My brother and I have... I mean, had... a mutual friend. She is no longer mutual. We'll call her Allie.
One day, with pleasant expressions, standing side by side, Allie and my brother announced to me that they are not friends.
"We're best enemies," said my brother, with a smile of delight.
"Best enemies?" I asked. "Like... frenemies?"
"No," said Allie, firm but kind. "Best enemies."
"Ah," I said, and nodded. It made sense. Just not to me.
Apparently, on a whim they decided that they were enemies. But best enemies. Meaning... if they categorized each other as 'friends' they'd be good friends. But since they have placed each other in the 'enemy' category, well, they're not WORST enemies. They're just... enemies that are friendly. And therefore... 'best' enemies.
Yah. I said something like 'whatever floats your narwhal,' and left it at that. I must say that they are the friendliest enemies I've ever met.
My point? When you set the weirdness aside, that's a pretty interesting relationship. On a more serious note, let's take a look at some similar relationships in fiction, eh? I'm going to use film and TV examples, because the basics of storytelling are the same no matter the medium.
BEST ENEMY EXAMPLE 1
PROFESSOR X and MAGNETO
Fascinating relationship. One of my favorite, as far as compelling-ness, in the X-Men saga. Old friends forced into being enemies by their beliefs... but still chummy enough to play a good old game of plastic chess once Professor X's guys whup up on Magneto's.
They once fought for a common cause, side by side, as dear friends. They still fight for a common cause, but in opposing ways. Each recognizes the great worth of the other, and so... when there is no battle to be fought, they treat each other as old friends.
BEST ENEMY EXAMPLE 2
Star Trek Original Series - Episode 14 - "Balance of Terror"
CAPTAIN JAMES T. KIRK and the ROMULAN COMMANDER
In an episode reminiscent of destroyer-vs-submarine warfare, Captain Kirk engages a cloaked Romulan ship. As the two captains war against each other, they are both impressed by the masterful skill of the other. Their admiration grows throughout the battle. At the end of their contest of wits, when the Romulan ship is disabled and about to be captured, the commander says to Kirk:
'In a different reality, I might have called you friend.'
In this case, the two were placed as enemies by the uniform that they wore, and not necessarily by personality conflict or choice. It's quite a sad episode.
WWII SHORT FILM - THE MEDIC
I like the way this one ends, because their relationship changes from Best Enemies to something else.
If I were to sum up this sort of relationship in one sentence, I would do it like this.
Two people who would have been friends compelled by duty or allegiance to act as enemies.
Two enemies who meet and find that, at heart, they are friends.
Fascinating. Rare. Sad, usually, unless they can find reconciliation somehow. I really want to study this sort of relationship, and maybe even practice it in a story or two. Because what is fiction, if it is not about people? And what are people, if they do not have relationships? We read fiction, in large part, to see people build, define, refine, neglect, ruin, and save relationships, be they good or bad people, and be they good or bad relationships.
So the homework for today's post? (I mean, only if you WANT homework.) Give your character a Best Enemy. Someone who, in a different reality, they might have called a friend. See what happens. Or, go into the backstory of your protagonist and your antagonist. What if they were old friends once? (I'm not even asking you to write it. Just think about it. And then write it if it's brilliant.)