Ghanima moves towards him as soon as Alia's body is taken up by Fedaykin, and she does not let go of him, nor he of her while the shock and grief and crowds evaporate slowly from the throne room like water on sand. Caught up in their reunion, they nevertheless watch their surroundings keenly; they cleave to each other as their own private religion but Alia had been the Womb of Heaven to her followers, some of whom may still be here, angry and bereft.
‘Every time we have a family gathering, there's a death in the throne room,’ says Ghani thoughtfully, and despite the subtle chemical shifts he can feel going on in his body and in his consciousness, despite the lingering horror and guilt, Leto snorts quietly at his twin’s morbid humour.
‘Atreides entertainments,’ he suggests, and then considers the remaining players. ‘Who's Irulan consoling?’
He feels Ghani stiffen under his arm, as she says, ‘Her sister Wensicia's son. Farad'n.’
‘Nice hat,’ he says, and Ghanima snorts in turn. ‘Did I miss some Imperial politicking while I was away?’
‘Nothing we hadn’t anticipated. He came for a wedding.’
‘And he got a funeral. Say what you will about the Atreides, but we're value for money.’
At his side, Ghani draws in a considering breath. ‘Economical,’ she mutters.
‘Imperial politicking,’ she says, quietly. ‘Leto, you've been thinking on the macro level, but if it all falls now, all our actions and your sacrifices will have been for nothing. Alia's death and the manner of it will shake the foundations of the Imperium.’
‘Not just the priesthood, but the myth of Muad'dib,’ Leto agrees, mouth twisting with grief. ‘And it must fail further on rather than now. Now would be- unfavourable. What do you suggest?’
‘Value for money,’ Ghani says, quietly, and for a moment, it's as though they are back in Sietch Tabr, both inside and outside the everyday life of the Fremen, watching like young desert hawks. Always, Leto has plotted the course and Ghanima has arranged the journey. ‘A funeral followed by a wedding is politically advantageous. A funeral followed by a double wedding is politically controversial; arguably an even greater advantage.’
‘Deferral and misdirection,’ says Leto. ‘Public outrage about the Atreides mesalliances wouldn't bleed over into rumours of our dynastic instability?’
‘Because Alia was lost to her own mind and appetites, we must necessarily follow? It's a possibility,’ Ghani says. ‘Politically and economically though, a union between Houses Corrino and Atreides would assuage a lot of the unease about the future of Arrakis, especially now that you're-’
Her fingers feather over his side until they touch upon his new skin, and it shivers beneath her fingertips.
Yes,’ says Leto.
‘Yes?’ says Ghanima. ‘Or yes?’
Leto leans into her, feeling their shared prana-bindu reflexes slowly flowing back into alignment. They're of a height; their puberty having been synchronised and their bodies attuned to one another, physically as well as mentally. ‘Yes,’ he says. ‘Your reasoning is sound. I endorse it.’
Ghanima turns to narrow her eyes at him. ‘You're awfully quick to reconcile yourself to this. And I've been purposely cryptic throughout. What exactly are you endorsing here?’
‘Why, value for money, Ghani dear,’ says Leto, trying not to laugh. Now that he is back and they are once more linked, he feels almost jittery with expectation and change, like sand over a spiceblow. And happiness, he admits to himself privately, such joy upon their reunion as he could not have contemplated in the burning cold of the desert without some further loss to his resolve or himself. ‘The Imperium shored up by the wedding of the Atreides twins to the heir apparent of House Corrino, and our commitment to Arrakis and the flow of spice shown by the steps I have taken on the Golden Path.’
Ghanima hesitates for a moment and then hisses out, ‘U tishuf hatt al-hudud alman albaid. Aywa libarr adam al-malum tishuf liani. You knew all this before I even spoke of it.’
‘I had a lot of time to think in the desert,’ Leto says drily.
‘I understand your decisions, Leto, and I support you in them, always, but do not expect me to thank you for waiting patiently while I run to catch up,’ she snaps, and her fingers dig into his side.
‘It was not a decision I could come to alone,’ he says, frowning. ‘You are not a spoil of war to me, Ghanima.’ Her fingers loosen and she gives an apologetic little stroke over where she has pressed bruises into his still soft skin.
‘I suppose that it would be a shame to waste this wedding dress,’ she says. Startled into laughter, he turns his head to press a kiss against her temple. ‘Do we wed ourselves to him?’ she wonders, ‘or shall we marry each other and him?’
They both turn to look at Farad'n, deliberately mirroring each other despite Stilgar and Irulan’s frequent reprimands about the disconcerting effect their shared regard has upon others.
‘Oh, us to him, I think,’ says Leto, as Farad'n turns his head from Irulan and attempts to meet their gaze. ‘I don't think he'll give us any trouble.’
‘Shows what you know, Leto dear,’ says Ghanima, smiling sweetly at their intended and watching in delight as he blushes deeply. ‘Things changed here too while you were in the desert. Farad'n is not heir apparent to House Corrino, he is House Corrino.’
‘Is he now?’ says Leto, fascinated. ‘Now, how did that come about?’
‘Disowned his own mother on the steps of the Grand Palace for the plot against us,’ she supplies. ‘She's under arrest, at the moment, but Stil and Gurney seemed keen to talk to her. No doubt at some point she will suffer suicidal remorse.’
‘Stil and Gurney excel at inspiring suicidal remorse,’ agrees Leto. ‘Was it cowardice that inspired him to denounce his honoured mother?’
‘A desire for free will, I suspect,’ says Ghanima.
‘I hope he enjoys disappointment, then,’ mutters Leto. ‘Because there's an abundance of it in store for him once we're all safely wed.’
‘Don't make me laugh,’ Ghanima begs. ‘Not when they've only just taken Alia to the deathstill. Oh, poor Alia,’ she says, and her eyes are no longer gleaming with mirth but with the water that she gives to the dead.
‘She was herself,’ says Leto. ‘At the end.’
‘Yes,’ Ghani agrees, soberly. ‘For once. Hello, Grandmother.’
Picking her way around the space at the foot of the dais, Jessica's face is still white and terrible, but her voice is steady when she greets them. ‘Children, are you well?’ Her fingers are slightly more urgent as they flicker: CHOAM and Guild will be circling. Must discuss strategy.
‘We grieve at our shared loss, Grandmother,’ says Leto, and Ghanima adds, ‘As the Imperium must grieve the loss of so dedicated a Regent. The legacy of St Alia of the Knife will not long be overshadowed by her tragic and-’ she hesitates delicately, ‘unforeseen passing.’
They are loth to let go of each other for very long, the pain of their recent division too immediate: instead, Ghanima reaches her free hand for Leto's and they gesture meaningfully in tandem. Finger speaking in synchronicity is difficult, but for twins who have shared a consciousness and prescience and have been trained in prana-bindu since birth, very little in the universe now remains impossible.
Strategy already discussed and in place: need you to open negotiations with Irulan for Farad'n.
Jessica breathes in sharply, and tells them, ‘That is a comfort to me. Thank you both.’ In gathering her sleeves, she hesitates and then gestures slowly: Query certainty. Is the path you wish to take?
Ghanima smiles, but it is the glint of a crysknife which must be blooded before it may be sheathed. Lifetimes too late for that, Reverend Mother, she signals, and says audibly, ‘What comes before must always influence the future, is that not so, Grandmother?’
Leto strokes a finger over his sister's hand; Ghanima can be surprisingly unforgiving when anyone but himself attempts to thwart her. He swallows a laugh as he thinks it's for the best that he returned when he did: Farad'n might not have lasted long.
‘True enough, Ghanima,’ their grandmother responds, her fingers deliberately still, ‘and yet the past holds the regret that the future cannot.’
‘Bi-la kaifa,’ murmurs Leto, and holds his grandmother's eyes as he says aloud, ‘There are things now that must be done, and that must be seen to be done. We are aware, my sister and I.’
And we make our own choices, gestures Ghanima.
‘We are Atreides,’ she declares in a ringing tone that carries to the naibs, courtiers, priests and petitioners hovering in the throne room, stunned and watchful.
On the throne; in alliance; in marriage, states Leto, the movement of his fingers controlled and emphatic. Farad'n balks at that, find another Great House heir. One more flexible.
The Lady Jessica's eyes widen slightly at that but, true to her training, no one else could have seen that imperceptible flicker of her eyelids. ‘Truly,’ she agrees aloud, ‘you are your mother and father's children.’ She makes the sign of acquiescence to them but inclines her head in the manner of Reverend Mothers, always with one eye to the water of the sietch.
‘We would invite you to take a place in our counsel, Lady Jessica,’ Leto says formally, and nods towards the third throne on the dais. ‘Alas, it may be that in the future your seat will be taken by another, but never your place in our regard.’
Their grandmother hesitates, and they can see in her face the memory of the last time she had been asked by an Atreides to sit beside them in the Temple at Arrakeen.
‘This story ends differently, Grandmother,’ says Ghanima, and lets go her grip on Leto's waist only to offer him her raised hand. He rests his hand on top of hers, enjoying the wordless declaration of unity, and says as they start towards the dais, ‘For we no longer know how it ends.’