Disclaimer: I do not own Speed Racer. I only own the OCs presented forth.


If there was one thing in her life Rachel Racer knew to be the absolute truth, it was how much she loved her family. There was not a single day that passed her by where she did not count her blessings for bringing into the world three wonderful sons. There was not a single day that passed her by where she was not grateful for finding such a kind and wonderful and loving person in her husband. While it was true her family had seen and endured its share of hard times, of times when everything appeared to be so dark, no light could ever have the chance to shine through – those were times when Rachel felt her hope for a better day slipping away from her – she knew she would not change her life for anything in the world. Life was not meant to be perfect and happiness all of the time. If it were not for the darkness, the sadness, the anger and the fear, how could her family better appreciate the light, the happiness, and the simple moments of pure joy that were meant for them and for them alone? They could not, she knew, and those little ideas, those little truths she had learned over the course of her life, were what kept her from wishing for a different outcome. It was those little ideas and little truths that helped her to appreciate what she had in her life, and she promised herself, as she rose for the day and slipped into her soft green bathrobe – one of a few gifts she had received from Darius and Speed the previous Christmas and one of her personal favourites – that she would let everyone know just how truly grateful she was for their presences in her life. It was a Thanksgiving tradition, after all, to say what one was grateful for, and there was not much that she did not count her blessings and her thanks for every day.

And what she had in her life was the most unusual and the most loving family beyond for what any woman could wish. Her husband was a former world-wrestling champion turned top-notch automotive design genius. He was also a bulky bear of a man, strict yet loving and caring with his children, but still the kindest soul the world had to offer a woman like her. He would gladly lay down his life for her and their sons, as any parent should do in her opinion. The entire debacle with Cain Edwards had proven as much to her and to their middle and youngest sons several years prior. Rachel glanced at her slumbering husband, a soft smile on her features. She whispered a very quiet "I love you" to him, kissed him on his right cheek, and then slipped quietly out of the room and down the stairs. She still had a few more pies and cakes to bake. This Thanksgiving promised to give her a house filled with friends, new family members and old, and with grandchildren and the hearty appetites of her husband and sons. The last thing she wanted to do was disappoint anyone. It was something Speed told her she could never do, but Rachel always felt it would happen someday. The thought alone was something she could not bear so she always tried to prevent the idea from ever returning.

As she walked down the stairs, her mind wandered to thoughts of her oldest son, Rex. He had always been the one to live for adventure, he was the second most studious, but he was the most outgoing and gregarious. He always had his friends over to the house, and, more often than not, Rex found himself landing into more trouble than what was truly good for him. She recalled all of the times he and his friends pretended to be pirates, sailing on the high seas and finding lost treasure. There were also times when the boys raced their go-karts around the yard, laughing and yelling the entire time. It was how they discovered Rex's ability to drive a car on a track and his passion for racing. Pops entered the boy into a variety of go-kart races. Rex even played football and basketball from the time he was fourteen years old, often becoming one of the best players on his team. When he entered his first professional race at the age of eighteen, it had come as no surprise to Rachel that he had done such a thing. The only surprise, and one of her biggest heartaches, was when he left to gain the experience he required to improve his skills. Of her three sons, he was, without a doubt, the most like his father. Both men were stubborn, standing strong in their opinions about what was best, but they were also both very loyal to each other and to their families and overly protective. Rachel saw it in the way she observed Rex behaved around his own children. He was just as protective of his sons and daughters as Pops was of his three sons, if not more so than the Racer patriarch. To borrow a page from Darius and his outlook on life, Rex was now becoming a Papa Bear as well, and he was learning from the best Papa Bear in Farmington Hills. It was not a bad thing, either, and Rachel smiled as she glided through the living room and into the kitchen. She still could not wrap her mind around the fact her oldest son was home and that he had a family. It still felt like a dream, but she was glad for it all the same. She loved her son, and, no matter what disagreements Rex and Pops had in the past or would have in the future, her boy – their boy – was always welcome in their home.

The first thing Rachel did the moment she stepped into her kitchen was set the coffee makers to brewing coffee, one with decaffeinated coffee and the other with regular, and then start a light breakfast of some eggs and turkey bacon. Pops was no longer allowed to consume caffeine, a switch she had done as well, but their children still liked regular coffee. They were also expecting Karen's parents, sisters, and brother and their respective families to join them for Thanksgiving dinner as well as Darius's fathers. Rachel only hoped Karen's parents would not mind to see two sets of men in relationships together. It would be a tense day instead of a joyous one if that were the case. Rachel did not want that. She was rather fond of Darius and his two dads. They were the ones who initiated the healing process and returned to her the child she nearly lost at three points in her life, the first time to a premature birth, the second time a psychopath stalker, and the third to alcohol abuse. She would not forsake them for the comfort of people she had yet to meet.

As she scrambled the eggs for breakfast and waited for both pots of coffee to brew, Rachel's thoughts turned from Rex to Greg, and she could not help but smile. Her middle son was not as outgoing as his older brother. Soft-spoken and shy to the point where it was nearly painful for him, Greg barely possessed a handful of friends, and yet, Rachel noticed, he was no less loving than either her husband or her oldest son. There were many days where Greg sat with her as she knitted or crocheted some little item for a family member, drawing pictures and telling her stories. Thoughtful and insanely imaginative as well as the most studious of her boys, Greg endured more than his fair share of torment from his classmates, but his quiet attitude and soft-spoken soon started to draw people towards him. Rex's popularity had not helped matters any, either, at first, but it never caused any strife between the two boys. If anything, Greg adored his older brother, sometimes vowing to one day become like his big brother Rex. Rachel thought it to be ironic that Greg earned his nickname of Speed at the age of six, besting Rex one day as the two boys raced home from school. No one expected such an outcome, especially since Rex was taller, but it had happened all the same. It was also that footrace between the two boys that Greg's tenacity and resourcefulness had shown through, traits Rex also possessed, and Rachel often worried over what would happen should the two ever become competitive. The earning of his nickname had set a definitive precedence for Greg's life soon after, for he joined in as many of the sports teams as he could. It seemed like the Racer men thing for them to do – play sports. He enjoyed running track the most and joining his father and older brother at the racetrack, and the Racer household became more and more racing crazed than they had ever been before. The hardest story Greg had ever told anyone, including her, was the story of his battle with alcoholism – how it started and how he started to overcome his addiction. From what Rachel understood, her son's autobiography continued to sell and garner great demand, nearly seven years after it had originally been published.

The coffee had just finished brewing when Pops and Spritle finally came down the stairs for breakfast. Rachel smiled at them as they entered, and, with a kiss to their cheeks, she set the eggs and turkey bacon (something Spritle did not know about just yet) onto the table. It was just the three of them at the table, something Rachel missed, but it was something she had learned to accept a long time ago. Children grew up, and they left the home to create homes and families of their own, no matter how unusual that family could become. She did not like it, but then she figured no mother truly did. She sipped on her coffee and gazed at her youngest boy.

Unlike Rex and Speed, who were both tall with well-built physiques (attributes they acquired from her side of the family more than they had from Richard's side), Spritle possessed his father's muscular bulk, his ingenuity and problem-solving skills, and his love for wrestling. Spritle also inherited Rex's ability to land himself into trouble. It had not helped he liked to hide in the trunk of the Mach 5 for many years. Every time she discovered her youngest son gone, only to learn he had hidden in his brother's car for the dozenth or so time, Rachel thought her heart would stop beating. As he grew older, Spritle had become like a hurricane on two feet. Like his older brothers, Spritle loved sports, involving himself on the track, football, and basketball teams for his high school, but he had not opted to become a professional racecar driver. Earning scholarships for track and basketball, Spritle chose to attend Lake Superior State College in the Upper Peninsula after he graduated high school, focusing his studies in electronics and automotive design. He was due to graduate with his second Bachelor's degree the following spring semester, and it was thanks to the advice from a young man she never expected to meet, let alone call and think of as her son as she eventually had come to do. That young man was one Darius Evans.

When she first met Darius, Rachel had felt unsure of what to think about him. She was grateful to him. After all, it had been his actions that had saved Speed from killing himself with whiskey and scotch. However, once their five-day trip ended and they returned from Philadelphia, Darius had moved into Speed's home. He never allowed Speed any form of privacy, either. Darius monitored every phone call that was made and received, drove her son wherever he needed to go, and pretty much controlled every aspect of Speed's life for well over six months. The measures were drastic at the time, but Rachel had to admit they were what her son needed. Speed stopped drinking. His health improved with each passing day, and he started to move forward with his life. What Rachel thought was the most promising of each sign she saw of her son's recovery was the way he smiled.

They were tentative at first, each little smile, but they were there nonetheless and increasing in their frequency. The only times Rachel had seen such smiles from her boy were the years he had dated Trixie, and those smiles were what had given her so much hope. Her son was in love again, and Rachel wanted to meet the young woman responsible for those beautiful smiles that could only belong to Speed. It was a shock when she learned those smiles were because of Darius – she had witnessed many times when the other man berated Speed worse than what Pops had ever done – but there was little she and her husband could do to prevent the two from pursuing each other.

Then again, Rachel knew now she would not have it any other way. At the same time Speed learned more about his lover, she, Pops, and Spritle learned about Darius, and they discovered a warm and caring young man hidden underneath a brash and harsh exterior. It was also obvious to them that Darius loved Speed as well and just as much as Speed loved him, and Rachel no longer wondered about what-ifs. They were futile exercises for the most part, and she could not deny that Darius made her son happy. That was what truly mattered to her.

An hour after breakfast and after she and her family dressed for the day, the Racer matriarch was elbow-deep into rolling and kneading the last of her pie dough when the doorbell rang. She heard Pops answering, and she laughed a little when Kyle Evans said something to her husband, which caused both men to laugh as well. Doug Giovanni, Kyle's life partner and Darius's stepdad, entered her kitchen a moment or so later, carrying a tall white bag. He offered her a bright and warm smile as he set the bag onto the opposite counter.

"Hello, Rachel," he said. "Happy Thanksgiving. It smells wonderful in here."

"Hello, Doug. Happy Thanksgiving to you, too, and thank you," she replied. "I'm glad you like it. Where are Greg and Darius? I thought they would be arriving with you."

"We decided to drive in separate cars since they were packing their backseat with food. They were right behind as we left their apartment, but I think they had to stop somewhere first before they came here. We brought an apple pie and a cherry pie," Doug said as he took a Tupperware cake pan from out of the bag and placed it into her refrigerator and then joined her, "as well as some tiramisu. Darius insisted on the tiramisu. I'm guessing you're not quite done with your pies yet. Need a hand so you can start on your cakes?"

"Of course Darius would want tiramisu. You're the one who got him started on it as a tradition," Rachel said with another laugh. She then stepped away from her pie dough and gestured towards it. "Please. Be my guest. How was your drive down yesterday?"

"Nerve-wracking," Doug joked. He rolled up his sleeves – he always wore a nice business shirt of some kind; this particular one was blue – then proceeded to knead the pie dough. "I swear Kyle likes to drive slick and snow-covered roads as fast as he possibly can. It's like he's a big kid or something."

"And you let him get away with it?" she asked. Rachel quickly cleaned off her hands and pulled out what she needed for her cakes and set about mixing the ingredients together.

"Only when I think he needs the thrill," Doug replied. "He was excited to hear he finally gets to meet the infamous Rex Racer. We've heard so much about him over the years. I figured he'd need to drive at some point to get his excitement out of his system."

"So Greg did mention it to you," Rachel murmured. "I figured he might."

"He did, and so did Darius," Doug answered. "They're both enamoured with Isabelle, if the way they talk about her is any indication. Darius couldn't get over just how much Rex and Greg look so much like each other. He said he could tell they were brothers."

"They do look a lot alike, don't they?" she said, pausing in her work. It was the first time she actually pictured both Rex and Greg next to each other and as adults. She never paid much attention to such little details before, but now that Doug pointed them out to her . . . The similarities were more than a little startling.

"From what little I've seen of Rex, I'd say yes," Doug murmured. "Not that it's a bad thing per se . . . I just wonder how much Rex knows about . . ."

"Cain Edwards? I know as much as Speed has told me and from what I've read," a light tenor male voice interjected. Rachel glanced in her oldest son's direction, more than a little surprised to see he stood in the kitchen entryway. She had not even heard him or his family come into the house. In his arms were Soleil and Isabelle. Both girls were bundled for the cold weather and covered in a light dusting of snowflakes. Rex offered her an apologetic smile. "The kids are helping Karen and her parents bring in more food. That's how come you didn't know we were here just yet. It'll be noisy soon enough. The rest of her family drove not too far behind us. We had quite the caravan parade as we drove here."

Rex placed Soleil's baby carrier into a chair and then set Isabelle to standing in another chair. As he removed her winter snow clothing, he glanced at Doug, his eyes filled with curiosity. Rachel watched him while she resumed her business with her cakes. Pops and Kyle walked into the kitchen a minute or so later, talking and laughing as they had grown accustomed to doing with each other.

"Rex," Pops began, "I'd like for you to meet Kyle Evans and Doug Giovanni. They're Darius's fathers. Kyle, Doug, this is my oldest boy, Rex. The two lovely young ladies with him are his daughters Isabelle and Soleil."

"It's a pleasure to finally meet you," Kyle said, extending his hand towards Rex. "We've heard a lot about you."

"And I've heard a lot about you as well," Rex replied, taking Kyle's proffered hand. Rachel smiled at the display before her, her heart feeling warm and light. To her, this was how Thanksgiving was meant to be – cheerful and filled with the love and laughter of family. The laughter soon turned into chaos when Karen brought the rest of the children into the house, followed by her parents, three sisters, younger brother, and their respective partners and families. Introductions were made yet again, and Rachel discovered she had more help in her kitchen than what she could have truly asked for from her guests. In addition to Doug, Karen, her mother Caroline, and her oldest sister Serena were to assist her with stuffing the turkeys (there were now five of the birds), peeling potatoes, baking the remaining pies and cakes, and keeping the coffee brewed. She was only missing her final two helpers to fill her kitchen to the maximum.

Several minutes after Rex arrived with his family and in-laws, Speed and Darius walked through the back door and into the kitchen. Rachel smiled as they entered, carrying several vegetable trays. Their cheeks and their noses were bright red from the cold, but they were smiling as they set out the trays for everyone to dig into while they waited for the birds to roast. For a long while, the Racer home sounded much like it had when Rex and Speed were young children, and it warmed Rachel's heart. She knew she could not have asked for a better day.

* * *

Darius inhaled a deep breath as he stepped outside the Racer household and into the crisp November air. His mind reeled from what seemed like an insane number of children running around inside the home. He knew there would be more than Rex's six little monstrosities. The Racers, after meeting Karen on Halloween, extended the invitation for her family to dine with them on Thanksgiving. They had extended the same invitation to his dad and stepdad the first year he and Greg were dating so it was understandable they would do the same for Rex and Karen and her family. Unlike Darius, however, who was for the most part an only child, Karen had four siblings, three sisters and a brother. Two of her sisters were married with three children each as was her brother, who had twin sons. The youngest sister happened to be a lesbian, and she brought her girlfriend, which he believed eased Greg's mind as to how receptive Karen's parents would be to them and to Darius's dads. With Spritle home from college, it promised to fill the Racer home to the maximum capacity.

It just meant that, instead of six children tearing around the house, there were fourteen, and Darius felt the beginnings of a headache coming onto him after an hour or so of listening to their screaming and laughing. He excused himself as quietly as he could, slipped into his padded and faux fur-lined leather jacket, and stepped outside to clear his head.

The Racer household was always meant to be noisy and boisterous and filled with children running around, as was currently taking place. Darius had always understood as much when he first met Greg. Mom had given birth to three sons. There were six years between Rex and Greg, and eight years between Greg and Spritle. Darius believed Mom missed her house, her home, being filled with children. She certainly seemed delighted to have her home full when he and Greg walked in the door, and he knew he could not blame his Mama Bear for what she wanted in her life. She hardly asked anything from anyone, often putting her family's needs over her own needs. It was only fitting that at least one of her children provided her with the love and warmth of grandchildren. He simply needed a moment to himself, away from the noise.

From behind him, Darius heard the door open, and he turned to see who had walked out to join him. He smiled when he saw it was Greg, bundled in his favourite blue jacket (a garment that hugged the other man's frame quite nicely) and with his hands stuffed into his pockets. His life partner smiled at him as he stepped into the cool November air, his hands touching upon Darius's arm. Greg leaned against him, something Darius enjoyed. He tilted his head.

"How'd you know I was out here?" he asked. To his inquiry, Greg shrugged.

"I watched you walk out here, silly," Greg replied. "That's how."

"Of course," Darius murmured. He shifted his body a little so he could wrap his arm around his boyfriend. "I should've known you couldn't keep your eyes off of me."

"My eyes or my hands?" Greg teased. He still smiled as he spoke.

"Hmmmm . . ." was all Darius would say in reply. The answer was both, for many obvious reasons, but it was an answer he did not need to give. He pulled Greg closer to him. "Why are you out here? It isn't exactly the warmest of weather, you know."

"I know," Greg murmured. "I just thought I'd see how you were holding up. It isn't exactly the quietest in there, and I know that can get to you sometimes. You're not used to such a ruckus." He hesitated for a moment. "Feeling any regrets?"

"About not having children? No. I think maybe in a different life, it would bother me not to be a dad, but right now it doesn't. I'm all right and content with what we have," he said. "I just needed some air. That's all." It was Darius's turn to pause for a moment. "You know, I don't begrudge Mama Bear anything at all, right?"

"I know you don't," Greg replied as he pressed his forehead to Darius's forehead. Their lips were mere inches apart. "You never have. What brings this up?"

"Nothing much, really," Darius said, exhaling a little. "It's just . . . it's just the amount of children in the house right. It feels like it's always should have been that way, you know? And I'm just happy for Mama Bear that she's finally getting something she's always wanted."

"You mean like her oldest son finally coming home and bringing with him the grandchildren she's always wanted as well?"

"Yeah," Darius said, nodding. "That and I know she doesn't ask much of anything from anybody, especially from you or Papa Bear. She's just this kind and warm and caring person. I've never met anyone quite like her, and it just baffles me that she'd accept so many people into her home for the holidays. It's like it was always meant to be this way with the noise and the kids and all that. It makes her happy and keeps her young." He paused. "I know Papa Bear would be totally lost without her."

"I think we'd all be lost without her. She's always been the one to kind of hold us together, you know?" Greg replied. Both men turned towards the house. From where they stood, they were able to see the Racer matriarch speaking with her recently newfound daughter-in-law's mother, Darius's stepdad, and Karen. Mom held the youngest of the children, who happened to be eight-month-old Soleil, in her arms, and on her face was the largest smile. The oldest of the children were now engrossed in playing some kind of videogame on the PlayStation 3 console Darius had purchased. A couple of the younger children were sleeping on the sofa while the rest of the adults drank coffee and watched the Lions lose to Green Bay, and the atmosphere within the home was one of general gaiety. It was like a picture from a greeting card. Some freshly fallen snow on the ground and on the windowpanes would complete the look. "It looks warm and cozy in there."

"It's warm and cozy right here," Darius murmured. His free arm slid around Greg's waist, finding some heat underneath the material of his boyfriend's coat. "All we need now is some hot chocolate with mini marshmallows, a fireplace, the biggest blanket we can find . . . and a bearskin rug."

"You're so bad . . ."

Darius decided they had done enough talking at that point. Whatever else Greg had to say was lost when their lips met in a tentative and yet fiery kiss. A tingle of excitement coursed through Darius, a sensation that seemed to start in his toes and spread throughout his entire body. The longer their lips touched, the more the intensity of that sensation increased. If it were not for the facts he stood in front of his lover's home and that there were very young children able to see them, Darius knew he would not be able to refrain from pushing Greg against the house and taking him right then and there. With his eyes closed, he released his cares and his worries from his mind, his only true focus being the one he held in his arms.

A minute or so later, their kiss had turned from one into several kisses, and Darius felt something wet and cold land on his cheeks, his forehead, and his nose. He opened his eyes and saw at least a dozen snowflakes in Greg's hair. His cheeks were already flushed from their kiss, his eyes sparkled a dark blue, and the snow only added more allure to the one person who captured Darius's heart.

"You look good with snow in your hair," Greg murmured.

"Funny," Darius replied. "I was thinking the same thing about you."

Darius wanted to resume kissing Greg. He started to resume kissing Greg. He was even of the mind to usher his lover back into the house and up the stairs where they could be alone behind a closed door. Rachel had never converted Greg's bedroom into a gaming room or a sewing room. They had hired a contractor to extend their home for such things, but the boys' bedrooms remained as they were after they had moved out of the home. Because the rooms had never been converted, Darius knew he and Greg could lock the door long enough for what he had in mind without fear of interruption. What stopped him from leading his lover back into the house, though, was a car pulling up to the curb behind his and Greg's Taurus and stopping. He noticed the car from the corner of his eye and turned his head, a slight frown on his face. It was not a car he recognized.

"Were your parents expecting anyone else?" he asked. To his question, Greg shook his head.

"Aside from Mark? No," Greg replied. "When I talked to them about their guest count last week, they told me who was going to be here. The only one who's missing is Mark, and he won't be here for at least another thirty minutes."

As they stood there and watched the car, the engine to it cut off. From what Darius could see, there were four people inside the vehicle – two adults and two small children. The adult – a lanky man with a messy head of red hair – then alighted from the driver's side of the car, and Darius heard Greg's sharp yet nearly inaudible gasp. A petite woman with long, strawberry blond hair emerged from the passenger side. He also sensed his lover's body tensing a little, and Greg's hand found his, locking it in a tight grip.

"Greg, do you know those people?" he inquired, his voice low so only his life partner could hear him. Greg managed a nod, his own voice low and shaky when he spoke.

"Yeah, I do," he said. The two glanced at each other, and Darius saw the uncertainty and fear in Greg's eyes. "I just haven't seen them in a long time."

"Is it . . ?" He left the rest left unsaid. He knew Greg's past better than what most people gave him credit for and what they expected of him. Darius knew there were two individuals Greg had not seen since his downward spiral with alcoholism began nearly eleven years prior. They were two people Greg had cared about deeply, and he wanted to find them. He had hurt them with his drinking, and Greg wanted to atone for his mistakes. Darius knew for a fact what his life partner desired because Greg told him everything. They only allowed temporary secrets between each other, relying on the other's brutal honesty to keep their relationship strong. If they could not do that for each other, then they had no business being involved in a relationship together. Because of how they conducted their relationship, Darius knew about the searches for those two people in Greg's past. He knew those searches had yielded no results. Now one of those individuals appeared to be returning, and Darius wanted to know why.

"Yeah," Greg said, nodding his head once. Darius was not sure if his lover wanted to laugh or to cry. He squeezed Greg's hand in reassurance. He also noticed their fingers were cold from standing outside for so long. "It is."

"Then let's go say hello to them, shall we?"

* * *

If there was anything Rex missed in his life after he left home, it was his parents and his brothers. By leaving as he had, he missed both Speed and Spritle graduating from high school. He missed his father's achievements of starting a topnotch automotive company and his mother returning to school for a culinary degree. Everything they earned were moments in their lives he had never witnessed and never shared with them. He never saw when they stumbled and nearly lost all they had worked for during the years of his absence. Most of all, he missed the way his family treated him and loved him. Rex knew he could count on his father to stand behind him during a difficult period. He knew he could count on his mother to offer him comfort in the way only a mother could offer her child. Rex even knew he could count on his brothers to lift his spirits and make him smile, whether or not it was something he wanted to do. He stared at the pictures on his mother's walls, seeing everything that had changed and everything that had remained the same. He gazed over each photograph, each memory captured forever in time, and smiled, knowing there were a few walls like his mother's in his own home. His gaze came to a rest on a photo of Speed and Darius.

The two were sitting Indian-style in front of what looked like the Racer Christmas tree, facing each other and smiling. The lights were lit, and both men were engrossed in conversation, leaning dangerously close to the other. In their hands were coffee mugs, and they wore nearly identical sweaters, only Greg's sweater was blue and Darius's red. Someone had stuck a green gift wrap bow on the top of Darius's blond-haired head and a blue one on the top of Speed's head. Both men looked somewhat comical, but they also did not appear to care. In gazing at the photo, Rex could see how deeply both men loved each other, and he was grateful and more than happy for Speed.

Speed. His younger brother hardly answered to that nickname anymore. In the short amount of time he had spent with them, Rex had not failed to notice how Kyle and Doug called his brother by his birth name of Greg as opposed to Speed. Darius called Speed Greg. Even his parents called his younger brother by his birth name. It jarred Rex every time he heard someone say his brother's name, and it was another indication of how things had changed during his absence.

"Those two are quite the pair, aren't they?" a male voice commented. Rex tilted his head to see Kyle Evans standing a few feet away from him, a cup of coffee in his hand. "It seemed like their relationship shocked the entire world when it finally came out they were seeing each other."

"Darius wasn't into other men?" Rex inquired. He felt a little surprised to hear such a revelation. He knew his younger brother had never shown an interest in dating another man. Then again, Trixie had been an integral part of Speed's life for a very long time, it seemed. Knowing of his brother's relationship with the petite brunette was the reason why he never believed what he heard about Speed and Darius.

"Good heavens, no," Kyle replied with a laugh. "He had quite a few girlfriends in high school and college. Some of these relationships were serious, too, but they never lasted. I always thought it was because he hadn't found the right person for him. Turns out I was right. I just never expected it to be with another man."

"How did they end up together in the first place?"

"You didn't read your brother's autobiography, did you?"

"Karen bought it for me, and I started to read it," Rex began, "but then I had to put it down. There was just too much pain and fear in his words, and it broke my heart. I hated myself for not being there for him, and I feared how he'd react to me just showing up out of the blue. I feel like I've let him down in so many ways."

"Ah, but the book doesn't have a sad ending," Kyle replied. "It doesn't have a happy ending, either."

"How could it have any kind of an ending?" Rex asked. "He was in his twenties and still alive."

"That's what he said on the last page," Kyle murmured. His eyes were on the photo Rex had stared at a moment before. "He was starting a new book, so to speak. At least, that's how he felt at that time."

Rex nodded.

"I can understand that," he said, his tone soft. "I've been there myself. However, you didn't answer my question. How did they end up together in the first place?"

"I guess I didn't," Kyle said, sighing a little. It was one of those sighs that signified fondness and hints of sadness. The older man was by no means irritated with him, and he smiled with the same sadness and fondness as was in his sigh. "Well, I guess it goes back to the last time Greg had a drink. He didn't know it would be the last time he had a drink, either. Darius literally dragged him from that bar and started to dunk him in ice water."

"Ice water?" Rex echoed. He could not believe his brother would allow anyone to do that to him, whether or not he was inebriated.

"Ice water," Kyle confirmed. "Greg was dunked into ice water repeatedly until Darius thought he was sober enough for him to stop."

"And Speed didn't fight back? At all?"

"No. He didn't fight back. He didn't have the will to fight back," Kyle said sadly with a shake of his head. "According to Darius, anyone could have done anything to him, and he wouldn't have cared. It was quite the struggle at first. Greg didn't want to be sober, but Darius wasn't about to give up on him."

"He came at a good time. We really needed his help. Greg needed his help, needed him. We just didn't know it at that time," his mother commented. She walked up behind Kyle. She still held Soleil, who was fast asleep, and her smile was similar to Kyle's, filled with sadness and fondness. "We kept trying to get Greg to quit drinking. It seemed like everything we tried failed, too. He kept fighting us. He was just so devastated. We felt like we had failed him each time. Darius . . . he fought Greg every step of the way, and he fought as hard as Greg. He was determined to sober Greg up and keep him sober. He wasn't going to give up or let us give up. I, for one, am extremely grateful."

"That boy always did like a challenge," Kyle agreed. "And Greg was a challenge to him at that time. He still is, too. Darius keeps telling me he never knows from one minute to the next what Greg is going to do."

"What Greg is going to do? What about what Darius is going to do?" his mother exclaimed. Rex could tell she was trying to keep her voice low due the number of people in her home. "Darius is more unpredictable that what Greg could ever dream of being. Or have you forgotten about the coconut bra and grass skirt incident?"

"No," Kyle began. "I haven't forgotten that . . . I don't think anyone who was there could ever forget that . . ." He let out another sigh, this one of amusement and definitely filled with love. "I heard about the gothic girl costume Darius wore on Halloween, too. Those two can get pretty crazy at times."

"Wow," Rex murmured. "I had no idea . . . So Darius is the reason why Speed . . . I mean, Greg . . . is sober . . . it still doesn't fully explain how they went from being friends to that." As he spoke, he gestured to the photo of his brother and Darius from a previous Christmas.

"In some ways, Rex," his mother began, "you had to be there to see what was actually going on between them. Even then, I'm not sure you'd be able to understand how they ended up together. They were very quiet about the emotions they held for each other, and the fact they were seeing each other didn't become big news until after Greg's book was published. No one who watches them can deny that they're in love with each other. I can't imagine him with anyone else now. There are times I still wonder about their relationship, especially when they become truly competitive with each other, and I love Darius like he's my own son. I must admit, though, Greg has become more mellowed out since he and Darius got together. He isn't quite so hot-headed anymore."

"He can't," Kyle said. "If he does and it's over something Darius thinks is stupid, Darius pins him down and starts to tickle him."

"Oh my, yes," Mom said. She laughed a little as well. "I won't ever forget the day I walked into this house and saw Greg laughing so hard he couldn't breathe. Darius was sitting next to him, his face just as flushed. I thought he was dying because Darius had tickled him so much. For the rest of that day, he couldn't even look at Darius without giggling. I never did find out the reason for that tickle war."

"Why does that not surprise me?" Rex asked, shaking his head. He recalled the number of times he had tickled his younger brother to the point of uncontrollable giggle fits. He reached for his sleeping baby girl and, once she was in his arms, returned his attention back to the photo of Greg and Darius on Christmas Day. A few things were starting to become obvious to him about why some things had changed. "I take it was Darius who started calling Speed 'Greg' again?"

"Yes," his mother answered. "It's part of what helped him to recover in the beginning. Having Darius call him by his birth name gave him a sense of normalcy your brother desperately needed. We just kept hearing it so much it became natural for us to start calling him Greg. On the racetrack, though, he's still Speed."

"And still one of the best drivers out there," Kyle added. "I heard you were very good, too."

"I had some pretty good reasons to race," Rex replied enigmatically. He smiled as well. He received quite the thrill when he raced against his younger brother, and he was looking forward to racing with Speed and Darius in the upcoming season. "It afforded me some very good excuses to see my family again. Not that I truly needed them."

"No, you didn't need them," his mother agreed. "You were always welcome. You're just like Pops in that respect. Stubborn, stubborn, stubborn."

"And you won't ever let me forget it," Rex said. The three of them fell silent for a few minutes or so, staring at the picture. Kyle then let out an amused snort and pointed.

"I love that picture, Rachel," he said. "I really do, and so does Doug. They just look so comical together with those bows on their heads. It's the picture Doug shows people when he talks about Greg and Darius, and they ask to see a picture of them. We had to make another copy because he keeps showing it off. It's . . . them. There's just no other way to say it. It's them and in one of their best moments."

"I can't deny that," his mother said with a laugh. "It is them, and you can see it whenever you see them looking at each other. I love looking at it myself. It makes me forget about the rough patches they've endured together. I can't help but smile."

"Their faces are probably bright red hearing you two talk that way," Rex commented. He turned to see where Speed and Darius were sitting and to discover if they were watching the trio. His mother and Kyle also turned around, also searching for Speed and Darius. His brother and his lover were nowhere to be seen.

"Now where did those two go?" Kyle murmured.

"I think Darius stepped outside for a moment," his mother replied. "I think the noise of the kids was getting to him. Greg must have joined him."

As if to prove his mother right, the front door swung open, and both Speed and Darius stepped inside. Behind them were four more people, two children and two adults. Rex immediately recognized the adults, and he felt his jaw drop. The living room fell silent as the door opened then shut, and all eyes fell on Darius and Speed as well the small family standing behind them.

From what he read in his brother's book, the two people Speed relied on the most during a race were no longer in his life. His drinking had driven them away, and Speed claimed he did not blame them for leaving as they did. Over the last month since his return, Rex had asked his brother how come he had not reached out to Sparky and Trixie after he quit drinking. The conversation played itself once again in his mind.

"I've tried," Speed had confessed. "I really did. I called every private investigator I could, and they found out a lot of things. But every lead eventually turned into a dead end. I have no idea where to look anymore, and I can't keep putting my life on hold just to search for them. It hurts, Rex. It hurts so much, I can't stand it."

"Do you want to start your search again? If so, I can help," he offered. "I know a few people who are good at that sort of thing."

"Really?" His brother looked hopeful but hesitant at the same time. Rex could not say he blamed his brother. Almost seven years of searching with nothing to show for it was enough to cause anyone some hesitancy.

"Really," Rex confirmed. "Just say the word, and I'll make the calls."

"I'll think about it."

'I wonder if he'll still take me up on my offer now,' Rex mused. The silence of the room was broken when Isabelle ran towards Speed and Darius, her arms outstretched.

"Un'ca G'eg! Un'ca Darnus!" she called out. Sparky and who Rex guessed to be his wife smiled as the little girl ran towards them, and Speed knelt down to catch her in a hug. Darius shrugged out of his jacket then held Isabelle so Speed could do the same. His brother then looked at his parents, his expression one of mixed hope and apprehension.

"Mom, Pops," he began. "I told Sparky it'd be all right if he and his family joined us for Thanksgiving. I hope you don't mind."

"If it's any trouble," Sparky interjected, "Janine and I can leave. We don't want to intrude. It looks like you've already got a full house."

"I don't mind them staying," the Racer matriarch declared. The moment she spoke, Rex knew Pops would not be able to say anything otherwise. While Pops possessed the fiery and explosive temper, the Racer patriarch's stubbornness paled in comparison to their mother's stubbornness. She was not the hotheaded type, but, when she made up her mind on something, she could not be deterred. Rex learned that the hard way. "Do you mind if they stay, Richard?"

"Of course not," Pops said. "He'll always be welcome in our home."

Rex saw the relief in his brother's eyes when Pops spoke those words. His brother then encouraged Sparky and his wife to take off their coats and join the rest of the guests. He was joined by their mother in less than thirty seconds, and excitement filled the room once again. Two members of the Go Team had finally come home. Kyle moved so that he and Rex stood shoulder to shoulder. In a low voice, he spoke.

"I've never seen a woman melt so much as your mother does around Greg," he murmured. "It's like she can't deny him anything. I mean, I know that she can. I've seen it happen from time to time, but it's very rare that she does."

Rex nodded. He knew what Kyle meant. He also knew the reasons for his mother's behaviour towards her middle son.

"She's always been like that," Rex said. "She nearly lost him when she gave birth to him. He was born too early, and the doctors kept saying he wouldn't make it. I remember when she left for the hospital, and she was pregnant. When she came home, she wasn't anymore, but she didn't have my little brother with her. From that point, she was at the hospital every day with Speed." He paused then laughed a little. "She wasn't going to give up on him, the same way you told me Darius wasn't going to give up on him. I can't imagine what was going through her mind and her heart when . . ."

He left the rest unsaid. Kyle knew of that situation where Cain Edwards terrorized his younger brother, better than what Rex did, and, as fathers, they knew just how much one wanted to protect his offspring. The desires to protect their young were even stronger in women, especially women like the Racer matriarch. The only adults in the room who weren't parents were Spritle, Sarah and her girlfriend Carlene, and Speed and Darius.

"You remember that, huh?" Kyle tilted his head. "Your mother told me a similar story. From what I understand, you were six at the time."

"I remember," Rex answered. "As he grew older, I couldn't do anything with him for the longest time, either, even when he was the one who wanted to play. She kept fretting something would happen to him, and she only let up after Speed gave her this wounded puppy look. She's always given him a little more leeway." He tilted his head, and he lowered his voice even more. "I take it Sparky's not as welcome as they're letting on?"

"He's welcome here anytime," Kyle murmured. "He's always been welcome to return at any time. I think it's more or less because he and Janine didn't stay to help with Greg's intervention. Your parents didn't want to give up hope that Greg could quit drinking whereas Sparky and Janine already had. Too much had changed for them, and Janine received a better offer for racing. From your parents' perspective, Sparky and Janine abandoned their son when he needed them the most. They're welcoming them into their home only because of Greg and how much it means to him. Their leaving when they did isn't something any parent can easily forgive."

"No, it isn't . . ." Rex trailed off as he watched Sparky's children – he guessed the little boy and girl were Sparky's children – quickly became integrated with his children, nieces, and nephews, and the noise level in the house returned, increasing in its intensity. Conversation resumed as quickly. Karen and her sisters surrounded Janine as Sparky, Speed, and Darius walked towards him and Kyle. To Rex, it felt as if things had become a little more interesting for the holidays.

* * *

Janine could not believe the number of children she saw tearing around the Racer home or the total number of adults. Not including her children, there were fourteen youngsters ranging from twelve years to eight months, the baby behind held by her father. If she did not count herself and Sparky, there were eight couples laughing and talking with each other. It felt natural, seeing so many people crowded into the home, but it still boggled her mind. A lot had changed, and they had missed those changes.

In truth, however, she had not expected a lot of anything to change during her and Sparky's absence despite what she perceived to be rumours of Speed's sobriety or his alleged romance with Darius Evans. Those rumours had circulated for almost seven years, and Janine believed it to be the media's way of keeping Speed's name alive. When he insisted that they finally pay the family a visit, especially on Thanksgiving, Janine expected to find Speed laying on the couch, a bottle of whiskey or scotch within reach. She expected Pops and Spritle to be out of sight so they would not have to see the former racing champion so fallen and broken. She even expected to see the Racer matriarch sitting next to Speed, begging and pleading with him to quit drinking. She told Sparky what she expected to find and that he should not walk into the home with high hopes. Speed had not wanted to be saved, and that was why they had to cut all ties with their friend. Janine did not want her marriage strained any further than what it already was.

Instead, they were greeted by a very sober-looking Speed and his boyfriend, who happened to be Darius Evans, after they had pulled up to the curb and stepped out of their car. When they entered the home, they saw a small busload of children running around the house, laughing and yelling and having a grand time. Six of those children belonged to Rex and his wife while the rest belonged to two of Karen's sisters and her younger brother. Seeing the oldest Racer son at home and finding out he was married with six children was more than enough of a shock by itself, but to see Speed holding hands with another man, kissing his cheek, and wrapping his arms around him . . . Janine thought for sure she was dreaming. She felt a light touch to her shoulder and turned to see Sparky standing next to her. He held out a cup of coffee to her, which she gratefully accepted.

"It's changed around here," he said.

"Yeah, it has," Janine agreed, nodding. Her gaze traveled across the room, her mind still trying to wrap itself around everything she saw. When her gaze landed on Speed talking with his older brother and Darius, she paused and watched them. Speed held a little girl of around two years in age, and Janine believed the girl's name was Isabelle. It appeared to her as if Speed and Darius were telling Rex a story of some great amusement for all three men were laughing. She could not deny she saw happiness on Speed's face or the way his face lit up whenever he glanced in Darius's direction. She could also tell Darius's feelings were mutual for he constantly leaned against Speed.

For the most part, Janine was happy for Speed. She was delighted over the fact he was no longer drinking, and he found someone with whom he could share the rest of his life. A part of her, though, felt as if Speed was betraying Trixie by finding someone new. She wanted to walk over to him and smack across the face, but, for her to do so, she would end up jeopardizing her marriage even further. Janine did not desire that in the least. She tilted her head.

"Have you spoken to Darius?" she asked. Sparky nodded his head, a bit of a goofy smile lighting his face.

"Oh yeah," he murmured. "I did. I was just over there. He's a riot. I didn't think Speed would ever end up with someone like him."

"A riot, huh?" Janine pursed her lips. "I wonder how come he never looked for Trixie?"

"You'd have to ask him," Sparky replied. He stiffened a little at the mention of Trixie's name, and Janine almost regretted saying it. He was still upset with a remark Trixie had made about Speed and their friendship over four years ago. Her remark had been snide in nature and bordering on derogatory. Even Janine had been slightly offended by her best friend's comment, but only she received the apology from Trixie. Sparky never told Janine she could not talk to her best friend, but the fact that she still did caused more than a little friction between her and her husband. "I didn't say anything about her to him so I don't know why he didn't look for her."

"Oh . . . okay . . . He looks happy," she said, gesturing towards Speed.

"He is," Sparky confirmed. His tension disappeared immediately, and he smiled again. "He's very happy. He and Darius race for Pops and have been for the last six years. On the track, he's Speed, but off, everyone calls him Greg. There's one other driver on their team, a guy by the name of Mark Penn, but he isn't here yet."

"Mark," Janine murmured. "I've heard of him . . . wasn't he a rookie this last season?"

"Yeah and a very flamboyant one at that," Sparky said. "I saw his picture. He looks like he's just as much of a riot to talk to as Darius is."

"I'll bet," she said, more to herself than to Sparky. Her palms itched with the desire to pull her cell phone from out of her purse so she could call Trixie. While Speed was not her best friend's most favourite person in the world, Janine felt there were certain things Trixie needed to know and that she needed to know immediately. However, Janine did her best to shove that urge of hers to the side. She had promised Sparky she would not call Trixie on Thanksgiving, especially while they were visiting the Racers. It still did not stop her from thinking about her best friend. Janine took a sip of her coffee.

'Trixie isn't going to believe this,' she thought. 'Not one little bit . . . She's going to blow a gasket when she hears Speed has truly replaced her.'