“Have I ever told you the story of Jopin?” The light of Luke’s lightsaber cast a green pall throughout the rocky tunnel around them, the smallest portion of a cave system Ben hadn’t known existed on this nameless, nowhere planet. Before this particular session, he’d told Ben he expended too much energy when he fought, swung too wide. If you want to tear the world down every time you draw your lightsaber, he’d said, you’re going to have to learn what that means.
What it meant, Ben soon found out, was a whole lot of scoring in the rock around him, red, some of it molten, and hot. The cave was stifling and sweat dripped into Ben’s eyes. He was covered in dust and scratches stung his forehead where chunks of—again, hot—rock had struck him.
Now his shoulders ached and there were burns in his clothing in places Luke had never been able to hit before and he was sure he’d find bruises in unexpected places once he removed his tunic. Swiping the rough-spun wool of his sleeve across his face, he shook his head. “Who’s Jopin?”
“A man who fell asleep for a hundred years because he was terrible at accurately assessing threats,” Luke answered, dry. He clapped his hand on Ben’s shoulder and squeezed. An apologetic cast fell over his eyes as he looked up at Ben and he raised his hand to brush debris from Ben’s hair, releasing even more of it from the leather thong that held it back from his face. “Come on. Let’s get cleaned up.”
Ben’s eyebrows drew together, the skin of his face tight as the sweat began to evaporate on it. As they approached the mouth of the cave, a shiver ran down Ben’s spine. The air out here was cool and crisp and it would have been refreshing if it didn’t chill Ben to the bone. After all that exertion, stepping outside was like jumping into a pool of ice water.
Luke was a terrible storyteller, but Ben wasn’t stupid. He knew Luke was trying to tell him something and if Ben gave him the chance, he’d get there eventually. “So are you going to tell the story or not?”
Ben wasn’t very good at giving people chances.
Luke was surprised anyway. Perhaps he hadn’t expected Ben to question him about it.
“Does it matter? It’s a cautionary tale about the desert. Not that there’s much desert here.” Luke’s hand flapped vaguely toward the patch of bright, starlit sky visible through the forest canopy. “Anyway, Jopin looked up for his enemies. He should have looked at the shadows across from him. He was cursed for it.”
Ben barked a disbelieving laugh. Glancing down at Luke’s feet, he saw more than his fair share of shadows there. “Is this your way of saying my enemy is standing before me?”
“It was in that cave,” Luke said, smiling slightly, “and you have the wounds to prove that, but you did a lot more damage to that otherwise harmless tunnel around you than you did to it.”
Ben wouldn’t have called that tunnel harmless exactly, but he took Luke’s meaning. He bowed slightly and swallowed back the annoyance that worked through him whenever he failed. “I’ll practice my swing, Master,” he said, well aware that Luke hated that particular appellation though Ben still didn’t know why. Watching him struggle with whether to correct Ben yet again was amusing enough to make up for the loss he’d suffered in that cave. “Thank you.”
Luke’s lips pressed together and there was a darkly amused warning in his eye. “I’ll believe that when I see it,” he answered, assessing. And though Ben flushed under the scrutiny, he managed to stand up under it. Sighing, warming up, Luke nodded, apparently finding what he was looking for from Ben. “You’re progressing well, Ben. You should’ve seen me the first time I fought in a cave.”
Fighting the urge to frown, Ben gouged at the dirt with the toe of his boot. A hint of humiliation flickered through him. He wasn’t a kid anymore. “You don’t have to try to make me feel better.”
The skin around Luke’s eyes crinkled and his teeth flashed in the moonlight. “Am I that bad at it?”
Ben knew better than to roll his eyes, but he wanted to. Jedi don’t roll their eyes. Of course, if he took his uncle as an example, that wasn’t true, but Luke’s philosophies weren’t Ben’s and they’d spent a lot of time digging up relics and ancient texts and holocrons and everything in-between. Ben felt certain, in this at least, he was more correct.
So he didn’t roll his eyes.
But he still felt bested when a knowing, almost mischievous glint sparkled in Luke’s gaze, like Luke had expected Ben to fall into one of his own foibles and wasn’t displeased to see it happen.
“That’s confirmation enough, I suppose,” Luke said after a moment’s hesitation. Scanning the camp they’d made in and around the mouth of the cave, he planted his hands on his hips as though he didn’t quite know what to do now. His eyes lingered on the handful of lamps humming around their legs and emitting a warm, orange glow. R2 was somewhere around, but Ben wasn’t sure where. It was times like these that he felt most as though Luke was even more lost in all this than he was. And perhaps it was unfair, but resentment at that fact burned in him. Luke barely counted as an authority, but here he was leading Ben around the most isolated corners of the galaxy for answers neither of them could find, but he got to be the expert? “Why don’t we pack it in for the night?”
“Sure,” Ben said, feigning agreeability. What he wanted was to keep practicing and peppering Luke with questions, maybe even convince him to tell the story of Jopin. Perhaps there was something useful in it even if Luke didn’t think so. Anything to keep Ben’s mind from wandering—what they were doing? He couldn’t help but wonder if it was pointless, if Luke was the right mentor for him.
Luke was a good uncle, Ben supposed, but he made a terrible teacher.
Sometimes, he thought he would learn so much more on his own.
Tomorrow, they’d explore the cave further—Luke hoped they’d find the remnant of a long-lost Force cult here—and for a while, Ben would forget all about that fact, the possibility of securing yet more knowledge about the Force drowning out everything but his hunger to learn how to best control the powers he’d been born with.
He wouldn’t ask about Jopin and he wouldn’t think of Jopin again for several years, not until a storm slashed across a planet Ben didn’t yet know the name of during the darkest hours of the night. The only illumination would be his lightsaber and the lightning as it lanced, haphazard, across the sky. Only then would he recall the name and wonder about it.
Luke’s half-told story about shadows and curses would make sense then.
But by then, it would be too late, both for himself and for Luke.
And Kylo Ren would not regret it.