The first time he saw her he thought she looked like a creature out of a nightmare: her face concealed by that claustrophobic helmet, her entire body encased in black leather, she was the Grim Reaper herself, with her soulless red eyes and her long red scythe, come out of her realm to hunt and haunt him. At the time, he’d been terrified. After all, Cere Junda had wasted no time in telling him just who that creature was — the Second Sister of the Inquisitorium, a monster made for killing Jedi just like them — and in teaching him to despise her.
But although he’d tried, Cal never could bring himself to hate the Inquisitor. And stars knew he’d tried. He tried every time she chased after him like a bloodhound after a scent, tried a little harder each and every time they fought, tried after she hurt his friends or him, tried, tried, tried. He couldn’t, though. He couldn’t even bring himself to deal her a killing blow, in the end. Was that hate, or was it pity? Which was worse?
He knew she hated the Jedi Order. Her war cries made that plain enough. He suspected she’d suffered worse at the hands of Jedi than he’d endured at her hands, and the thought filled him with shame, and something else he couldn’t quite place nor begin to name. But he ponders the matter silently, and by himself, because he doubts anyone but BD-1 wants to hear he harbors something resembling sympathy for one of their enemies.
It’s only late one night, long after the others have gone to bed, that he stumbles upon an answer. He’s meditating by himself on a small clearing away from camp, and like a child, he’s so distracted by the simple joy of knowing , that he doesn’t sense her presence at all. Her dual lightsaber glows red as she ignites it against his neck, close enough to his skin for him to feel the heat.
“Why didn’t you kill me?” she rasps from somewhere behind him. Her voice is metallic — camouflaged by the modulator in her mask. “You could have ended me right then and there. Why didn’t you?”
Cal finds himself remembering that day in the rain. They’d fought for hours amidst the wreckage of an ancient ship, until he’d finally defeated her. He’d split her helmet open with one slice of his lightsaber, and underneath he’d found a face just like his own: her eyes, dark and terrified, had stared back at him in mute appeal. And although he’d known she would never have done the same for him, he’d knocked her unconscious and left her there. Alive.
He knew she’d come back, of course, and he hadn’t expected gratitude, but this is a surprise. The question.
“I didn’t kill you because you’re like me,” he answers. It comes easily, now that he knows it. He wonders if she’ll scream at him and wake the whole camp, then grins at his own stupidity. She’s too smart for that.
“Like you ?” she whispers, and she’s angry, very angry. “I am nothing like you, Jedi ,” she spits out the last word, like it’s an insult, like it’s a curse.
Cal knows he has to tread very carefully here.
“My name is Cal Kestis. Not ‘Jedi’,” he tells her. Then, because he’s a fool, “What’s yours?”
Predictably, the blade inches closer to his face.
“What game are you playing?”
“Cards,” Cal quips. A pause. “Does it look like I’m playing a game to you, Inquisitor?”
Had he been able to see his face, he’d wager her eyes would be flickering with irritation. As it is, all he knows is her lightsaber seems to grow warmer. “A dangerous one, yes,” she hisses. “You will answer my question, or I swear, I’ll flay you alive.”
“I told you, I’m not playing any games.”
“Why didn’t you kill me that day? The truth this time.”
“I’ve already told you the truth.”
And it is: like him
There’s an angry sound, and then she’s gone.
Cal almost can’t believe his luck.
He learns her name by accident, when he hacks into an Imperial computer during one of his missions. Well, it’s not entirely an accident. Her file isn’t, strictly speaking, among the files he’s been asked to retrieve. But what’s he supposed to do? Leave information on one of their greatest enemies behind? So he retrieves it anyway, and examines it later privately, all with BD-1’s help. He tells himself he’s doing it for the cause — she’s their enemy, after all, and if they can find one way to defeat her it should be in her file — but deep down he knows he’s lying to himself.
Sidara Hass. That’s her real name, or it was, before she became Second Sister. She’s older than he is, by about five or six years (it’s a bit unclear). She used to be an extremely accomplished Jedi, a prodigy. After she joined the Inquisitorium, she was trained by Darth Vader, who also was in charge of ‘her initiation’, whatever the hell that means (Cal isn’t sure he wants to know). The file also states she has a prosthetic leg, something he’d always suspected but had never been able to confirm.
Feeling quite pleased with himself, Cal relaxes, lets his guard down, and almost gets himself killed two days later when Second Sister (Sidara, now) shows up with her squadron of troopers, looking deadlier than usual in a brand new helmet and shiny new clothes.
And Cal knows it’s a mistake before he does it, but he can’t help himself. It annoys him that she acts like nothing’s happened, like he didn’t spare her life and she didn’t spare his, like it’s back to business as usual, like she can just turn around and go back to chasing him as if she hadn’t just proven she was capable of having some sort of moral code after all.
So when she calls him “Jedi,” all full of spite, he whispers “Sidara,” right back. The effect is immediate and satisfying: she seems to shrink, and he’s able to press the advantage at first, but then he’s met with an assault so vicious it’s unlike anything he’s ever witnessed before, from her or anybody else, and it’s so rapid and violent he’s struggling to keep up.
He screams when she cuts his face, the pain so searing he’s certain he’s going to die, but when he comes to he’s alive and surrounded by his friends, and all that’s left of her is a scar.
Next time he’ll be ready for her.
‘Next time’ finds them in the snows of Rhen Var, white flakes covering their shoulders like a mantle, their lightsabers melting the ground and their surroundings as they fight. There’s no one around this time, no allies on either side to aid them. There’s no one but the two of them.
“Don’t call me that!” she snaps, and in her anger her blow misses him.
Cal seizes the opportunity to talk to her. He has no speech prepared, even though he’s been thinking about what to say to her for months, and so the first thing that comes out of his mouth is, “Why didn’t you kill me?”
He feels like a moron, echoing her question back at her like a parrot, but now that he’s said it, he realizes he wants to know. “You could have killed me that night, when I was meditating.” Or the day you gave me the scar. “Why didn’t you?”
“I —” She stops. “I am going to kill you. ”
“Is this what we’re going to do for the rest of our lives? Will you just chase after me, again and again, until you finally manage to kill me?”
“Yes,” she says firmly. “And believe me, your life won’t be that long.”
“Maybe yours won’t be either.”
He can feel her smiling despite herself under that helmet. “Shut up and fight, Kestis.”
And so they fight. Again and again and again, for what feels like years. In all that time, they give each other so many bruises, wounds, cuts and scars it’d be enough to make anybody else quit the chase. But Sidara never quits, and Cal never gives in. And they never do manage to kill each other.
“When I left the temple, I created three simple rules for myself, so that I could survive,” he tells her one day, and he can’t believe he’s saying it, actually saying it, but it seems that he is. “Don’t stand out, accept the past, and trust no one. And, whatever you do, don’t reach within.”
They’ve fought past the point of exhaustion, and they are lying on the ground now, inches away from one another, too tired to even ignite their sabers. Cal breathes in and out, inhaling the dusky smell of the earth and the tingy scent of their blood. Is he going to die like this? Is someone going to find the two of them tomorrow, dead? It seems fitting. He can’t imagine dying without her being there.
“I told myself all those things, but the truth is, I was afraid. I still am. Aren’t you?”
“Yes,” she says, her voice quiet and human and not metallic at all.
With a start, Cal realizes she’s taken her helmet off. It must have taken what little energy she had left. He musters all his strength and turns so that he’s facing her. She looks at him and he knows in that moment they understand each other perfectly.
“You’re never going to kill me,” she says, sounding bored. Her eyes tell a different story, though. They had that time in the rain, and they do now. Her pupils are wide and black, asking, always asking. Cal doubts she knows what it is she’s really after.
“Never,” he admits. After a time, he adds, “You don’t have to kill me either.”
She smirks, but there’s no humor in her eyes. “You know I do.”
“You can join us. Together we could rebuild the Order, bring peace to the galaxy…”
“Kestis, don’t be stupid. The Jedi are gone. Listen to those rules of yours and accept the past. You sure as hell can’t change it.”
“My rules came from fear. I don’t want fear to determine my future. Do you?”
“How about survival? Do you care about that?”
“Living under the Empire’s thumb isn’t life.”
That stings her, he can see it in her face, the way she flinches as if he’s slapped her. Too close to home.
“Sidara,” he says softly. The last thing he wants is to join the ranks of the Jedi who’ve hurt her so much. “Please. Come with me.”
She turns her face away from him. “You know I can’t.” Her voice is strained.
Cal doesn’t know how to be around her like this. Being still isn’t like them: when they’re together they move, they fight, they touch. So he reaches out and clasps her fingers between his. She doesn’t say anything, and she doesn’t pull away.
He tries not to close his eyes, afraid that she won’t be there when he wakes up.
He closes his eyes.
When he wakes up, she’s gone.
He’d thought he’d known fear.
He’d been a fool.
After weeks of Inquisitors that aren’t Sidara coming after him, he understands what real fear is, though.
“Where’s Second Sister?” he finally asks Cere, after another run in with Ninth Sister. The week before it had been Fifth Brother. Before that, it had been Sixth Brother.
Someone else overhears, though, and they reply, “If we’re lucky she’s dead.”
Cere eyes Cal with concern at that, having sensed long ago what her disciple’s true feelings for the Second Sister are.
Cal barely registers her concern. He feels his vision blur. He’s paralyzed by fear. What if it’s true? What if she really is dead? Worse, what if she’s alive and being subjected to unimaginable horrors as they speak?
“Remember your training, Cal.” Cere puts her hand on his shoulder. “Calm yourself. Breathe.”
He only sees her in his dreams, now. Some of them are pleasant. She’s not wearing her helmet nor her armor, and it’s just the two of them, no Jedi, no Sith, no war, just them, free at last. Other times they’re fighting, but that’s natural for them, and he’d welcome any dream that’d let him see her.
He welcomes the nightmares too, even those that leave him sweating and near tears. They usually begin or end with her dead, sometimes at his hand. Those are the worst ones.
He tries looking for her using the Force, but all he finds is her helmet, still lying where he’d last seen it, on the forest floor where she’d placed it. Now it’s covered in moss and the worms have made a castle out of it. And she’s nowhere to be seen.
Cal briefly considers the possibility that she’s cut herself off from the Force, but that would mean disobeying her masters and avoiding their detection, and she’d made it pretty clear that she only cared about survival. No, it’s unlikely that she’s done anything except gone back to the Empire.
After that, who knows what happened.
What happened catches up to him on Dantooine, after he and his allies are ambushed by the combined forces of Fifth Brother and Ninth Sister. The battle that follows is fierce and terrible, with many losses on his side.
He knows he’s going to die when he sees her face in the crowd, no helmet on. A dream. A harbinger of death.
He can die at peace then, if she’s here.
Then, suddenly, she’s at his side, fighting with him, protecting him. So close she almost feels real. So real she snaps, “Watch it, Kestis!” when he accidentally elbows her in the gut.
“You’re here,” he breathes.
“In the flesh.”
He laughs. He’s never been so relieved in his life.
He’s so relieved, in fact, that he doesn’t pay attention to the sniper. Cere’s warning shout of, “CAL!” reaches him belatedly, and by then the weapon’s already been fired.
But the blast never reaches him. It stops just as it’s about to hit him right between the eyes, then darts back where it came from. Cal glances at Sidara, already knowing what he’ll see.
She looks terrified, as if she can’t believe what she’s just done. Her hand is still outstretched and it’s trembling from when she summoned her Force powers to stop the blast from killing him.
“You saved my life,” he tells her. “Twice.”
She says nothing.
And there’s no time to say anything else, because the fight is upon them again.
After the battle, she nurses an ugly cut on her upper arm that will likely leave a scar, but she’s otherwise unharmed. He has to resist the urge to run up to her right away, so instead he sends BD-1 to her with some stim packs for her wounds. Meanwhile, he heads off in the opposite direction to talk to his mentor and the rest of the gang.
It takes a lot of convincing, a lot of arguing, plenty of shouting, and a headache and a half to get them to agree to having her travel with them. But in the end they relent, as Cal had known they would.
He’s excited to deliver the news to her when he finds her getting ready to leave.
“What are you doing?” he asks her. “Where are you going?”
“I cut myself off from the Force so I could escape the Empire,” she says quietly. “Then I used it again to save you. Now they’re going to find me. So I have to go.”
“Wait, wait. You don’t have to go anywhere,” Cal insists. “We can protect you. You can come with us. I’ve talked with them, they’ll accept you.”
She flinches and for the first time she spares him a glance. Her eyes are full of hurt. “‘Accept me’?”
“That’s not what I meant. I meant —”
“I know what you meant. It doesn’t matter, Kestis. I don’t want to go with you.”
And that’s that, Cal supposes.
Despite her words, however, they keep running into each other, as if some unknown string is tying their fates together, pulling them ever closer, unable to let them go their separate ways. Whatever it is, he’s grateful for it. He’s thankful for the pull.
By now they’ve saved each other’s lives so many times it’s hard to keep count. Cal has stopped trying. All that matters to him is that, despite everything, they are both still here after so many have come and gone.
She did the right thing by leaving the Inquisitorius, of course. But sometimes, in light of how things are going, Cal thinks she did the right thing by not joining him too. Maybe she would have died with the others if she had. Maybe not. Sometimes he resents her for not being here. Other days he’s glad.
Today he is glad. They’re the only ones left of both of their kind because they both refused to give in to the other, and perhaps that’s how it was always meant to be. The two of them together in death again. It feels right.
“Do you think we’re going to die?” he asks her in a whisper as Darth Vader ignites his lightsaber in front of them.
“Only one way to find out,” she says, igniting hers.
She gives him the tiniest of smiles. “Together.”
Somewhere along the way, Cal stopped being afraid. He’s ready to die now that she’s here. It’s as if he’s been waiting for her to do it.
He looks at her profile, drinking it all in: the nobility of her brow, her dark hair, the rise and fall of her nose, the shape of her mouth. He takes it all in and his only regret is that he never got to tell her.
Perhaps in the next life, he will.