9 SFF Duos That Bring Out the Best (and Worst) in Each Other

“We’re not so different, you and I.” Those simple words can horrify, illuminate, even break characters when uttered in the right moment. Not all enemies are truly evil, after all, and not all heroes are virtue personified. Here are a few of our favorite stories where a seemingly perfect pair operate on opposite sides of a chasm… then get locked in the same room, or stranded on the same planet, and subsequently discover the strange bonds that they share. When opposites attract (in all versions of the word), we can’t get enough.

 

Vicious and Vengeful by V.E. Schwab

Victor Vale and Eli Cardale would have been better off if they had never been roommates at Lockland University, but Eli wouldn’t take Victor’s hint that he preferred to be alone, and eventually, he just became too fascinating to lose track of. But when Victor took Eli’s research into ExtraOrdinary’s (powered people) to its more practical conclusion and landed them both with powers of their own, neither of them could have predicted what sort of dangerous rivalry that would set off, or the murders that would follow once Eli decided what his power was meant for. But even as the two become enemies, there is always a part of Eli that misses his friendship with Victor, knowing that however different they may be, they are mirror images of each other, “something vital, a core of the same precious metal glinting through the rock.”


 

Doctor Who, “Boom Town”

Doctor Who, Boom Town

Screenshot: BBC

There’s no romance in this encounter, but this may be the Doctor’s greatest facedown with a series villain, made even more potent for the fact that she’s not one if his major foes. Blon Fel-Fotch Passameer-Day Slitheen is being held by the Doctor on her way to a trial that will spell certain death, so she issues a challenge – can the Doctor dine with someone he is condemning to death? Can he claim to be “good” when he is clearly capable of terrible things? While she spends part of the meal stealthily (and ineffectively) trying to kill him, eventually she makes an appeal to his empathy, pointing out that she’s a product of her upbringing and that she believes she is capable of change because she recently spared a victim. The Doctor’s reply – that being kind on a whim does not equate to meaningful change – is one of his coldest but shrewdest moments on record, born if his own self loathing after the Time War. It was quite a sight to see.


 

Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vylar Kaftan

“Chela’s everything I’m not,” Bee thinks of her fellow telepath, prisoner, and lover: “tall, light-skinned, and gorgeous. […] But she loves me, and I love her, and together we’ll make it off this planet somehow.” Fierce where Bee is timid, Chela pushes deeper into the tunnels of prison planet Colel-Cab while her other half ponders what might exist on the surface. As this pair, exiled from Earth after a crime so terrible they don’t speak of it, serves out their life sentence, the factors that make them so complementary begin to cause grinding tension between them. The more they explore their prison, the more Bee begins to question why she can’t remember what destruction their telepathy wrought—and why Chela seems to be withholding all the answers. How much can Bee trust someone who’s supposed to be her light in the darkness, when Chela won’t shine light on certain things? But for all that Chela grows increasingly agitated as Bee keeps questioning her, their connection—the only thing keeping them both alive on Colel-Cab—is undeniable.


 

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter clashed enough on random visits to Diagon Alley or on the Quidditch field—imagine the carnage if they had to actually live together. This is just one of the Potter subversions in Rowell’s fantasy novel, which sees Chosen One Simon Snow and secret vampire Basilton “Baz” Grimm-Pitch paired up as roommates by the Crucible, which seems to be a cross between the Sorting Hat and Merlin’s Slash Dragon. For as much as Baz gripes about Simon invading his personal space—the torture increasing once he realizes that dammit, he’s actually attracted to his do-gooder roomie—Simon can’t help but obsess over Baz when he goes missing. Forced to constantly be in one another’s presence, these self-professed foes’ lives become hopelessly intertwined, from the big prophecy stuff to their morning routines. Exactly as the Crucible planned: “It made us roommates,” Simon says, but Baz corrects him, “We were always more.”


 

Star Wars: The Clone Wars, “Revenge”

Star Wars: The Clones Wars, Revenge

Screenshot: Lucasfilm

Fans could tell from the start that Asajj Ventress had a troubled past, but once she was truly cast off from the Sith and her mentor Count Dooku, she began making her own choices. This led to a brief period of bounty hunting and system hopping until she arrived in just the right place and time to help Obi-Wan Kenobi defend himself against Darth Maul and his brother Savage. Ventress and Kenobi already had an antagonistic flirting dynamic down pat, but this moment sees them realize something new: they make an excellent team when given the chance. Without big banner terms like Good and Evil in play, this unlikely pair are excellent comrades. These parallels run all over Star Wars (see the final encounter between Obi-Wan and Maul in Rebels), but this particular duo stand out for the way they accent the oddities of each other’s personalities with every quippy rejoinder.


 

Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

Take two rival commanders who couldn’t be more different—practical Cordelia Naismith, from the egalitarian Beta Colony, and romantic Aral Vorkosigan, from the military planet of Barrayar—and lock them not in a room or a building, but strand them on an entire planet. Of course that formula will lead to love. It doesn’t matter that Aral has the unseemly reputation as the “Butcher of Komarr,” or that Beta and Barrayar seem ideologically opposed on every front. Once the two pick their way across this alien planet, trading romantic anecdotes and dodging exploding vampire balloons, they’ve basically planned out their future together—or, at least, Aral has.

Interestingly, the rumor has long persisted that Shards of Honor began as a Star Trek fanfic about a Klingon and Star Fleet commander marooned on a planet together. Yet as far back as 1997, Bujold unequivocably stated that there is no Trek DNA in the book. At any rate, if that dynamic piques your interest enough, you’ll probably enjoy reading about Miles Vorkosigan’s parents’ meet-cute.


 

The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

Alina Starkov is supposed to join the military as an adult, and is set to become a junior cartographer’s assistant when an unexpected attack reveals her ability as a Sun Summoner. She is noticed by the Darkling, leader of the Grisha, who realizes that he can use her powers to further expand his own. A romantic entanglement begins between the two, though Alina knows nothing of how he plans to use her power, or the fact that his affection is more about his ability to manipulate her than any genuine feeling of warmth. But the Darkling’s interest in the Sun Summoner stems from the fact that he believes she can be like him, even if she carries an opposing power to his own—the perfect foil to solidify his powers. But he never assumed that Alina might be strong enough to strike out on her own…


 

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, “Promise”

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Promise

Screenshot: Dreamworks

The entire conflict of this show revolves around the relationship between Adora (who becomes She-Ra with her magical sword) and her former best friend Catra. While the two fought for the Hoarde, they were an inseparable pair, but She-Ra defected to rekindle the Princess Alliance, leaving Catra behind in confusion. In the episode “Promise,” while moving through a holographic interface of Old Ones tech, Adora and Catra recall memories from their childhood, and both have starling revelations—for Adora, she realizes that her friend always felt diminished in her presence, second string in every possible way. For Catra, she realizes that her ambition surpasses her desire to maintain her friendship with Adora, and finally walks away from her after telling her precisely how she feels and leaving her for dead. While we expect much more to come from this fraught relationship, one thing’s for sure—every exchange gives us chills.


 

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

If we tell you that swordswoman Gideon and necromancer Harrowhark’s dynamic is peak Enemies to Lovers, that should say more than enough. Not convinced, though? Let us draw your attention to this amazing exchange from chapter 2:

“All because,” said Gideon, checking her clock again, “I completely fucking hate you, because you are a hideous witch from hell. No offense.”

There was a pause.

“Oh, Griddle!” said Harrow pityingly, in the silence. “But I don’t even remember about you most of the time.”

To go from that, and the fabulous fight that follows, to the other end of this trope is part of the magic of Muir’s novel.


 

What are your favorite stories of opponents finding common ground?

Originally published in May 2019.

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