This... was not what Duncan had expected of a Duke’s son. A spoiled, haughty brat, perhaps, who got what he wanted and threw a fit when he didn’t. A rude, arrogant child, perhaps, but certainly not this—not this well-mannered child around his leg looking up at him with a beaming smile. Duncan could only stare. His mind was racing, screaming at him that he was showing all kinds of disrespect to House Atreides, but he couldn’t find it in himself to move until the child’s smile started slipping doubtfully. Duncan quickly shoved a smile onto his own face as he tentatively reached down to pat the boy on the shoulder.
“I’m Paul!” Paul declared cheerfully.
“I’m Duncan,” Duncan replied dumbly. Should he have tacked on a “my lord” or “sire”? Luckily, Paul didn’t seem to care about the lack of a title.
“Dunky,” the small child said.
“No, Dun-can,” Duncan corrected gently.
“Dun-can,” Paul repeated. He earned a smile for his efforts and he grinned brighter.
“Duncan, up?” Paul asked quietly, his small arms moving to grab upwards. Duncan stared down at him dumbly, suddenly remembering that this was not just a little boy, but the future of House Atreides—and he was by no means old enough to walk around without his mother or a bodyguard.
“Where is your mother?” he asked. Paul grinned mischievously and grabbed him around his leg again.
“Up! Up!” Paul said, sounding more determined as he started hopping a bit. Duncan sighed and threw a cautious glance about him. On one hand, he knew he could get in serious trouble if he was found holding the child, especially if it had already been noticed that he was missing. Duncan didn’t want to be wrongly accused of trying to kidnap the Duke’s son when he hadn’t even been there for two months. But, on the other hand, if he denied Paul and the child was upset by that, the ramifications would be much worse. The last thing he needed was for someone to find him alone with Paul, and the child to be crying his eyes out.
“Okay. Up,” he agreed after a moment, and reached down carefully to lift the heir to House Atreides into his arms. Paul let out a delighted laugh and settled into his chest, one hand reaching up to tangle in his beard. Something softened inside of Duncan as he looked down at the small creature in his arms.
“You’re just a kid,” he murmured, more to himself than to Paul. “One day you’ll rule us all, but you’re just a kid right now, aren’t you?” Paul had nothing to say about that, too focused on the older man’s beard to care about anything else.
“Let’s go find your mother, my boy,” Duncan said softly. He was glad no one else was around to hear him; the last part of his sentence had slipped out unintentionally, and chances were he would already be in a world of trouble. He had no desire to add to that for being too familiar with the Duke’s son.
“Ma boy,” Paul repeated with a giggle. Duncan let out a huff of a laugh and set off down the hallway to try and find where Paul had come from. They wandered through a few rooms before Duncan opened a door and almost ran into Lady Jessica.
“Oh, thank goodness, you’ve found him,” she said, cutting off his apology. She fixed Paul with a stern look. “What have I told you about running off?” she scolded gently. Paul grinned and snuggled further into Duncan’s chest. Duncan suddenly became aware that he was holding the Duke’s son like he was some common child, and his face flushed as he awkwardly handed Paul over to his mother.
“He—he was very insistent,” he said weakly as he tried to untangle Paul’s hands from his beard.
“Ma boy,” Paul said as he was transferred to his mother’s arms. The Lady Jessica turned a quizzical gaze to Duncan and he flushed darker as he bent in a bow.
“My lady, forgive me. I forgot my place, I—I did not mean to refer to your son in such as casual manner. It will not happen again,” he apologized.
“You are forgiven,” she said, graceful and controlled as always, but he almost thought he detected a hint of a laugh in her voice. “It calms a mother’s worries to see that her son is cared for by those who have the duty to protect him.” Duncan nodded awkwardly as he straightened up again.
“Duncan!” Paul crooned to his mother as he waved a little hand in the older man’s direction. Lady Jessica smiled.
“Very good,” she praised.
“Ma boy!” Paul said, patting himself with the little hand. Duncan cringed internally. The Lady Jessica had been gracious so far, but he feared her generosity would soon turn to annoyance. At least it was a small mercy that he hadn’t cursed in the presence of the child.
“He seems to like it,” Lady Jessica remarked lightly. “I don’t think he will soon let you stop using it.” Her eyes met his for a moment, and relief flooded through him. It was more than just a passing comment, it was permission. He ducked his head.
“Yes, my lady,” he agreed. Paul giggled obliviously and reached out towards Duncan.
“If it is not too much trouble to ask of you...” Lady Jessica paused for a moment, taking the time to choose her next words carefully. “I must attend to matters elsewhere. If it would not hinder you greatly, Paul seems rather taken to you.” Duncan nodded dumbly, automatically reaching out to take the child that was offered to him.
“Yes, my lady. He will be safe with me,” Duncan promised. The Lady Jessica smiled as Paul snuggled into Duncan’s chest.
“I know he will,” she said. Confidence rang strong through her voice in a way that almost startled Duncan, that she was genuinely trusting him with the heir of Atreides—with her child. He ducked his head again and she left the room, effortlessly graceful as always. Duncan looked down at Paul. Paul looked up at Duncan.
“Well, my boy,” Duncan said, “let’s go visit Gurney. We’ve got a report to do.”
“Ma boy,” Paul giggled.
It was this moment Duncan chose to remember as he lay gasping out his last breaths, surrounded by the bodies of the Sardaukar he had slain.
The Duke, his boy Paul was still just a kid, it wasn't fair safe. That was all that mattered now.