Duncan returns to the palace. He carries the twins beside him, taking his eyes off the horizon to check they are still in their basket.
They stare back, as if they know him, and he looks away.
He lands the thopter, and the guards meet him at the hatch. "I have no need of guards," he says, but they look at him and do not move. The priest with them nods his head.
"These are trying times," he says, "and Muad'Dib's sister has asked us to escort you."
Duncan steps out of the thopter, the twins in his arms.
He wonders how Alia knew he was coming.
Duncan enters the palace, and Alia waits, pacing. He thinks he has never seen her so unsure, so hesitant, as when she looks at him and reaches for him. She pauses. "Duncan," she exclaims. He hefts the basket in his arms.
"My Lady, Muad'Dib's children. Your niece, and nephew."
"The Children," she repeats, frowns. "Yes." She looks into the basket. "Interesting that my brother saw only one," she says, softly. "His vision..." She stares at the twins, and Duncan fears what she sees.
"This is Leto, and Ghanima." Alia looks at him, and he answers the question before she can ask it. "Paul named them."
Alia tilts her head. "You said his name," she says. Duncan nods.
"I remember everything," Duncan replies, and Alia smiles.
"I hope you will help me," she says. "Duncan who returned to us, help me with this empire."
"And these children," he says, a gentle reminder.
"And these children," Alia says, waving her arm, and a priest steps forward.
The priest presses his hands together, performs the Fremen blessing, and hustles away with the basket.
"And these children," Alia repeats, and turns to watch them go.
He takes the time to rest. He knows that he will need it.
Without Muad'Dib, there is no order to the palace, no system. Duncan knew, of course, the extent of Muad'Dib's word, but as he steps out of his rooms he is greeted by a whirlwind, and for a moment, he does not know where to begin.
He calculates velocities, probabilities, exceptions. It is with Alia that the present lies, this he knows; but he visits Irulan first. He raises a fist to her door, poised to knock, and the door slides open.
"Duncan," she says, startled. She visibly settles, her face quickly calming. Duncan wonders that she has learnt this control so quickly, with Muad'Dib gone and the conspiracy exposed not more than two days. She steps out, closes her door; does not invite him into her rooms. "Walk with me."
The pace she sets is firm, and quick. When she speaks, he detects the nervousness in her voice, but this is unsurprising, and he does not push her. "I must ask Alia for the twins."
Duncan presses his lips together. "To what end?" he asks.
She pauses in her stride; looks around the empty hallways. "I am his wife," she says. "I can look after his children."
Duncan meets her eyes, and she looks at the ground. "My lady," he says, softly. Rests a hand upon her arm. "Please look at me." Irulan looks up, and Duncan knows she is determined, but unsure. "Alia will be busy as regent. I am sure she would value your contribution to the children's upbringing."
She smiles at him, and it is bright and hopeful.
He drops his arm, leads the way.
Alia busies herself with the cleanup. She sends Fedaykin into the desert to search out the traitors, sends emissaries to other houses and soldiers into the streets. She is Regent, but such dirty work is not necessary, and he stops before her desk and rests a hand pointedly across a piece of paper. "My Lady," he says. "Let the stewards take care of these tasks. You must have other concerns."
"These concerns are my concerns, Duncan," she says. Her hand stills, and she looks up at him. "It was my decision to cast out the Reverend Mother, my decision to throw Korba to be judged. I can govern in Paul's place just as well as he could."
"He had help, My Lady," Duncan says; though he wishes to draw her away, perhaps convince her to sleep, his statement is yet the truth.
"He had help from me," Alia replies firmly.
"Let me help you, my Lady," Duncan says softly, and for a moment, she smiles at him.
"You have always been our most trusted friend," she says, and Duncan does not know if she refers to herself or to her brother.
She smiles at him. Her smile is familiar, and his heart flutters.
He thinks of her brother.
When he kisses her, she smiles; wraps her finger around his cloak. Her kiss is firm, and sharp, and she shifts beneath his touch.
Her hand is warm against his skin, and the sand under her fingernails catches upon his clothes.
It is familiar.
He visits the twins. They are as yet days old, but when he pushes the curtain aside they stop their quiet burbling, and look across at him. He meets their eyes, first Ghanima, and then her brother.
"My Lady," he says, "My Lord." They blink at him, and their eyes are bright blue upon blue.
"I hope you are well," he says, and Leto blinks, waves his hand.
They are as yet days old, but he knows they understand.
He sits and tells them stories, hopes they are not stories they have previously known.
Emissaries arrive, and hover in the space above Dune. "We must work with them," he says to Alia when they are alone; he has consulted with Irulan, and they have agreed this is the best course, the wisest decision.
"They will stay off this planet, we cannot work with them."
"Then send the Fedaykin, send the emissaries, we cannot live without negotiations and access to trade, My Lady, and we cannot do that by cutting off the spice."
She presses her lips together. "We can try," she says, and looks across at him, as if to ask for his approval.
He cannot give it. "My Lady," he says, and she knows. "Send me."
"Duncan," she says, shakes her head. "You must stay by my side. You know the way, *our* way."
"There is work to be done, My Lady, and it is within my ability to do this for House Atreides, for you, for Paul, for his children."
"I can trust you to come back to me," she says, "to do what is best." The wind tussles the folds of her skirts, and she catches the black fabric in her hands.
"Duncan," she says. She steps across to her desk, picks up her crysknife. "Take the message of Atreides to the emissaries."
Duncan nods his head. "Of course."
"And when you return," she continues, "You must promise to never leave me. Duncan, I need you now, more than ever." Alia looks across at him, and behind her, the Atreides crest reflects gold in the setting sunlight.
"My Lady," he says, and she steps closer to him, wraps her arms around him, and he enfolds her, cloaks her in his grasp.
Of course he says yes.
He is an Atreides man, after all.
He finds her watching the sun rise over the desert, papers clutched in her hand. Her advisors are no where to be seen, but a queue of Fedaykin wait patiently on the steps of the palace. Stilgar stands outside the door, reaches out a hand to bring Duncan to pause. "We must move, Duncan Idaho," the old Freman says. "The desert does not stay still, and we are of the desert."
"Of course," Duncan says, nods once. "There is much to do, and we are ready to do it."
"She will listen to you, Idaho. You must do the work of this planet, that which Muad'Dib trusted you to do." Stilgar does not quite trust Duncan, and it shows.
Duncan blinks. "My loyalty is to House Atreides, Stilgar, and Atreides will never abandon Dune."
Stilgar nods his head, mollified, and steps out of Duncan's way.
"I cannot see him," she says, without turning. "I cannot see the children, or his wretched path, or what he would have me do!"
Duncan steps close, and Alia throws herself into his arms. "My vision is incomplete," she whispers. "I cannot see far enough."
"You can see just fine," Duncan says, blinking his metal eyes. "You can see well enough to do what is best for Dune, for Arrakis."
"Yes," Alia says. "What is best for Arrakis. For my Arrakis."
He grasps a sword in his hand. The weight is familiar, and he thrusts.
It is like coming home.
He visits the children, watches them play and murmur to each other. "A secret twin language," Irulan says. "In this, they are just like any other children."
Dunca looks across at Irulan; wonders if she yet knows.
The Fremen enter the palace, and with them comes the desert. Alia meets with the Naibs, Duncan with her. She greets them in the Fremen way, and they venture out into the sands, their crysknives by their sides.
It has been years since he has breathed in the desert sun, but he wraps himself into the stilsuit and it is as it always was.
The sand is sharp against his skin, where he lets it.
"Do you think he might still be out there?" Irulan asks.
"No," Duncan says, and it is the truth.
He is mentat, and he does not think anything; he knows.
The doors of the Palace sit open, as is their way. As the sun sets, and the air cools, supplicants traipse into the hall. With them they bring the sand, and the desert.
Alia holds the first Ritual of Supplication, the first without Muad'Dib, and as a serving girl lowers the headpiece, Irulan steps into the room. "You are not required for this, Irulan."
"It is my right to witness the Supplication, as the wife of our Emperor."
"What use are you, sister-in-law, when there is no Emperor on the throne? I am the regent, do not think you can overthrow me."
Irulan leans forward. "I am not your enemy, Alia. I want only to ensure the continuity of his Empire for his children."
"So look after the Empire, then, for the good of the children. But you can do it from here. There is no room for dissent in my brother's absence."
Irulan presses her lips together, and Duncan knows she sees the meaning of Alia's words. "If I wish to dissent, here in the privacy of the royal family's rooms, will you listen to me?"
Alia smiles. "You can dissent all you want, Irulan. But you will not do it where anyone can hear."
Irulan nods her head once, and Alia stands.
Duncan watches her go.
He doubts the wisdom of her choice, and he catches Irulan's eye.
"Will she listen, Duncan?" Irulan asks.
"She will listen," Duncan replies, and hopes his mentat reasoning is correct.
He dreams, whispers of thoughts, Alia and Paul and Irulan and he does not know what it means.
The rumours of dissent, of Fremen discontent, echo through the palace. He travels out, meets dignitaries from the other Houses, and shakes hands; listens to the words they do not say.
They say, we are unhappy. They say, we are rulers still.
They say, Atreides was never meant to be the Royal House.
It is not unexpected. This is the way of all politics.
Irulan waits for him on the stairs of the Keep. "Good journey?" she asks, greets him in the way of the desert.
"It was as we expected."
Irulan presses her hands together. "You have been missed," she says, and will not be drawn further.
Alia kneels beside the sand table, watches the balls roll. She does not appear to notice him, and he pauses, watches her play. "Alia," he says, softly.
"Duncan," she says, "You had a good trip." She tilts her head to meet his eyes, and her eyes are blue upon blue, the brightest they have ever been.
"You had a good trip," she repeats, and it is not a question.
He steps into the room, leans to kiss her. Her kiss is hard, and sharp, and she pulls away. In the room, the scent of spice is strong.
"What have you done?" he asks.
"I do what I must do," she replies. She is calm, serene. "For the good of us all."