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Aisha’s father sent her away a lot as a child. She was forever pouting, and asking if she had to go and—when he inevitably said yes—why. Why did she have to go?

He always said, “Because I want you safe, my love.”

The compound, with its gates and the big men who guarded it and her father, always felt safe. “I am safe here.”

He would kiss her head and say, “Safer.”


When Aisha was twelve she figured out that you could kill a mercenary for bad behavior after the fact, but that didn’t mean the damage hadn’t been done.

She returned for her break between the semesters to find Monique, the housekeeper’s daughter and Aisha’s best friend since forever, in the hospital, and Monique’s mother—who had been like a second mother to Aisha after hers had died—having quit. There were two mercenaries missing. She found out they were dead because she eavesdropped on a conversation between her father and Monique’s mother.

Her father’s voice, low and calming said, “Leila, I told you, I took care of it. They’re both dead. They won’t touch you or Monique ever again.”

“And the others? You cannot run your business without soldiers, I know, but they are uncontrollable. This is not the first time they’ve been dangerous, only the first time you haven’t caught them before it went too far. But she’s my daughter; I can’t bring her back here and hope for the best any longer.”

“Aisha needs you. You know I can’t just find a new housekeeper. There’s a raise in—“

“It’s not about the money.” Then, “What if it had been her? What if it had been Aisha?”

It was the first time she remembered her father not having an answer to something. It would be years before she was able to stump him in the same way.


At sixteen, on another break from school, one of the mercs slipped into her bedroom. She had just enough time to hear, “No, man, that’s his daughter,” before she had the gun she kept next to the bed trained on the intruder. There was another merc in the shadows, near her door. He got the hell out of there.

The merc, easily three times her size, laughed. “Gonna shoot me little girl?”

“Depends,” she said. “You gonna come closer?”

He took a step nearer. She shot him in the groin. When her father winced, she lied and said, “I was aiming for his thigh.”
He said, “Close enough. Good girl.”


Right before she finished college Aisha asked her father, “Where did Leila and Monique go?”

“They were household staff, little one, how should—“

“Don’t lie to me,” she said. It was more request than order, because her father still expected her to be sweet.

She could see his hesitation. Finally, he said, “Monique, she wasn’t right in the head, afterward.”

Aisha swallowed. “The hospital in La Paz?”

He nodded shortly. “You needn’t worry yourself. I took care of them.”

No, she thought. No, you didn’t. She dredged up a smile. “Sure, papa.”


Clay said, “He was a bad man, Aisha.”

She envied him that it was that simple in his world, truly she did. “It doesn’t matter.”

“I know,” he told her, eyes serious and understanding, and for that she hated him even more. She hated the fact that she felt safe with him, when the only person she’d felt safe around ever had been her father. She hated that unlike her father, Clay didn’t send her away, he kept letting her back in.

Fuck. “This isn’t finished.”

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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile