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our father was proud of you; I am proud of you; I love you

Alia has always loved her brother above all others. Paul never treats her as though her mind's age matches that of her four year old body; he's the one who protects her when members of their sietch hurt her with cruelty or simple ignorance. He's even entrusted her with an army of sorts, even though her body is young, her muscles still imprecise despite the time and training she's devoted to mastering them.

Alia loves Paul with all the strength she doesn't expend on holding the multitude of ancestors in her consciousness at bay, but she has come to realize that she is always going to live under his shadow. This is only reinforced by the sound of her father's voice echoing in her head as he praises Paul for having gotten revenge on all of their enemies, even as she rushes away from the Baron Harkonnen's still-twitching body. How much Paul would give to hear those words! To her, however, their power rests in her knowledge. Those words will be safe in her keeping, she rationalizes—safe, until her need to see Paul's reaction to them is stronger than her need to know Paul has a weakness only she can ease.

I miss you; I need you; leave me be

The light of the waning sunset filters in between the rich drapes, flashing brightness through Alia's closed eyelids as she walks past. She tries to let the fading warmth leech away her worries about the twins, about her mother's visit, about this Preacher whose words condemn and attract. True to his word, the Baron is silent, and so are the rest of her ancestors; she's alone with her thoughts, without even Duncan's calm presence.

Alia tips her head back, letting her thick hair trail down the bare back of her silk gown, tickling and sliding just like the uncertainty she keeps trying so unsuccessfully to shake. Yesterday she'd walked through Arakeen just as Paul used to do, a cloak shrouding her face as she picked her way through the dusty streets. She'd come within a few houses of where her priests said the Preacher was staying, but she'd been unable to push herself any closer. His rhetoric sounded like Paul's—rich with double meanings, with accusations shrouded in an air of confession, with a rejection of religion spoken in the voice of religious fervor—but is she blinded by her own fears, or is it really him?

She'd stood in the street and closed her eyes, much as she is doing now, and wished for the wisdom she'd always felt was hers by birthright. The confidence she'd always worn like that cloak (hiding her true self in much the same fashion) feels threadbare, threatening the integrity of her powerful image. Every phrase that the Preacher utters about her is another strike of the stone, just as the Fremen clean their clothing by beating the dust free. How long, she wonders, before there's nothing left of her?

Alia shivers; the sun is slipping away, leaving a chill that reminds her that another day has come and gone without a decision about the Preacher. He's asked—shouted, demanded—why she has not consigned herself to the desert, as Muad'Dib had done, Abomination that she is. But if he is Paul, then this demand turns their Fremen traditions into a mockery by his very presence in the city. Paul knows the way her mind works, and he knows she will have caught on to his hypocrisy. What then is his motivation? Does he want her to expose him, to order the priests to perform the official Casting Out? He'd never wanted to be seen as some sort of deity, whether or not he agreed to their use of religion to further the Atreides cause. Now though, Alia thinks, now he has qualms?

With the room dark around her, Alia pulls the thick fabric away from the window and rests her forehead against the glass, relishing the heat that's the only relic of the sun's passage. The first of Dune's moons is on the rise, full and bright, the image of the desert rat carved by circumstance on its face. Alia's lips curve into a wry smile. Paul's legacy is everywhere, and the question of whether it be by prophecy twisted and connived into place or genetic inheritance is moot by now.

you were right—you ARE right; I'm sorry

Alia has always found her brother both hard to understand and an open book—an ancient phrase culled from her collective memory, one she feels is particularly appropriate. Despite what the saying came to mean, an 'open book' from that period of time was only open to two pages, and Alia can't help but wonder if that sort of literalism is what Paul is trying to accomplish as the Preacher. The desert moon she has always looked for each twilight has come, in the bare span of her lifetime, from displaying a simple desert creature to bearing the image of a god—with her help.

Alia wants to believe in someone other than herself, if for no other reason than she knows she has truly become the Abomination she's honestly denied being through much of her life. Her steps become erratic and desperate as she scurries through the streets, away from Ghanima's empty eyes, away from the memories of happiness with Duncan, away from the weighty absence of Stilgar's approval. After a heavy footfall, one sandal slides, and the other steps quickly, splashing her ankles.

A puddle in the streets of Arakeen.

An abomination.

Alia feels unclean, and not just from the dirt, not just from her unwashed body and greasy hair. She's contributed to this, and despite the fact that she's just doing her best to protect Ghanima's legacy, to avenge Leto's death, something desperate beats a tattoo of dread against the steady thrum of her heartbeat. It's throwing her rhythm off, and the only thing that will stop it is finding Paul, finding the Preacher, finding out if they are one and the same.

She sees the crowd and feels the creeping fear that always accompanies proximity to the Preacher. Paul or not, she has the sense that he knows her as no one else has, and she hasn't given him permission. Paul had never asked for that intimacy, even if she'd have granted it in a heartbeat had he ever done so. It's just another regret she tries not to dwell on as, for the first time, she hears the Preacher's voice as a member of the crowd instead of hearing it ringing in echo against the city walls.

He sounds like Paul, but this could still be an emotional similarity—she discounts it.

Closer, closer, closer still, and he's turning, the crowd presses close…

"That Abomination is ALIA!"

In that last instant she catches sight of his face, the sun shining full upon it even as her own is cast in shadow. Paul, her heart cries—but circumstance pulls him away from her again. And again she runs, determined to reconstruct her fragile façade into something resembling her four year old self, the last time she felt fully in control of her birthright.