Reb’s mind was shattered. He had not really slept. The dreams were back. More vivid than ever. This place always did that to him.
Reb could not remember ever having those kinds of dreams until they moved here. He had been nine, and Indie was six or seven. They had lived their whole lives in the Bay Area. Mike was completing his Ph.D. in sociology, and their mother was lecturing and doing research in what would today be called gender studies or some such shit. While Barry played Mister Mom to them and tinkered with his sculpture on the side. They had been happy. Well, as happy as any family with one mother and two fathers could be.
Then he had gotten into a fight at school. Some older kid was picking on Indie about their ‘unusual’ family. The bullies had learned quickly not to screw with him, but this one was new and did not realize that she was his sister. He had broken the little shit’s nose and been expelled in the process. He was probably lucky. These days he might have ended up in juvie for assault. But back then, it was more boys will be boys.
Except that shit never flew with his mother or even Mike. Their whole academic careers had been centered on discovering some link to our utopian past in pre-history. Hell, his mother’s thesis had become a best seller. Her vision of a more egalitarian society, which was matriarchal rather than domineering, hierarchal, and paternalistic, was eaten up by the feminist tide.
That fight had been the impetus. His mother had been feeling unsettled in the city for some time. Not even their urban homestead with its lush garden of organic produce that she and Barry grew together brought her calm anymore. It was time to move on, she said.
So, they had. Almost the moment that Mike walked in that fancy gown across the stage to get his degree, they had packed up the essentials in a battered old VW van and set out to find their ‘home.’ They had headed north first Oregon and Washington. It had been a great adventure. At first.
But by the end of the summer, they had traveled much of America. And the adults were as weary and unsettled as the children. Barry had talked their mother into returning to Oakland, at least for the time being. He would home educate them, while she returned to her teaching post and writing. Maybe Mike could find something as well. It was all agreed.
Until they stood on this mountain.
None of that ancient history mattered, though. Right now, all that mattered was her. Keeping Stacey safe. And for that, he would eat all the crow necessary with his mother.
His eyes drifted to the younger man. Mason, that was it. Reb resented the hell out of his presence at this ‘family’ meeting. What right did the man have to be here? Usually, he would have said just that.
And if his mother would not listen, he’d pack up and leave. Not speak to her for months or years. It was what he had done with Edward. As soon as he was old enough to leave, he had. How could such an otherwise intelligent woman have such shitty taste in men?
This time he could do none of that. He needed his mother’s help. And for Stacey, he’d do anything. Even bite his damned tongue around the woman who had given birth to him.
He stood back and motioned Stacey into the office. Or what passed for one around here. The walls along each side were lined with shelves and thousands of books that his mother had collected over the years. Many of them rare. Their subjects ranged from ancient history to mythology to magic to metaphysics, psychology, and philosophy. Of course, there were others on sociology and anthropology as well.
Even more spectacular than her book collection was the window wall that looked out over the painted desert punctuated with a lush waterfall oasis. Glass doors opened onto a balcony filled with vibrant green edibles. Last time he had been here over a year ago, Indie boasted that Agartha was practically self-sufficient now. It had been his mother’s and Barry’s dream for as long as he could remember.
Damn, this was a bad idea. But as many painful memories as this place held, Reb knew that it was their best option, perhaps their only viable one.
His mother took one of the oversized cushions by the window. There were probably a dozen of them strewn about the area. Barry and that man sat on others. Reb was worried about how Indie would manage, but he had forgotten how fully his baby sister had embraced the life that their mother espoused, unlike either of her sons. After a lifetime of yoga, she made sitting crossed legged on the overstuffed pillow look easy, even as pregnant as she was. A thought occurred to him, “When is the baby due?”
“Babies. I’m having twins. And not for another two months, but they will probably come early. I’m hoping to make it another month.” His sister truly did glow. He wanted to ask her dozens of questions of the father, but that too could wait.
One disadvantage of not keeping in touch with your family seemed to be surprise nieces or nephews, and your mother’s new lover that was younger than you. He wondered what else was in store.
“Okay, Rebel, what is this all about?”
It was Barry’s baritone that brought him back to the issue. But now that everyone’s attention was centered on him, he was not sure what to say. Maybe he should have spoken quietly to his mother last night? But it was too late to worry about that.
He drew Stacey towards the cushions, and they took ones across from his mother. “We need a place to hang low for a bit, Mother.”
Reb turned and stared at the man. He fought back a retort. Thankfully, his mother handled that question.
“This is Rebel’s home. As I told him already, he and whoever he wishes to bring here are always welcome. No questions asked. For as long as he wants or needs.” The look that she gave the man said that settled the matter.
Nonetheless, Reb needed to explain in detail the risks they brought with them, especially now with Indie pregnant. “Stacey’s family has run into a bit of trouble in Texas. And I need a safe, quiet place for her to stay until things get settled.”
“What kind of trouble, son?” Once more, Reb was relieved that it was Barry who asked the hard question.
He looked over at Stacey, uncertain how to explain it to them. But she decided to tackle that issue herself, “My oldest daughter was General Counsel for McBride Industries until nine months ago.”
She looked his mother in the eye as she spoke, “She was not part of any of it. But the feds, and whoever McBride was messing with, don’t know that. A few days ago, a federal agent showed up to question her.”
Stacey smiled at his sister, “Just as she went into labor. With the man’s baby. They had met when he was undercover.”
She dropped her head and began to fidget with her hands. He could see that this part was incredibly hard for her. He turned to his father, the only in the room that he was comfortable sharing these details with, “The shit hit the fan. There’s a leak in the investigation somewhere, and Ryan, the agent, could not trust the government with his family.”
His father nodded. Reb knew that the man understood. It might have been almost fifty years, but Reb was not the only Marine in the room. This man has always been his hero as much as his father.
Honor, Perseverance, Spirit, and Heart. This man embodied all of the highest ideals of the unit to which he belonged. What few people other than he and his mother knew was that Barry had spent close to a decade not merely in the Corps but was part of the legend that was MCTU #1, Marine Corps Test Unit #1. Those boots were incredibly large ones to fill. Ones that his son never had or never would.
But his failures as a Marine was not the issue here either. “He took his family into hiding. At least until they can figure out who they can trust and cut some deal.”
His father nodded, “But he’s worried about collateral damage?”
“Yes, sir. Ryan tried to get all of Laura’s family safely into hiding. That worked fine for Stacey’s middle daughter and her family, but her younger daughter ran into a bit of trouble.”
He was unsure how to proceed with the next bit, especially as he was reluctant to trust the new guy. What did anyone know about him?
“It’s okay, son. Mason was a mere SEAL, but the man can be trusted.”
Reb was not sure what to think about this latest revelation. He had taken the man for another of his mother’s gym-rat executive types looking to destress, but just because he had a military background did not mean he could be trusted. Reb had learned that lesson the hard way, and sometimes he swore he could still taste the grit of that sand in his mouth.
But he did not have much choice. He might not trust the other man, but he did his father. “The sheriff where they live is as crooked as a mountain road switchback. He came after Stacey’s youngest daughter. Whether the feds wanted her as leverage to use against her sister or it was someone working with McBride’s people who gave the orders, we don’t know.”
He glanced to Stacey, and she nodded before speaking for herself once more, “Mercy shot the man.”
He watched the look of shock, especially on Indie’s face. There had always been something naïve about his baby sister. The girl always saw the best in everyone and everything. Stacey must have noticed as well, “She didn’t kill him or even hurt him that bad. But he went after her. Put out APBs nationwide.”
Reb saw his mother, who had remained mostly silent, nod. “Is she somewhere safe?”
He reached across and took her hand, squeezing it gently as he watched the tears begin to fall. Stacey could only seem to shake her head, so he continued the story, “No. Some of the things that the sheriff said, well, her daughter went undercover.”
He looked once more at the one man he knew would understand this situation, “I’m sure you understand why I can’t say any more.”
His father nodded, but Reb once more battled that rage as the younger man interjected, “Is she wanted too?”
“Mason…” At least, his mother seemed to keep this new puppy on some sort of leash. Maybe the woman had learned that lesson. Even if the last one had almost torn their ‘family’ apart.
Still, Reb found it almost impossible to remain seated when the man nodded and lifted his mother’s hand, bringing it to his lips in a blatant show of ownership. The man obviously wanted to make this a pissing contest over his mother’s loyalties. Not that Reb cared enough to bother.
“I know, Cellie, but you realize we have others to consider here as well.”
“It’s okay. We’ll leave. I don’t want to bring anyone else into my mess…” Reb was on the verge of strangling the man as Stacey’s tears fell harder.
But it was the one person in the room that he adored who finally spoke, “Let me explain, Reb. A few months ago, Agartha joined a network of safe houses. With the way things are going, we felt that it was important that this place of refuge be more than just a retreat for the wealthy. That we put into practice the beliefs and ideals that mother has always stood for.”
He nodded, a bit too shocked at this latest to respond as his sister continued. “Mostly, we provide shelter, safety, and a place to recover for victims of domestic abuse. Occasionally, we also house refugees, political or economic, families, or single mothers and their children.”
Indie turned to Stacey, “So, you see, you have come to the right place. Whatever we can do, whatever support you need, we are here for you. In addition to my mother’s yoga, mindfulness, and meditation, I head up a team of three counselors with special training in abuse, rape, and PTSD. If we can be of any help while you’re here, please let us know.”
Reb turned so that his back was mostly towards the others. He loved his sister, even his mother. But sometimes it was hard not to scream and wail. Rape was a crime against women. It was how society saw things. And most definitely, how feminists such as Indie and his mother perceived the whole thing.
Then the ‘experts’ wondered why there were no reliable statistics on the male victims of rape. Because the stigma made him a victim every single moment since that night. There was no way in hell he’d ever tell anyone about what happened.
He had lost count of the number of military shrinks they had sent him to. The only reason they had not given him a dishonorable discharge was his one-hundred percent kill rate. They needed his skills. No one was better at the distance shot than he was. No one.
But once they began to withdraw from the mess, the Army had been just as happy as the Marines to wash its hands of the problem. Then again, Reb had not wanted their ‘help.’ But just once, he’d like to see some attention and resources given to other men like him. Especially the young ones. Even if it was much too late for him.
Hell, he’d lived with that shit over half his life. He had relived every single painful, helpless moment thousands upon thousands of times. Without a single shrink ever questioning why. All just assumed his job was the source.
Reb knew, though. He was so damned good at that job because every damned time he had someone in the site of his gun, their faces transformed in those others. He had killed those three over and over again. He had even pulled the trigger a few times on that DI that he was almost certain had encouraged the attack.
Not going down the hole…
Reb did not have time for that shit now. And never around his mother or sister. What would be the fucking point? They’d just quote those inaccurate fucking statistics that showed women so much more likely to the victim of sexual assault.
He breathed deeply, cleared his mind, and turned back to the group. “Thanks, Indie, maybe when we get back.”
“Back? You just got here, Rebel.”
He was not letting his mother get started, “I am taking Stacey and going off camping for a couple of days.”
His mother shook her head, “The woman has been through so much…”
“Cellie, I’m sure that our son knows what he is doing.” He could always count on his father, but he was not sure what to make of the look that he exchanged with the man.
“Thank you all for your support.” For the first time, Stacey reached for him. Her fingers laced with his and squeezed. She even forced a smile, “But Reb is right. Some time away from people is just what I need right now.”
His mother looked from him to Stacey, then back again, “Alright, well, if you’re sure. When did you want to leave, Rebel? What can we do? What supplies do you need?”
“Don’t worry, Mother. I have all we’ll need in the back of my truck.” He looked to Stacey, “We’ll leave as soon as you’re ready.”
He could see that Indie wanted to argue, perhaps even his mother. But it was his father that ended it, “Well, whatever the reason, you know I’m always glad to see you, son.” The man rose, perhaps more slowly than he had the last time Reb had visited, but probably much better than most men his age.
The other man approached him, if a bit cautiously. Mason held out his hand, “I’m sorry if we got off on the wrong foot somehow. It’s just that…”
“This project is special to Mason,” his mother placed her hand on the other man’s shoulder and smiled softly at him. “Mason’s younger sister and her children were murdered by her husband.”
Reb saw the man stiffen at those words. He understood, he got the point. Maybe women were more often the victims of domestic violence and rape, but why the hell did it have to be some fucking competition? And why the hell were male victims turned away from the support they needed just as much as the women did? Where were the shelters and support groups for men? A handful in big cities. That was it.
Male victims in prisons or the military, as he had been, had virtually no recourse to justice, even if they did find the courage he had lacked to report it. And at least one study had shown when the definition of sexual assault was modified to include coerced or too drunk to consent, there was no difference between men and women. But that evidence did not meet with society’s preconceived notions of gender roles.
Trans persons were at the highest risk, but where did they go for support? The women’s services, such as his mother’s and sister’s, usually excluded those not born with penetrable vaginas. And how discriminatory to force a transwoman to access that handful of male support services?
Reb felt his leg begin to twitch. He felt the utter helpless anger and frustration rising inside of him. Yes, he was glad that they had offered his woman the support that Stacey had not been able to find or access in Sebida. He did not begrudge her or other women that. But dammit, would anyone ever realize men could be raped too?
He knew that he needed to get the hell out of there. Before he exploded. And ruined everything. He could do this. For her sake. Stacey was what mattered now. The only damned thing that did or had since that night in the fucking sand. He could feel the grit in his nose. How much longer would he be able to breathe? But maybe that was for the best? If he just died here…
He felt the hand on his shoulder, and he moved without thinking. Did what they had trained him to do…
Until he found himself with his hand wrapped around his father’s throat. Barry’s lips were turning blue. The other man was trying to pull him off. He released the chokehold. He scanned the faces in that room, seeing disgust in each of them. But none as deep as the self-loathing he felt at that moment.
He looked at her. Stacey’s head was down, but he caught glimpses of the tears trailing down her cheeks. What was he fucking thinking? He was no good for anyone or anything. But he had gotten her here. They would keep her safe. Protect her. Maybe that was why he had stuck around this long? To bring her here.
But no more. He would not put her, his father, or anyone else at risk ever again. “I’m sorry. Take care of Stacey.” He stared into eyes so like his own. The only ones that were not full of shock, fear, and loathing. “I’m sorry, dad,” were Reb’s final words as he punched the other man in the solar plexus and ran out of the room.