Disclaimer: Don't own anything!
Author's Note: Just rewatched this movie with a couple of my younger cousins and I started really noticing the nuances of it.
The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow separately without growing apart. ~Elisabeth Foley
To see them together is like seeing a familiar stranger. And yes, it was just one stranger, not two. Because that was the way it had always been with Sinbad-and-Proteus. They were powerful forces of nature on their own, warring and clashing with so many people and yet, when they're together, it's like they smooth out each other's sharp edges, make them much more human.
Were one to describe them, it would be like the earth and the sea. One would think that Sinbad, being who he was, would be the latter, but in truth, he is the earth; unyielding, stubborn and rough around the edges. It's Proteus that is the sea, who has a powerful temper beneath the cool front that could rage strong, and yet it hardly showed its face.
The mutterings had exploded the instant that Sinbad and his crew stepped into the party. Marina was too far back to see anything, but she could hear the 'I told you so' in a rough, strangely accented voice (The more time Marina spends with Sinbad, the more she realizes that it's because he's learned so many different words from so many different places and his voice has picked up all their accents along his travels).
"See? This is what happens when you use the front entrance."
She saw the smile work its way onto Proteus' face, saw the way it widened and the way his entire demeanor became a little more excited, the way that waves became so much more noticeable close to shore.
"I don't see you for ten years and now twice in one day?" Marina can hear the grin in Proteus' voice. "You're smothering me."
An unfamiliar laugh. "I knew you'd want to thank me for saving your life. Again."
Through a gap in the crowd, Marina sees them, though she keeps conversing with the other nobles automatically. Proteus' arm is slung familiarly over the other man's shoulder. Proteus is taller than him, but not by much, though he is leaner.
"You probably just heard we had free food and wine." Proteus teased. Marina isn't sure she's ever heard Proteus tease anyone, not like this. This is easy and confident, none of that polite, almost shy, demeanor he'd had most of the time that she'd known him.
They keep close to each other in the crowd, talking lowly and animatedly. It was like their conversations were excluded from the rest of the world.
"…Sinbad, I would like to introduce you to my fiancée, the Lady Marina, Ambassador from Thrace."
She wasn't surprised in the least that this was the infamous Sinbad. Even Dymus had stories of him, and Proteus, naturally. The two were always connected somehow.
"I heard all about this morning. First you try to rob Proteus, and then you save his life. So which are you, a thief or a hero?"
Proteus fills in Sinbad's strange silence with ease. "Sinbad wanted to give me the opportunity to thank—"
He looks just as surprised as she does when his best friend disappears.
"Look at it this way," She tells him because she could see how disappointed he was. "At least now your father can finally relax and enjoy the evening." If there's one thing Proteus loves—besides Sinbad, because anyone with eyes could see that-it's his father.
They speak of responsibilities and of the future and it feels strange. It isn't that Marina doesn't like Proteus, because she does. She might even go so far as to say she loves him a little, which is rare in an arranged marriage. Because Proteus is kind and quiet and thoughtful. Not like a lot of nobles. (It's only later that she even thinks to consider that some of that might have been Sinbad's influence)
"Ah…you were speaking of the ocean, weren't you?" The slightly bumbling, almost shy man is back. He loves Syracuse, Marina had always known that, but now, she wonders if perhaps some part of him hadn't been seeing the places where he and Sinbad had always been as children and adolescents.
"…I only wish I'd seen more of it." She hesitates before telling him this because the people she'd told it to before had mocked her for it, or had teased her. "I used to imagine sailing far beyond the Twelve Cities, discovering a world…Look at it, Proteus. So much wonder."
He asks her to marry him, for real now, and no man's ever looked at her the way he is. She slightly, guiltily grateful that Dymus interrupts.
"Proteus!" It hurts a bit to see how relieved Sinbad is to see him, the way he relaxes. "It's about time!"
"Do you realize how serious this is?"
"Do you realize how many times I've heard that today?" Sinbad's nonchalant tone, like he was back at their hideout in the city, complaining about shopkeepers and girls, chafe and scrape at Proteus' temper. Sinbad was the only one ever able to do that.
"You've betrayed Syracuse!"
He doesn't tense, like he would have if someone else had accused him. "Ugh, not you too!"
"Stealing the Book of Peace when you knew how much it meant to us!" How many times had he and Sinbad laid back, reading and sharing stories of it, inventing tales of how they'd defend it together when they were grown up.
"Proteus, here's the way it works," Sinbad begins with exaggerated patience. Had it been anyone else, he probably would've been yelling right now. "First, I actually commit a crime and then you get to blame me for it."
"Then how do you explain this?" Proteus draws the knife with easy familiarity. It had been his, once. He'd given it to Sinbad on his fifteenth birthday.
Sinbad stops for a minute—which Proteus appreciates because he knows just how difficult it is for Sinbad to keep his temper and to hold still. "Eris." He breathed.
"What?" He was sure he was hearing things.
"Eris! She framed me."
"Sinbad, listen to yourself." He was lying. How could Sinbad lie to him? And it wasn't even believable. Indeed, it sounded like something out of one of their children's tales that they'd spent nights and nights poring over.
"Trust me, Proteus," The prince can remember when that would have been said with a sparkling mischief in bright brown eyes. "The Book is in Tartarus. Talk to your father-"
"This is beyond my father. The Ambassadors are convening now for your trial."
"Whoa—trial? I didn't do it!" Perhaps Sinbad sees the disbelief in his eyes. "Look, I left the Book on your ship and that's the last I saw of it. You were there. You know the truth. You know me!"
"Do I?" He hates it being like this, hates even having to put sound to the thoughts that have been going through his head since they found the knife at the scene. "I knew a kid. Who are you now, Sinbad? Look me in the eye and tell me—did you steal the Book?"
Sinbad doesn't waver, is as steady as stone. "No."
There, there it was. He saw the child he'd met that day outside the palace, swimming beneath the shadows of his eyes. The child was scarred now, and a little more grown-up, with bitterness to go with the sweet, but he was there. And that gives Proteus all he needs to know.
"Are you people blind? I didn't do it!"
Sinbad hadn't known how much he needed Proteus near him until he hears his voice ring out. (He was with him all the other times he'd gotten into a bind with the Ambassadors, whether it was stealing food from the kitchens or playing pranks with the servants on snotty nobles. Why should this be any different?)
"I demand the right of substitution. Take me in his place." He keeps his gaze away from Sinbad because he knows that there will be confusion and a what the hell are you doing? in the child's eyes. "Sinbad says that Eris took the Book. And I believe him. Let him go to Tartarus and recover the Book."
"What?" Proteus resists the urge to smile. Sinbad is suddenly in front of him, bristling and defensive. "What are you doing?"
"You claim that Eris stole the Book. Steal it back." Proteus challenges because he knows that Sinbad can't resist a challenge. Not from him. "You're good at that."
"Hey, look, I will not be responsible for your life!" He's trying to play the heartless thief, but his playacting has never worked with Proteus before.
"You would do the same for me."
"No, I wouldn't." Sinbad isn't lying that time. He wouldn't go through the legal channels. He'd break Proteus out via window and grin at him. Come on, he'd say. Let's get out of here.
"Son, listen to reason."
Dymus has never understood Sinbad-and-Proteus, never got that a thief and a prince could be best friends and –and-someones. "No, Father. You listen. Sinbad either stole the Book, or he's telling the truth and it's in Tartarus. Either way, he's our only hope."
"Proteus," The Head Ambassador calls. "You realize that if Sinbad does not return, you will be put to death in his place?"
Proteus glances at Sinbad before looking back up at the table. "I understand."
Because, despite whatever Sinbad says, he would do the same for him.
"The Granite Gates. Bet you never thought I'd get us this far." Sinbad says, leaning back on his rail, lounging and looking very much like he belongs to this ship.
"No, I didn't." Marina admits. "But Proteus did. For some reason, he trusts you."
"Well…what could he have been thinking?" Sinbad shifts so that he can avoid her eyes.
"How did you two ever meet?"
He looks at her strangely, like he'd never seen her before, until a boyishly charming smile uplifts his lips. "Running for my life, as usual. A couple of angry thugs had cornered me outside the palace walls. I was trapped. I had a sword at my throat, at my chest, at my-"
A crew member chose that moment to announce dinner. "Pickles and eggs!"
Sinbad's cheeks pinked a little and he continued with his story. "Then suddenly, there was a fourth blade. It was Proteus." He sounded very boyish, so excited and so proud. Perhaps this was what Proteus saw, or maybe even remembered, in him. "See, he'd watched it all from his room in the palace. He actually climbed down the castle wall to fight at my side. And boy did we fight. It was like we rehearsed it. We were best friends from that day forward."
"What happened with you two?" Because Marina has seen them together, has seen their brightness, their…simple…togetherness because there isn't really a word for Sinbad-and-Proteus, nothing that does them justice.
And suddenly, the boy isn't there anymore, his face shuttering closed and the hardened man returned. "We…took separate paths."
He stared out at the horizon, hoping to see the familiar lantern-glow orange sails. But they weren't there. Not matter how much he prayed to the gods, they weren't there.
He kneeled, and he pretends it isn't because some of the strength had left his legs. Had he truly misread Sinbad? Had Sinbad really lied to him like this? It seemed impossible. But he doesn't fight the fact that he was going to be executed in his friend's place. After all, he'd never been one to back down from a challenge either.
The next thing he knew, he was staring at his reflection in the gleaming blade of the ax that had been meant for his head. His heart was pounding in his chest, his pulse loud in his ears. His eyes rose from his reflection and saw an all-too-familiar manchild hoisting himself up.
Sinbad's smile, when he neared Proteus, was closer to a grimace. After all, he's well aware of what had to happen. "I bet you thought I wasn't coming."
"I was…beginning to wonder." He saw the concerned glance at his throat, but ignored it in favor of embracing his friend, not wanting to let go because that meant that they'd have to face the real world again. "…The Book?"
Sinbad's shoulders did a minute, almost indiscernible, helpless shrug. "I did my best. Wasn't enough."
"You came back anyway…"
His smile is a little more real this time. "How could I do anything else…my friend?"
Then it's Sinbad on the executioner's block and Proteus wants to look away, doesn't want to see this, but he knows that if Sinbad can have the courage to do this, and endure it, then the least Proteus can do is watch.
Time seemed to slow as the executioner's sword lowered towards Sinbad's neck in a graceful arc. Proteus watches it with morbid fascination. He doesn't want to see this. He doesn't.
Then the world seems to shatter, silvery shards of the blade floating and reflecting things. There, the very first time he met Sinbad. And there, their first heist.z The first time they fought over a girl…the first time they'd raced each other across the rooftops…Proteus hadn't realized how many firsts he'd had with Sinbad. So many memories in those shattered remains that were tumbling to the ground in a strange cacophony of sound.
The woman—no, this is surely a goddess—is darkly beautiful and larger than life. Her voice thunders through Syracuse, seeming to thud in their ribcages. "How dare you? Everything…was going…perfectly. And now…you do this!"
The executioner's block is banished to the ocean. "Eris," Sinbad begins, still trying to get his heart back to a normal speed. He didn't sound afraid of her at all. "I don't understand."
"Don't," The sound of her nails tapping against the ground sounds like a stampede. "Play coy with me. Maybe you can fool these people, but I know who you are. You're a selfish, unprincipled liar."
Sinbad jumps at the last word. "Wait a minute…I didn't lie. I came back. That's why you're here. This was all part of your test." Proteus is going to want to hear this one in full detail. "I told the truth! And wasn't there something about being 'bound for all eternity?'
It's then that Proteus noticed the glowing, silvery X over where Eris' heart would be if he thought she had a heart. She fought with her anger before she's extending her hand and there! There it was! The Book of Peace!
Sinbad smirked up at the goddess and Proteus smothered a groan. He was pushing his luck again. "Well, well, well…this has got to be a little embarrassing for you, Eris."
Clearly, Eris thought so too. "Don't push your luck, Sinbad. You're cute…but not that cute. And lucky for you, I've got places to go, things to destroy…stuff to steal. Ta."
Then she's gone, disappeared into dark clouds and mist. Sinbad breathed a sigh of relief, holding onto the Book a little more tightly than he usually would have. He looked over to Proteus, asking a silent question because, really, this should be his moment. Proteus smiled, nodding (Marina hadn't known about the silent conversations, hadn't known that people could communicate and have entire conversations without speaking a single word)
The Book's magic spread, its light banishing at the shadows that had crept over Syracuse and the sheer power of it makes Sinbad go to his knees. When he looks up, Proteus is there with a hand outstretched, like he had been so many times before. Sinbad accepts the hand and is tugged to his feet.
"You know, for what it's worth, I think the Council believes you now." Proteus said, a sly smile playing across his lips.
Sinbad matches his smile, though his is more tired. He needed a hammock, preferably on a beach in Fiji. (They used to have a hammock in their hideout. It had been rough and weather-worn and they'd ended up sharing it more than once, but it was theirs, along with thin blankets and squishy pillows that they'd nicked from the palace.) "Ya think?"
The King is looking at them like he always had, faintly not understanding, but now, there is a strange acceptance there.
"King Dymus." Sinbad greeted. He'd never been anything but respectful when they spoke. As Dymus reached for the Book, Sinbad snatched it back a little. "Whoa-hey, how much you got on ya?"
Dymus shook his head in exasperation—even though he wouldn't admit it, he'd thought of Sinbad as a son, or perhaps a distant nephew that he was strangely fond of—because Sinbad hadn't changed. Perhaps he never would. "I offer you the gratitude of the Twelve Cities and the apology of a King."
Sinbad knew very well exactly how much the latter was worth. In almost thirty years, he'd never once heard Dymas apologize. Not to him, at any rate. But he tilts a grin at him and says, "No really, how much?"
Dymas finally smiled and Sinbad handed the Book over, feeling the cool cover slip from his fingers. He feels a familiar, warm hand on his shoulder and he turns automatically towards it.
Proteus is still smiling. "Come on. This is going to be a heck of a party. Everyone is going to want to hear about the voyage."
And by everyone, Sinbad knew that Proteus meant him.
And, on any other occasion, Sinbad would have loved to sit beside his best friend with their backs against a wall warmed by the sun, staring out over Syracuse, and tell him every detail, perhaps embellishing a little here or there and laughing with Proteus when he was called on it. But this time, it wasn't the same because this time, there was Marina. And Sinbad did love her. But he knew Proteus had too. And Sinbad didn't want to be the one to tell him.
"Fair winds, calm seas…not much to tell." Sinbad says.
And Proteus sees the lie immediately, but he doesn't push, doesn't press. He simply teases gently, almost forgivingly. "What's the matter? It's not fun if you're actually invited?"
Sinbad tells him with a glance at Marina. Those words should never be said out loud. Not between them. "No, it's just uh, there's a hammock in Fiji with my name on it."
And this time, it isn't almost forgiveness. There is no blame in Proteus' eyes, no accusation. Only understanding and that hurts more than a little because Proteus deserved better. "…Good sailing, Sinbad."
Sinbad can't leave it like that. "Get a haircut." He teased. "You're gonna be King someday."
Proteus hears the promise beneath those words. When Proteus is crowned King, he knows who will be there that day, whose face he'll see in the crowd, perhaps in the back and leaning on a pillar, a proud grin on his face.
It would be a day to look forward to.