday shopping, inadvertently picking up the suit as a surprise. Speed believed the costume would come into play again before the end of the year.

When he reached the bathroom, he saw Darius sitting on the toilet, the lid down and a pout on the other man's face. Costume makeup and jewelry lay scattered on the counter and a black, knee-length, lacy skirt hung from the shower curtain rod. A dark red, gothic-looking corset hung loosely over Darius's chest. From the waist down, he wore black stockings and black boots and a black thong, an enticing and irresistible sight for the racecar driver. Speed licked his lips as he slowly approached his sulking lover, mostly to distract himself from pouncing on Darius.

"What is it, babe?" Speed asked, his voice soft and low.

"I can't get the damned corset on," Darius groused. "My boobs are giving me trouble."

Speed snorted as he fought back a chuckle, failing in the process. As much as the situation amused him, it was clear to Speed his partner was anything but overjoyed with his dilemma. Everything about his lover's costume was giving him grief to this point. Darius glanced at him and scowled.

"Oh yeah, sure. Laugh now," Darius growled. "Maybe I'll make you wear this instead."

"No thanks, babe," Speed murmured, raising his hands in a placating manner. "You look better with breasts than me anyway."

"Hrmph."

Speed knelt next to his lover and kissed his cheek. He hoped the gesture would appease the surly man long enough for him to assist Darius in getting the corset onto his body. The last thing Speed wanted was to look like a woman on Halloween, a threat Darius would carry out if the mood struck him. There were plenty of other days throughout the year when that happened, and Speed wanted to at least allay that threat for one day.

"Sorry, love," Speed said, his voice still low and soft. "It was just weird hearing you say your boobs were giving you trouble. That's all."

"I know," Darius said, sighing. Speed's gesture worked. Darius's lips tugged upwards a little, the beginnings of a smile. "That was kind of amusing, wasn't it?"

"It was," Speed said. "Now stand up. Let's get this thing on you so you can get to that party at a halfway decent time, okay?"

Darius complied with Speed's gentle order, facing the mirror as he rose to his feet. He gazed at himself as Speed stepped behind him, and Speed saw the thoughtful expression in Darius's reflection.

"Hold your boobs in place," he said.

"Got it."

It was a bit of a strange sight for Speed, Darius holding a set of fake boobs, but they were allowed to be different things from time to time. He also believed he should take full advantage of the situation. If he was not careful, the next time he saw those boobs, they would be on him. He started to lace up the corset in the back.

"What are you thinking?" he asked.

"Nothing, really," Darius replied.

"Nothing? It looked like you had an idea a moment ago," Speed murmured.

"Oh, I did, but it's not something I want to do tonight," Darius answered, his tone a little too glib for Speed's taste. "At least, not until I head back to Bronner's again."

"All right. What is it?" Speed asked, knowing he would find out anyway. "Let me know if this is too tight."

"Sure, Greg. Anyway, I was thinking we could do something special for Christmas Eve. Just you and me before we go to bed for the night, you know?"

"Special? Like what kind of special?" he asked, a little more focused on the corset now. Speed gave one of the ties a strong tug.

"A little too tight there, Greg. Anyway, I was thinking we could dress up after we get home from my dads' place."

Speed sighed. He reached the bottom of the corset and tied the strings into a bow. Darius' idea was nothing unusual. His partner never ran out of ideas to keep their life interesting. His idea to wear some kind of costume on Christmas Eve was no exception.

"All right," he said. "Which one of us is going to be Santa then?"

"Me, of course! You're Santa tonight."

Darius turned to face him, a bright smile on his face. He placed his hands on both sides of Speed's face and gave him a kiss.

"So what will I be?" Speed murmured. Already, he knew he was agreeing to this idea of his lover's, and he had no idea as to what Darius wanted.

"I was thinking you could be Santa's sexy helper," Darius said. "We don't have to wait for me to visit my dads again. Tomorrow, we can take a drive and head for Bronner's and pick up that young Mrs. Claus outfit I saw there. It's a nice velvety piece, and you know how I love velvet. And you know I like it when I can get you into a skirt anyway."

"Hmmm . . . I'll think about it," Speed replied. Darius kissed him again, a smile on his lips.

"I'm sure you will," he said. "And you'll agree to it."

"Probably," Speed admitted. "But that's a couple months away yet. Right now, it's Halloween and you have that party at one. Is there anything else you need my help with?"

"Spoilsport," Darius said with a pout. He also nodded and gestured to the skirt. "I know you told me once before, but I've got to ask again. How come you're not going with me to this? You were invited, too, you know. It won't be the same without you with me, you know?"

"Because the people there know I'm an alcoholic and they'll do anything they can to get me drunk," Speed stated, taking the skirt from its hanger. He handed the garment to Darius. "They'll even lie and try to slip me a drink. They've tried it once already. I'm not going through that shit again. I hated myself when I was like that."

"True," Darius conceded. He stepped into the skirt then turned so Speed could fasten it for him. "They are a bunch of idiots."

"They're also your cousins, and you don't see them as often as you should," Speed pointed out.

"Because they're a bunch of idiots," Darius repeated. "And I hate the fact that they don't respect you or your wishes. Maybe I shouldn't go . . ."

Speed smiled, and he kissed his partner for the third time.

"You respect me and my wishes," he said. "That's all that matters to me. Now hurry up and finish getting ready. I don't want them calling here, bitching that you're late. I want you to go and have some fun. It's only for a few hours, okay? We don't need to do everything together. It isn't going to be a hardship for me to spend the day with my parents."

"I know, I know. I need to spend more time with them. They are family, blah blah blah. You know, I've got a little bit of time left," Darius purred. He slipped his arms around Speed, his fake boobs impeding them a little. They still did not stop him, though, from kissing Speed's neck. "We could do a little trick-or-treating of our own . . ."

The blue-eyed man sighed a throaty sound, loving the attention his partner was bestowing upon him. There were times when situations between them were tense, almost bordering on degrading and abusive, but it never changed the fact that Darius was truly a gentle soul. He loved Speed with all of his heart, and he would never do anything to seriously harm him. They had lived through hell together. It helped he loved Darius just as much and was willing to perform tasks he may never considered otherwise. Speed knew he was truly a lucky man for having found a person like Darius.

Their lips had just connected and Speed's hands were tugging on the black skirt when the phone rang. Both men sighed and shook their heads, Speed more than a little irritated at the interruption.

"If it's those idiot cousins of mine, tell them I'm getting ready and I'll be there by noon, barring any unforeseen circumstances," Darius murmured, pulling away. "And I meant what I said about us doing a little trick-or-treating of our own today."

"I know," Speed said. "At least get your jewelry on while I'm on the phone, okay? I'll be right back."

The closest phone rested on a small desk halfway between the lounge area and the bathroom. Speed reached it by the third ring, bracing himself for the caller to either be Angelina or Cheryl, the more annoying of Darius's relations and the two who really wanted to get Speed hammered with alcohol.

'I'll be civil,' he promised himself as he picked up the receiver. 'And I'll continue to decline their invitation. I'm not going down that road again.'

"Hello," he said. "Evans-Racer residence."

"Greg?"

Speed blinked at the sound of his mother's voice, surprised it was not either Angelina or Cheryl. Calls from his mother usually took place in the evening hours, after she and Pops were done with their daily chores. There was the rare occasion when she called during the day, but, for the most part, conversations took place at night. It was a ritual for them, one Speed enjoyed. Right away, Speed felt a sinking sensation in his stomach. Something was not right, not if his mother's tone was any indication. He was not due to be at his parents' home for another hour or so. She sounded upset about something, and he believed he heard tears in her voice.

"What is it, Mom?" he asked. "What's happened?"

"Greg?"

Darius poked his head out of the bathroom, a frown on his face, and then he stepped out, watching and waiting for an answer. Speed shook his head, unable to tell his partner anything as of yet.

"Oh, son . . ." Her voice cracked a little, and Speed heard her sob. It was all he needed to hear.

"Mom, I'm on my way," he began, shooting a helpless glance at Darius. The dark-eyed man quickly disappeared into their bedroom.

"We're at the hospital, baby. It's . . . it's your father. He's . . . I need you to get here."

"I'll be there in ten minutes, Mom. What hospital are you at?"

"Cedar General," she replied. "Please hurry, Speed. Please."

"I will. Call me on my cell. I'll be there in ten minutes. I promise."

He hung up the phone as Darius stepped out of the bedroom, the corset, stockings and skirt replaced with socks, jeans and a dark grey Michigan State t-shirt. He pulled the shirt over his head.

"Where is she?"

"She said Cedar General," he replied. Speed felt himself starting to shake. "She said it was Pops . . ."

"Get your shoes on and grab your phone. I'll drive," Darius said, reaching for his shoes as he spoke.

"What about that party . . ." Speed began, his mind trying to process his mother's call and not thinking clearly. Too many thoughts were racing around, refusing to let him concentrate.

"Fuck it," Darius said. "You need me more than those assholes do right now. If they don't like it, that's just too damned bad. You're more important to me. Now hurry. You told Mama Bear we'll be there in ten minutes."

Speed could only nod, still shocked to hear his father was in the hospital, but he somehow managed to listen to Darius's commands. Before he knew it, he and his partner were out the door and in their car, Darius driving at as fast as the law allowed.

When they were parked in the hospital parking lot, Speed practically leapt out of the car and ran inside the building, Darius close behind him. His mother had yet to contact him through his cell phone, and that worried Speed. Why had she not called him back? What happened to put Pops into the hospital? Sure, Pops had suffered a heart attack a year after Speed had quit drinking, but the old man had been taken better care of himself. The Racer patriarch had even quit smoking, something guaranteed to improve his life expectancy. There was no reason for him to be in the hospital!

'Unless he's had another heart attack . . .'

As he entered the building, the first person Speed saw was Racer X, and the older racer's presence startled him. He had not seen the masked racer for many years, not even during the time he was killing himself with scotch and whiskey, and Speed could not help but wonder why the man had chosen to return. Speed slowed his pace, coming to a halt a few feet away from the Masked Racer.

"Racer X . . ."

The masked man turned to face him. His expression remained unreadable to Speed, but he took a few steps towards the younger man, stopping for a moment only when Darius reached him.

"Speed."

"Have you seen my mom?" he asked. "She said she was here. That Pops was here."

"She was on the sixth floor last I saw her," Racer X replied. "She was talking to one of the doctors. She asked me to wait for you down here so you knew where to go."

"Sixth floor, that . . . that was where they took Pops the last time," Speed murmured. "When . . . when he had that heart attack. I've gotta go."

He bolted for the elevators, his heart pounding with fear. If Pops was on the sixth floor again, it meant he had another heart attack or even a stroke. There was no telling just how much of a nervous wreck his mother was! There was no telling what kind of condition his father was in, either, and Speed wanted to reach them as quickly as he could.

"Speed!"

"Greg, wait up!"

The elevator doors slid open as Speed reached them and as Darius and Racer X caught up with him. His mother exited the lift, and he skidded to a halt before he knocked her to the ground. She lifted her head, fresh tears streaming down her cheeks.

"Greg . . ."

"I'm here, Mom," he murmured, hugging her. "I'm here. Pops, how . . . how is he?"

She started trembling at the mention of his father, her sobs becoming loud and strong, but she exhaled softly, as if she were also relieved. It was obvious to Speed his mother had been holding back, trying to be strong, but her resolve wavered, if only a little, in his presence. He found such a fact to be disturbing and frightening. He never saw his mother crumble throughout his life, not even after Pops' heart attack.

"Mom?"

"He's all right," she whispered. "He's okay . . . The doctors still aren't sure of what happened, but they said I was right to call an ambulance. He just . . . couldn't move when I tried to wake him this morning. He was awake, but he couldn't move. I don't know what happened . . ."

She left the words unspoken, and Speed closed his eyes, fighting back his own tears. He could not begin to describe the relief at hearing his father was going to be all right. The drive to Cedar General had been agonizing for him as he worried over why his father was in the hospital and whether or not the old man was still alive. His anxiety washed away from his body, and he embraced his mother.

Speed felt an arm wrap around him, and he opened his eyes to see Darius standing next to him and his mother. His partner's other arm was around his mother, holding them both in a warm hug, and the Racer matriarch grasped onto him as well. Darius's expression was one of relief and sympathy, and he offered a silent strength Speed realized he desperately needed at that moment.

"Greg," Darius murmured. "Let's go see Papa Bear, okay? I know you want to see him. You won't be okay until you do."

He nodded and managed a faint smile. Speed leaned against his lover, grateful for Darius's presence. Even his mother appeared grateful and relieved. She pulled away from them.

"Yeah . . . That sounds good . . ." he murmured. Speed stood straight, quickly scrubbing away any stray tears from his eyes. He then turned to see if Racer X still remained close by. The older man's reappearance after a long hiatus had Speed curious and more than a little suspicious and anxious. He wanted to know why Racer X happened to be there at the right time yet again when he had not been around in so many years. The Masked Racer stood a few feet away, as calm and as stoic as ever.

"Racer X . . ." Speed began.

"Join us," his mother interjected. "There are a few things we really need to discuss. Wouldn't you agree?"

"Of course," Racer X said with a single nod of his head. The four of them stepped onto the elevator, and Speed pressed the button for the sixth floor. Once the doors closed, his mother began to speak.

"I spoke with your father's cardiologist," she said. "He isn't sure what caused this episode with Pops, but he's certain your father did not have a heart attack or a stroke. Because he's not sure of what's wrong, he's calling in a second cardiologist. He wants to do a procedure called electro-physiology*, and it's something the other cardiologist is a specialist for such a procedure."

"And what's that going to do?" Darius asked. His arms were wrapped around Speed's waist, and he found himself leaning against his partner.

"Hopefully, it'll determine what caused him to stop moving like he did," his mother said, sighing a little. "If Dr. Harts knows that much, he can decide on a course of treatment for your father. They're going to get it done today as soon as they can. He'll be able to leave sometime today."

"That's good," Speed murmured, his anxiety leaving him. He slumped against Darius. "That's very good."

The elevator halted a few moments later, reaching the sixth floor. With Darius keeping a warm grasp on him, Speed followed his mother to the room where his father rested.

* * *

Rex Racer surveyed the clean, warm beige-toned walls of the living room, impressed at how nice and large his brother's apartment appeared to be and still a little stunned to hear how close his father had come to dying. Thankfully, Pops was all right and would be all right for a little while longer, and Rex found himself focusing on his younger brother's home. Since his comeback six years ago, Speed had moved up in the world, moving from the family's small home to a luxury apartment complex. It looked like a penthouse suite more than an apartment, and it possessed a lovely view of a local park. Granted, he had been a little surprised to discover Darius lived with Speed as well and that the two were, in fact, life partners. He thought the relationship to be nothing more than idle gossip from fellow racers, a way for them to trash talk his brother. Many were jealous of Speed and his skills as a driver, and Rex felt such people would say anything simply to make themselves feel better about their own lives. Seeing the two together, though, told him another story. He saw two people in love, two people who both were men, but the masked man figured if Speed's relationship had not bothered their parents, it should not bother him. It still shocked him, mostly because of Speed's previous relationship with Trixie, but he could not deny what he saw when Darius was near his brother. Speed appeared peaceful, relaxed, and happy. His brother smiled an awful lot, too, curling against Darius whenever he received the opportunity. Rex continued to look around, noticing the dark brown leather couch his father currently was napping on, and the plush-looking carpeting of the main living area. A black, plush recliner chair sat not too far from the couch, and an oak and glass-topped coffee table rested in the center of the room. There was even a fireplace with a mantle, several framed photos gracing the ledge of the mantle and the walls.

"It's a nice place, isn't it?"

Rex glanced at his younger brother and nodded. Darius stood on the other side of the room, his cell phone pressed to his ear. The blond-haired man seemed to be engaged in a rather heated discussion, though he was doing his best to keep his voice down.

"Yeah, it is," he replied. "Very nice. I'm sure Pops was proud of you when you moved into this place. It's actually quite impressive. I'm proud of you."

"In a way, yes," Speed murmured, walking to the couch. "He was proud that I was sobering up and returning to racing, but he wasn't happy to hear Darius and I were evolving into more than just friends and competitors. It took him six months to start speaking to me without Mom telling him to talk to me. After that, he slowly accepted how things were turning out. Darius became like a son to him and to Mom. Of course, I think it helped that he always referred to them as Mama Bear and Papa Bear. Pops gets a kick out of it, though he tries to hide it."

"Of course I'm proud of him," Pops said. Rex glanced at his father in time to see the man sit up and rub at his eyes. "I've always been proud of him, and I'll always be proud of him. He's my son, after all. I'm proud of all my sons."

"I said forget it! I'm not sorry that I missed that damned party! Something came up and Greg needed me!" All three men looked at Darius when his voice rose. "No, I'm not going to change my mind, and I don't care if you don't like it. Whine and throw a temper tantrum all you want. I really don't care."

"Must be Angelina. She's the only one who really throws a fit when he doesn't do what she wants," Speed commented. Darius heard him and nodded, exasperated.

"Whatever, Ang, whatever. Bye. Bye!" He flipped his phone shut, ending the call, and shot it a dirty look. He sat next to Speed and Pops on the sofa. "Bitch."

"Darius Michael Evans, watch your language!"

All three men turned their heads to see the Racer matriarch standing in the hallway entry, a stern look on her face. To Rex, she had composed herself quickly, and she seemed ready to take on anyone or anything that got in her way. However, she appeared a little worse for wear. Rex found it not to be surprising. She nearly lost the man she loved. Any other "look" would have been cause for suspicion.

"All right, fine. She's not a bitch. She's a crack hoe," Darius conceded. Pops and Speed choked back some laughter.

"Darius . . ." The Racer matriarch's tone contained a hint of warning, something Rex remembered all too well. She had used that tone on him and his father on numerous occasions, and it sent an ache of loss directly to Rex's heart. He missed his family. He wanted his wife and his children to meet his brothers and his parents, but he felt it to be too soon to thrust such a shock upon his parents, especially after the scare Pops had given everyone earlier (or so he kept telling himself). Maybe he could sneak his children over when it came time for the trick-or-treaters to come out for the night. Pops and Mom were sure to be delighted, and Rex noted he needed to call his wife soon. The last time he spoke with her was before Pops' procedure, and she, too, worried about the Racer patriarch's health.

"I'm sorry if my words about Angelina are upsetting you, Mama Bear," Darius murmured, "but right now, they're true. She's throwing a major fit because I didn't go to her precious party with our drunken, idiotic cousins like she thinks I should have done, and her attitude about the whole thing is seriously ticking me off. She's still drinking so she's belligerent and not listening, and I'm just not dealing with her right now."

Some of the sternness vanished from the Racer matriarch's face, and she nodded. She walked over to Darius and gave him a kiss on the cheek.

"I know. She's always been a bit difficult, hasn't she?" she said.

"Understatement," Speed muttered.

"Don't you start, either, young man," Mom snapped. "I know she's been rather large thorn in your side for the last few years, but now is not the time."

"I know, Mom. I'm sorry."

"I know, baby, and I know what she's been trying to do to you as well. It isn't right, but right now, we don't need that kind of attitude." Her attention landed on Rex. She sighed then shook her head. "Rex, take that mask off. You're in your brother's home, the least you could do is show a little respect and be yourself."

Rex's jaw dropped, stunned those words had passed his mother's lips, but he did as she had told him to do. Speed watched him and shrugged when he shot his brother a questioning glance, a bit of mirth touching the younger man's features. How had she known who he was? He had not given any indication of his identity to anyone, with the exception of Speed several years ago, and he wanted to ask her how she knew. His mother, however, did not notice for she was focused on Darius once again.

"What is all of that makeup and jewelry doing in your bathroom, Darius?"

"I'm going to be the daughter-in-law you never had for Halloween," he replied, shrugging. "The corset and skirt are in the bedroom. I changed, though, as soon as I heard Greg talking to you on the phone."

"Oh good Lord, Darius. I swear you can be quite incorrigible at times." His mother shook her head and threw her hands up in the air as she spoke, but a hint of a smile touched her features.

"I try," Darius said, laughing a little. "I've got to put them back on so I can scare the little kiddies tonight. I'm sure Papa Bear will get a kick out of that! Won't you, Papa Bear?"

"Oh good lord!" Again, his mother shook her head, but this time, she smiled and laughed a little as well. Pops chuckled but remained silent on the matter. "The next thing I know, you're going to be wearing that coconut bra again and trying to get him to hula dance with you!"

During the odd little exchange (which Speed and Pops watched with great amusement like a ping pong match), Rex's jaw dropped even further. He knew things had changed since he had left home, but he never expected a situation quite like this. His parents, it seemed, had become quite accepting of others and their quirks during the years of his absence.

'No,' he told himself. 'Not seemingly . . . they have. Pops spoke very proudly of both Darius and Speed last night when I talked to him. He loved how well they were doing, and he even said they were going to take over Racer Motors when he died. I should have known then there was something truly special between Speed and Darius.'

"That's what you and Papa Bear like about me, though, Mama Bear. I keep you on your toes," Darius said.

"I know. Believe me, I know." The Racer matriarch exhaled a little then walked towards the couch. Speed immediately moved to the recliner chair so she could sit next to Pops. Darius followed him "I'm sorry if we've put a damper on any of your plans."

"Don't be, Mom," Speed said. "I don't think Darius wanted to go to Angelina and Cheryl's party, anyway."

"Not really," Darius agreed. "I was only going because Greg insists I spend time with them. Parties are no fun if Greg isn't with me. And, since there's alcohol there . . . I'm not missing much. That's for sure."

As Rex watched the scene between Darius and his parents unfold, he felt a pang of homesickness like never before. Sadness overwhelmed him, and he found himself questioning his reasons for keeping his wife and children away from his parents and his brothers. How could he keep denying everyone? His children deserved to know their grandparents, and his parents deserved to know their grandchilren. The more he thought about his reasons, the more his reasons started to sound like excuses, and they were lame excuses at that. He sat in the recliner chair, sighing heavily, and all eyes fell on him.

"Is there something wrong, Rex?" Speed inquired. "You look a little . . . depressed."

It was the moment of truth for Rex, and he knew as much. He could always tell his brother there was nothing wrong, but it would be a lie. Rex was tired of keeping secrets from his family. It was time to finally come clean.

"There is something wrong," he began, "but it's something that I can easily remedy. It's just . . . saying what I need to say is going to be difficult . . . for everyone to hear . . ."

"For us to hear?" his mother echoed. "Rex, what are you . . ."

"I have a wife," Rex blurted out. "I've been married for fifteen years, and we have children." He exhaled softly and shook his head. "I know I hadn't said anything to you before about this, but I kept thinking the timing wasn't right. I didn't want to spring a lot onto you and onto my wife and children. I kept coming up with every excuse imaginable to not tell you. It was stupid and it was selfish of me, and I wouldn't blame any of you if you were mad at me for keeping quiet."

No one spoke. For what felt like an eternity, no one spoke, and Rex felt their shocked stares boring into him. Then Darius broke the silence and not with a comment Rex expected.

"Oh great. I'm not your only daughter-in-law now. I guess that means no more skirts for me."

His words were like a domino effect on the rest of the family. For a third time in less than an hour, Rex's jaw dropped in shock. Speed started laughing, probably unable to help himself. Darius probably had that effect on his brother the way his wife possessed the same effect on him. Even his parents were smiling and shaking their heads, but Rex saw tears forming in his both his parents' eyes.

For a moment, he thought they were disappointed in him or at least upset with him for keeping his family a secret for so long. His mother's words dispelled his fears.

"I hope we get to meet them soon," the Racer matriarch said. "Like tonight maybe? When all of the kids are out trick or treating?"

"I had intended on that," Rex said with a smile. "In fact, I better call Karen to let her know what's going on. It's been a few hours since we've talked, and I'm sure she's worried about what's happened."

"Have her bring the kids over here first before you take them out for the night," Speed interjected. "Why wait? The kids can put their costumes on here, and then we can head over to Mom and Pops' to help hand out Halloween candy. She probably won't mind help with the kids. Darius and I are going to make our famous spaghetti and meatballs."

"Your famous spaghetti and meatballs?" Rex echoed, but Speed never received the chance to reply.

"Don't the Wilsons have a good hand-out?" Darius asked. "It seems to me like they do. I swear the kids who head over there get the hugest hand-outs every year."

"That would definitely be a good place to start," Speed said. The conversation continued from that point.

Rex nodded, speechless by his family's display. Already, they were talking about meals for his children and the best houses to take them for trick or treating. In some ways, it felt like he never left them, and he excused himself so he could make the second biggest and important phone call of his life.

* * *

When Rex said he had children, that he had some nieces and/or nephews, Speed had no idea he meant six! His brother had certainly been busy with his wife for the last fifteen years. All six of Rex's children – twelve-year-old Ian, eight-year-old Andrea, six-year-old twins Michael and Jacob, two-year-old Isabelle, and eight-month-old Soleil – were handfuls, signs they were definitely Racer children, but they were also quite sweet and charming. Speed was glad his brother had quite the family. He knew he loved those children, and he knew without any doubt his mother would be spoiling each and every one of them rotten. The Racer matriarch always desired grandchildren, but with Rex gone for as long as he had been and Speed now involved with Darius, her hopes, it seemed, rested on Spritle, who was not dating anyone at the moment.

From the moment Karen arrived with the children and introductions were made, the kids tore around Speed and Darius's apartment, yelling and laughing as children were wont to do. Only Isabelle and Soleil were not wearing their costumes since the older ones wore theirs for their school's Halloween party, and Karen brought a video for everyone to watch. It was fun, and Speed enjoyed every moment. When it came time for everyone to eat before they took the children out for trick or treating – Speed decided he and Darius would make their famous spaghetti and meatballs for Halloween dinner, as usual. Darius never once complained – the kids tore into the food with a gusto that rivaled Pops and Spritle. For trick or treating, they traveled through Speed and Darius's apartment complex before heading to Mom and Pops' home and neighbourhood for the rest of the night's festivities.

Now the children (and Darius) were sleeping quite soundly, sprawled across the couch and living room floor of his parents' home and covered with blankets. Karen and Soleil were in Rex's old bedroom. Speed held Isabelle in his arms as she slept, still unable to believe he had a group of adorable nieces and nephews. From behind him, he heard someone approach, and Speed shifted a little to see Rex walking towards him. His older brother still wore the green dragon costume he donned for the evening. It was Pops' from when they were children, and the Racer patriarch had insisted Rex wear it. The old man insisted it be a tradition to pass from father to son, starting that night. Fortunately, his mother had kept the costume in pristine condition. Speed could not tell the old man had saved it for over thirty years.

"I thought you were kidding when you said you and Darius were famous for your spaghetti and meatballs," he commented, coming to a stop next to him. "That was absolutely delicious. Then again, I never thought anyone could top how Mom always made her spaghetti and meatballs, and Karen's tried on many occasions. Mom's were always the best. You and Darius both surprised me tonight with that. In fact, everyone's surprised me tonight."

"How so?" Speed inquired. Rex shrugged.

"I never really kept up with how your career was going after you sobered up," his brother explained. "I mean, I knew you were racing again and you were doing well. I was overjoyed and proud to hear you were racing again. I just wasn't expecting to find out that everything I'd heard about you and Darius to be true. And the way Mom and Pops have accepted it, it just amazes me . . ."

"Like I said before, they didn't at first," Speed replied. "Especially Pops. I think they were hoping I would seek out Trixie and make amends with her after I quit drinking. It hurt and disappointed them that I didn't, you know?"

"I can imagine," Rex said. He pulled over the ottoman and sat down. "You and Trixie were always close and quite the cute couple. It was hard to imagine you with anyone else, really. Maybe it's because of Darius that things went so smoothly for me tonight."

"Rex, we missed you. We've always missed you, and we've been waiting for you to come home for so long. It wasn't funny, how much we missed you," Speed said. "Yeah, it was a surprise to hear you got married and had kids, but, you know, I think you really brightened Mom's day when you told her she had grandchildren. Especially after Pops' trip to the hospital. I don't think you could have given them a greater gift than what you did. I truly believe they needed to hear that. Besides, I had a feeling you were going to be coming home soon."

"Oh?" Rex raised an eyebrow at him. "What makes you say that?"

"There was a number on the caller I.D. I didn't recognize," Speed said. "I saw it once last week and again today after we got here. Mom and Pops have been in really good moods lately so I figured it had something to do with you. I don't know why I did. It could have been Spritle calling from a friend's place for all I really knew. I guess I was just being hopeful."

"You check their caller I.D.?" Rex inquired. "Why?"

"Out of habit, I guess. In some ways, I can't help myself," Speed replied. He inhaled a small breath. The terrors Cain Edwards inflicted upon him were still fresh in his memories, despite the number of years that had passed. A shiver traveled along his spine as he recalled Cain's leer and boasting, of the man's hands touching him in a rough manner . . . Instinctively, he hugged Isabelle closer to his chest. "For a while there, someone wanted to hurt me in as many ways as he could, even after he was arrested, and he was using Mom and Pops to do that. He kept calling them at all hours of the night, telling them what he was going to do to me. They tried to protect me from him, but I found it by answering the phone one day. I guess a part of me is always going to worry that he's going to come back, that he isn't done, you know?"

"And do they know about this?" his brother asked. "About you checking their caller I.D. and why?"

"Yeah," he said, nodding. "They do know, and they do their best to reassure me he's not contacting them. I'm not as bad about it as I used to be, but some times . . . I just . . ."

"You panic," Rex finished for him. "And you have to be sure."

"Yeah . . ."

"Have you talked to anyone about this?" Rex inquired. "Aside from Mom, Pops, and Darius?"

"Darius's stepdad is a psychiatrist," Speed said. "During the time Darius and I were just friends, he was the one I saw. Then, when we started to date each other, I had to find someone else, but he's been a very big help over the years."

"Sounds like Darius was just what you needed and at the right time," Rex commented. He smiled a little. "I'm glad you two found each other."

"Thanks . . . that means a lot to me," Speed murmured. "I've got to warn you, though. Darius will take some getting used to. It took Mom six weeks to get used to him, and there are times I still think she isn't. He's got that effect on people."

"So I've gathered," Rex said, chuckling a little. "I'm sure he and I will get along just fine, though. We do have you in common, after all, and I want you to be happy. I can see that he makes you very happy, and I don't want you to lose that. Ever. Now, if you won't mind, I need to take that little pumpkin you're holding to her mother. It's beyond her bedtime."

"Here we go . . ." Speed smiled as he handed Isabelle over to his brother, and the two disappeared up the stairs. He then turned his attention towards his sleeping lover, his smile never leaving his face.

His life was not turning out how he originally planned. He was not married to Trixie and siring children of his own, as he once believed would happen, but he never expected someone like Cain Edwards to enter his life and turn it upside down. Speed never thought he would start drinking himself into an oblivion for the better part of five years, only to have Darius pull him back from the brink of disaster and save him from himself. Then again, Speed did not mind most of the events that happened in his life. Some were tragic, naturally, but others were filled with love and happiness, the love and happiness and hope Darius had given back to him. He knew he was right where he needed to be in his life.

Quietly, so as not to wake his niece and nephews, Speed rose to his feet and walked over to where Darius lay on the floor. He slipped under the blanket, one arm draping across his slumbering lover's side, and he closed his eyes. Several minutes later, sleep claimed him, feeling peaceful and contented.

* * *

With the exception of the soft breathing sounds coming from his children and grandchildren, silence reigned throughout the Racer household. It was unusual, considering hours before the laughter of excited and happy children filled the place for the first time since Spritle left for college. Richard "Pops" Racer did not mind, however, and he watched as his middle son slept, his rest quiet. It had been a long time since he saw his middle son sleep and so peacefully at that, and Pops could not even begin to describe how it pleased him to see Speed so content with his life.

Another Halloween had come and gone, and Pops felt this to be one of the best ones yet. His oldest boy had finally returned home. Sure, he brought with him a wife and six rambunctious children, but Pops could not begrudge Rex for his decisions for his life, just as he could not begrudge Speed for his decisions. A man needed a family to come home to at the end of the day, and Rex found himself one vivacious and tenacious young woman to call his wife, much like Pops had when he met and fell in love with Rachel. It did not surprise Pops that Rex had found someone to suit him and to give him what he needed. He got six beautiful grandchildren out of the deal. How could he complain about that!

As he stared into the living room, his gaze traveled from Rex's four oldest children to Speed and Darius. The two were smiling as they slept, Darius's arms now wrapped protectively around his middle son. It was good to see his son-in-law (was that how it went between two men who were lovers and life partners and their respective families? Pops was not sure) out of his skirt and corset and Speed out of that Santa suit. Why they had chosen such costumes, Pops was not sure. He only knew the two were ridiculously in love with each other, and he was as happy for Speed as much as he was for Rex. The only thing Pops lamented was Speed would never know the joys of raising his own children, not unless he and Darius either adopted a child or found a woman to be a surrogate.

A light touch to his shoulder brought him out of his musings, and he turned to see his wife standing behind him. She wore a gentle smile on her face, and she slipped her arms around his.

"I don't think they're going anywhere," she said. "You can relax for now . . . Papa Bear."

To that, Pops chuckled a little.

"Papa Bear, huh? You, too?"

"He was right, though," Rachel said. "When he called you Papa Bear all those years ago. He was right. We are big, overprotective bears when it comes to our children. We wouldn't have it any other way."

"Hnnn . . ." Pops pressed his forehead against Rachel's, smiling. She was right, of course. There was hardly an occasion when she was not right, and Pops loved her for it. She was the calm to his storm, his anchor when life seemed to throw too much at him. Pops knew he would not have survived the ordeal with Cain Edwards trying to kill their son if it had not been for his wife. She had remained strong, even when she wanted to break down and weep for their son. He would always be grateful for her in his life, even after his life ended. His love for her ran that deep. "It was a very good day today."

"Yes, it was. And the kids wonder why you love Halloween so much. Come on. You shouldn't overexert yourself. Doctor's orders," Rachel murmured. "It's time for bed."

Pops nodded, switching off the lights as he did. One day, he would tell his children and his grandchildren the reasons why he loved Halloween more than most other holidays. He would tell them how he met an incredible woman on that day, a strong and courageous and beautiful woman, and how she continued to enthrall him with her smile, her laugh, and her love. Until that day came, he would continue to enjoy each Halloween as it came to him.

With all three of his sons safe and where they needed to be, his life could only get sweeter.


* electro-physiology - a procedure similar to a heart cath. The patient can leave in as little as a few hours or stay overnight, depending on the results the cardiologist finds. I only know about this procedure because it was performed on my dad in September of 2009. Thanks for reading!