Two years later...
Deep in the Dune Sea of Tatooine, a luxury landspeeder glided across the sand with the regal grace of a sailboat, a metallic gleam of white against the dull gray-tan of the landscape. A sleek silver craft with a sky-blue canopy to shield its occupants from the cruelty of the sun, it gave the appearance of being untouched -- and untouchable -- by the harsh elements of this world. The craft's beauty was only further emphasized by its contrast with the smaller, blockier forms of the four green-gray military hoverbikes that flanked it, each carrying a pair of heavily armed New Republic soldiers.
The occupant of the speeder might have protested at both the extravagance of the vehicle and the necessity of an armed escort, but surprisingly there had been very little fuss. Then again, their destination might have had something to do with it.
The craft drew to a halt roughly ten meters from a lone figure in the sands, a rider astride a hulking bantha. Said rider, wrapped from head to foot in cloth wrappings and draped in rough-spun robes, bore a striking resemblence to the native tribes of Tatooine, but a careful observer might note the key differences between this figure and the Tusken Raiders. He wore a lightsaber at his hip and a bone pendant of a sun about his neck, for a few examples. And there was a distinct aura of power about the figure, as if he were experienced and talented beyond his physical appearance.
Leia Organa climbed out of the speeder and ran to meet the figure. Skywalker, likewise, vaulted down from Cyclone's back and sprinted forward to catch his sister in his arms, embracing her tightly.
"I missed you," he murmured.
"I missed you too," she replied, burying her face in his shoulder.
"Come," he invited, gesturing back in the direction he had come from. "We have a lot to catch up on."
With help from her brother she mounted Cyclone, and Skywalker climbed aboard behind her and urged the mount onward with a whistle. The landspeeder and hoverbikes trailed behind.
Over one more rise, and the encampment of the Redrock Tribe came into view. Little had changed in the time Leia had been gone -- maybe a few more tents added as new families had formed, maybe a few new calves among the bantha herd and bundled babies in the arms of the women. The community tent and Temple of the Suns still loomed in the center of the camp, with the Temple of the Moons glittering some distance from the rest of the camp. Banthas milled about freely, and children scurried eagerly among the adults, laughing and shouting. A party of dragon hunters were saddling their mounts in preperation for a hunt, and a cluster of women gossiped noisily as they scraped cactus fruit for the evening meal. The Tusken culture, unchanged and undisturbed for thousands of years, continued to hold strong.
And yet there was one major change that, in Leia's eyes, was the most important of all. On the outskirts of camp, not as distanced from the rest of the tents as the Temple of the Moons but still distinctly apart, was another tent as large as the community tent, bustling with activity. The beings that ducked in and out of the tent were an odd mix -- some Tusken, but others human, and still others assorted alien races. Some were young children, some teenagers, some well into middle age, but all wore the same humble robes... and many carried the same weapon at their waist that Skywalker did.
"The Jedi Academy," Skywalker noted.
"The Republic Senate maintains that it isn't much of an Academy," Leia said amusedly.
"It doesn't matter what the Senate thinks," Skywalker replied. "I can instruct my Padawans just as well on Tatooine as I can on any other world."
"That's very true." She slid down from Cyclone's back. "How is Master Yoda adjusting to the move?"
"Not well, to hear him talk," Skywalker replied, jumping down to join his sister. "He says that he survived battles with the Sith and the assassins of the Empire, but the sun will be his death." He chuckled softly. "But I think he likes it here. He gets along well with the tribe, at least."
"That's good. How is the tribe?"
"Doing well. Stone-Shadow is a grandfather now, and Wind-Dancer has taken a mate and expecting her first child. There have been no wars or attacks since we overthrew the Emperor." He patted Cyclone's side and let him wander off to join the rest of the herd, then walked toward the Jedi's tent. "How fares the Republic?"
"There's still portions of the Empire left to defeat," she replied. "But without the Emperor to keep the Empire bound into a single force, it's shattered into pieces... and each of those pieces will be far easier to defeat than a single vast army." She sighed wistfully. "There's also so much damage left to repair -- the Empire was cruel and ruthless, and it left a mess for the Republic to clean up. There's so much to do... and sometimes I don't know where we should start."
Skywalker nodded. "It's still so hard for me to grasp an entire galaxy beyond Tatooine sometimes. But I can imagine how you feel." He gazed at the tent that housed his Jedi Academy, watching Master Yoda address half a dozen children in a lesson of some sort, then seemed to change his mind and led Leia away, choosing instead to stroll around the camp. "What about Han? How is he faring?"
Leia smiled a little shyly. "Skywalker... we're engaged. We're going to be married."
Skywalker cocked his head to one side, the gesture she had learned meant a smile in the Tusken culture. "Wonderful, Leia! I'm happy for you. You two make a good match."
She arched an eyebrow. "Are you teasing me?"
"Oh no," he laughed. "I'd be much too frightened to tease a Supreme Chancellor."
She slapped his shoulder teasingly. "You ARE making fun of me!"
"Leia, I've known that Han has a good heart, even if he seems rough. Tuskens know how to see what's beyond the outside. Something I think outsiders have to learn over time." He hesitated, then spoke again. "What of... Vader? Have you heard anything about him?"
She took his hand in hers, threading her fingers through his own. "Skywalker... he hasn't tried to contact anyone. And there have been so many rumored sightings... but we can't prove any of them. I'm sorry, but we have no idea where he is."
He lowered his head, half in disappointment and half in thought. "Wherever he is... I hope he has found peace."
She offered a kindly smile, and together they continued to walk, oblivious to the activity of the camp and Academy as they talked and strolled.
Skywalker remained relaxed and unmoving, maintaining his pose as he meditated, but a thrill of mingled surprise, excitement, and fear filled him at the contact. Father?
Son... The touch of Vader's mind was faint but sure, clear in his mind even though it had to have come from thousands of light years away. You have done well, my son.
The Order lives, Father. It flourishes in the desert, and will soon be restored to glory. I... I hope you are proud of me?
More so than you can know, Skywalker. More so than you can know.
Father... where are you?
I fear I cannot reveal that. There is a price upon my head, after all. I have grown fairly comfortable where I am and have no urge to run away again. But I am safe here. You need not fear for me.
You could return here, Father. The tribe will keep you safe...
The tribe views me as a monster. And Skywalker... there are still too many memories. I cannot forgive the Tuskens for killing my mother, nor can I forgive myself for what I did in retaliation. I am sorry, but I cannot return to Tatooine.
Father... will I ever see you again?
A pause. What does your heart tell you?
I... I think so... I hope so, at any rate...
Then we WILL see each other again. I swear it. Now, Skywalker, focus on what you need to do. And don't look back.
But the touch of his father's presence was gone.
"Spoke with Vader, did you?"
Skywalker opened his eyes to see Yoda gazing at him across the fire, a thoughtful look on his face. "Yes, Master. I... I asked him to come back. He refused."
Yoda nodded as if he'd expected this. "Once down the dark path you start, forever will it dominate your destiny. Made his choices your father has. Live with the consequences he must."
"So it's impossible for him to change?"
"Not impossible, but difficult. And always marked by the dark side will he be. Consumed him it has, and feel his effects forever he will." A sympathetic expression softened his wizened features. "But hope for him there remains... so long as hope for him you do."
Skywalker nodded. "Thank you, Master. I will keep hoping, then."
"Rest, Skywalker. Much work we have to do."
"Yes, Master," he replied. "We do."
The idea for this story was born at a family reunion, of all places. I discovered some Star Wars fans among my cousins there, and in talking to them (and hearing one of them do a dead-on Tusken impersonation -- wow!), I got to thinking about family ties... and how so much of who we are is defined by our family and our environment. Then, of course, I got to applying that to the Star Wars universe and the Skywalker family... and this happened.
The Tusken Raiders have always fascinated me. We see some intriguing snippets of their culture in the films, but not enough in my opinion. I think, like the Native Americans in the days of the Old West, they've been misrepresented as barbarians and savages. I imagine that sure, some of them might hate and attack the human settlers of Tatooine, but just like the Native Americans there must be friendly, peaceful tribes among them. And besides, wouldn't we be upset if total strangers claimed our backyard as their own, just as the Native Americans lost their land to the Europeans... and the Tusken Raiders suffered with interlopers on their own territory?
Much of the Tusken culture is my own invention. I drew on Native American culture for parts of it, and the concept of child-names was borrowed from Mercedes Lackey's "Dragon Jouster" books. Night-demons, likewise, were inspired by the Karsite demons in Mercedes Lackey's "Heralds of Valdemar" series. Go read her books, they're awesome!
This fic was two years in the writing, and while I had fun with it, I'm glad it's drawn to a close. I'm sorry if the last few chapters lacked in quality, but I really felt I'd run out of steam on this story. And I hate leaving things unfinished.
I think the close of "Walk Like Men" spells the end of Star Wars fanfiction for me, at least for awhile. After sticking with me for about six years and twenty-odd stories now, my Star Wars muse is run into the ground and demands a vacation. Plus the Transformers muse has moved in and parked itself on the couch -- as those of you who watch all my stories probably have noticed.
This isn't the end of Star Wars for me -- I still love the series. And I'm still planning a Star Wars/Transformers crossover for the near future. But I think it's time to move onto other projects and other things. Thanks for sticking with me this far, and I hope to revisit Star Wars territory and attempt another story in this fandom someday.
May the Force always be with you, my readers. Always.