Disclaimer: I have no claim on Inception, lovely thing that it is.
Note: The original character in this story was first introduced in my A+A story "Life Goes On." You don't have to read that one first, but I'd recommend it.
This story's title, "Mtapende," is Swahili for "you will love." At least, I hope it is. Badly translated Swahili, anyway.
They met in a bar.
He liked bars. They were a fertile ground for so many things. Rumors, secrets, faces, and—even more importantly—expressions. A pretty face was of no use to him without a pretty smile. People made lots of faces when they were drunk. Eames noted them all.
She saw him out of the corner of her eye. She wasn't sure what it was about him that drew her gaze; he was lounging in a corner, back to the wall, somehow seeming inconspicuous in his wrinkled linen suit and patterned shirt. Just about every other man in the place was wearing a better suit and had more conventional good looks. It was a bar frequented by foreigners in Mombasa for business. The tanned man with the bad suit looked horribly out of place. And maybe that's what caught her eye, after all. It may have been the kind of bar she usually felt the most comfortable in, but that night she felt out of place.
He noticed her as soon as she came in. To be fair, there wasn't a man in the joint who didn't. That hair, like wildfire tamed and plaited, made certain of that. Eames took all of her in: the simple black dress, conservative gold jewelry, the rich caramel skin. He started to sketch her face, then stopped. She was standing at the bar, sipping a glass of some rich burgundy wine. Men to her left and right spoke at her, but she all but ignored them. She was utterly expressionless. That, more than anything, called to Eames.
To Anuli, ignoring men wasn't just a habit; it was a way of life. She came to this particular bar because it was the only one in Mombasa that stocked a certain kind of Argentine wine, not because of the clientele it attracted. She sipped her Malbec. It was exquisite, as always, but tonight she thought it wasn't worth the bother of this place. The man to her right backed away, finally getting the hint that not speaking equaled not interested, and a moment later a shadow indicated that another had taken his place. He seemed to radiate incredible warmth, she could feel it through the sleeve of her dress, and she decided that was enough. If she couldn't drink her wine in her space in comfort, she would just buy the bottle and take it back to the hotel with her.
She gestured to the bartender, a man she knew well, and requested a fresh bottle. The man frowned apologetically, wrinkles marring his smooth ebony skin. "I am sorry, Madame. We have just sold the very last bottle."
Anuli was surprised. As far as she knew, they only kept it in stock for her. Most of the rest of the world was unaware that Argentina grew grapes, much less produced fine wine. Her curiosity overrode her usual reserve. "It was purchased just now? By whom?" Perhaps she could convince the buyer to settle for another variety.
"By me, I'm afraid." The warm shadow to her right rumbled, his accent distinctive and British. She turned, somehow unsurprised to find the out-of-place man in the bad suit standing there. The magnetic field that had drawn her gaze to him earlier only seemed more intense up close. He was only just a little taller than she was, but, she conceded, she was wearing four-inch Jimmy Choos. He was also built like a brick house, with broad shoulders and a wide chest. His suit jacket might have been baggy, but that was clearly out of design rather than necessity. Or perhaps necessity over design. Whichever, he was deceptively solid up close, and the fact that he was so close, so inexplicably warm, and so stealing her goddamn bottle of wine, made her suddenly, irrationally, angry.
He waited for her response, his stance relaxed as he leaned against the bar, ostensibly admiring his brand new bottle of wine, but in reality watching the very interesting redhead very closely. At his current distance, he could see the smattering of freckles across her cheekbones. He dress had a high neck, and he wondered idly if the freckles covered other parts of her as well. It was a thought that stirred him in ways he was certain no one else's freckles ever had. He watched her as she turned to look at him, watched as her eyes, a remarkable shade of green—everything about the woman seemed painted in remarkable hues, he thought—flashed ominously. Ah, he smiled to himself, here comes the reaction. But instead of lashing out at him, she went very, very still. It was almost inhuman, how tense she held herself, so odd that he unconsciously reached for his totem in his pocket.
But then she moved, a quick, stiff gesture of her hand accompanied by a smile that was so patently false, Eames blinked. "Perhaps we can work out a trade, Mr…."
"Eames," he supplied, and then paused a quick beat, surprised he'd given her his real name when he usually provided a false one without thinking of it. Interesting.
"Mr. Eames." She smiled, another movement so false it looked more like a robot aping a human than anything else. He nearly went for the totem again, but, no, there it was. Her eyes still raged, even if the rest of her was jerky and still. "This bar keeps an excellent cellar of fine wines. They probably even have other bottles of Argentine vintage. Is that not correct, Vincent?"
She turned to the Kenyan man behind the bar, who was quick to nod in response. "Yes, two other wines from Argentina. Very fine, both of them."
"Ah," Eames lamented, still admiring the bottle he held. "But I so was looking forward to this one." He raised it slightly to more closely inspect the label. "A…Malbec, is it? Fascinating. I've never tried it." He shrugged, without remorse, and started to walk away. "Sorry, love."
Out of the corner of his eye, he watched her. She stayed where she was, but he could see the slight tremor in her now. He'd never made a woman quite so angry quite so quickly before. He wondered what made the bottle of wine so special. Or perhaps it had nothing to do with the wine. Perhaps it was him? He decided to throw her a bone.
"Actually…" he drawled, turning back to her.
"What?" She all but snapped at him, spinning away from the bar. The man to her left jumped, surprised at the sudden movement and the volume of her response.
"There is one thing I might consider an even trade."
Her eyes narrowed suspiciously. "What is that?"
She clearly expected the worst of him, a fact that delighted him for some reason. "A story."
She didn't relax, just considered him. "What sort of story?"
He shrugged. "Any kind you like, as long as it isn't one I've heard before."
She seemed to think on that, looking from his face to the bottle, and back again. "Very well. One story."
He swept his arm out, gesturing grandly to the table he'd been sitting at when she first walked in. It was towards the back, as isolated as one could be in the little bar. She followed, a little warily, and seated herself across from him. He set the bottle on the table between them, and settled back into his chair, all but sprawling, legs extended out in front of him. "I should warm you, though," he said cheerfully, "I know an awful lot of stories."
It took her five tries before she gave up on folk tales and fairy stories entirely. Each one she told came from a culture more exotic and located further afield than the one before it, but he claimed to have heard them all. When, after she protested his claims after the second and third tries, he actually summed both stories up in a few words, she stopped arguing and focused on finding something he hadn't heard.
She felt like Scheherazade, only slightly reversed. Desperately trying to come up with a story to distract the man into giving her what she wanted, and failing miserably. His stance hadn't changed. In fact, he very appeared to be enjoying himself.
She felt herself getting increasingly frustrated, which was odd in and of itself, but she found she didn't mind it. The previous two weeks had been so atrociously terrible, and she was tired of being professional. She wanted to feel something, and at least partaking in this farce was allowing her that.
Finally, after her fifth try, a folk story she'd learned from an elderly woman in Laos (and how in the world had he known that one?), failed, she gave him an exasperated look and set her nearly empty wine glass on the table with a click. "What if I cannot give you a story you have not heard? What then?"
His smile was slow and sly. "Ah, love. There is always a tale I haven't heard."
"Do not call me 'Love.'"
He smirked, and didn't respond.
She sighed, and suppressed the urge to play with the end of her braid. She was unsure of this effect he seemed to have on her, and she wouldn't give him any more power by letting him see it. "Very well. I will tell you a story that no one has ever heard."
"Those are the best ones."
She inhaled, and focused on the callous on the palm of her right hand, avoiding that sharp blue gaze. "It is the story of a man, and a house, and a ghost."
"There once was a man. He was a man with money, and power, and he decided one day to build a house for himself. It could not be an ordinary house, of course, because he was not an ordinary man. It had to be a great house, a grand house. He found an architect who could build him such a house, and the architect began to draw up the plans." She peeked at him under her lashes. It was the furthest he'd let her get into a story. His gaze was steady on her and he nodded that she should continue.
She took a steadying breath. "The man was not a bachelor. He had a wife, and because he was a great man, she was the most beautiful of women. He did not ask his wife if she wanted to live in a grand house, but she loved him and so was pleased to do so. They began to build.
"At first the house was just a house, though a mansion, to be sure. The man's wife became pregnant, and he was happy, because the child of such a great man would also be a great man. But the child was not a boy. The man's wife bore him a daughter, a girl who was small, and sickly, and odd. Not at all the exceptional child he had expected. And so, the man put his wife and the girl in the oldest part of the house, the first part that had been built, and he closed the door, and he turned away. And he continued to build his grand house.
"Soon, it was the size of a city, and the man found he could no longer build outwards. So, he began to build up, going higher and higher, until it was more mountain than house."
"And the girl?" The man's voice surprised her, and she looked up at him and then quickly back down at her hands.
"The girl was very happy. She did not know the size of the house, because she lived in its heart and never ventured out. She had her mother, whom she loved, and was content. But people do not live forever, even the greatest people, and one day, the girl's mother died. The man did not even realize that his wife was gone, busy as he was turning his great house into a great empire. He had forgotten he had ever had a pretty wife, and he had forgotten about his odd, small girl-child.
"The girl, without her mother, came to hate the room she lived in. One day, when no one was about, she ventured out of the room and discovered the vastness in which it sat. It was a thrilling thing, and she set off at once to discover it all. But the house which was an empire was so huge that not even the man himself knew all of its corners, and soon the girl was lost. No one looked for her, because no one knew she was gone. Perhaps she died there, in the grand house, and perhaps she escaped it and made a life of her own.
"All the man knew of it was that one day someone heard a little voice echoing down a hall. When asked, the man replied that the house must be haunted, for no one else lived within in. And that is the story of the man, the house, and the ghost.
"May I have my bottle of wine now?" She asked, without looking up from her hands.
"You may." He stood, an action that drew her gaze despite herself, and came around to her side of the little table. Quicker than she could blink, he had taken her hand in one of his and pressed his lips to her knuckles. "Thank you," he murmured against her skin, then dropped her hand and strolled to the door, hands in his pockets, broad shoulders relaxed. He walked out, and the sound of his whistle echoed off the walls of the buildings outside until the door swung shut.
Her hand was tingling where he'd kissed it, and Anuli scowled at it before wiping it on her dress, as if the action could remove the memory. Looking back, she was never certain what it was that made her snap, the kiss, the wine, or the blasted story, but snap she did. Snatching the wine and her purse, she walked out the door.
Outside, the heat was oppressive. His whistle still echoed softly, and she spun to find him leaning against the alley wall a few meters away. Tucking her purse under her arm, and seemingly without a thought for the consequences, she strode forward, closing the distance between then. "Now, look here—" she began, but was cut off by the sheer, simple action of his mouth on hers.
Gripping the lapels of that terrible suit, she met him kiss for kiss, realizing distantly that she must have dropped the bottle of wine she had just fought so hard for. He spun her so that her back was against the wall, and the kiss became fiercer, his mouth opening over hers, demanding she respond. His tongue touched hers, and she groaned. They radiated such heat, the air and him, and caught as she was between them and the cool brick wall, she felt in danger of spinning out of control. Of becoming a hurricane in an alleyway.
"Your name," he said against her lips. "Give me your name."
"Anuli," she said, though she knew it was foolish, that she was foolish.
"Julian," he seemed determined to kiss every inch of her face, but he murmured the name against her temple.
"Julian," she sighed, and threw any remaining sanity to the wind. She was so tired, so bloody sick of being who she was and seeing what she saw. She needed this more than she needed her next breath. She grabbed his face and pulled it down until their noses were touching, until she could see the amber glints in his blue eyes. "Take me somewhere. Please."
He gave a quick nod, bent to grab the neck of the wine bottle, which had miraculously not broken, and laced his fingers with hers. He led her to a beat-up cab, tossed a Swahili phrase at the driver, and pulled her into the back. There was a moment; just one, where she almost climbed back out, but then she caught his gaze with hers. Something in his eyes told her that he needed this almost as much as she did. It was enough.
She stayed, the night and the rest of the weekend. When she walked away to catch a cab to the airport, she did so with no promises. But whatever it was they had forged over three days, it wasn't done with them.
And she thought they weren't nearly done with it.
a/n: I didn't realize I wanted to write this story until I had started writing it. Then it just sort of grabbed me. Every time I watch Inception, Eames fascinates me a little more. I wanted to explore his character a bit, and the Anuli I introduced in "Life Goes On" had a story that I felt wouldn't be appropriate to tell in Arthur and Ariadne's tale. So here it is.
This will be considerably shorter than "Life Goes On," and though it will intersect with it a little, it is entirely Eames and Anuli's story. I hope y'all enjoy it!
A note: Scheherazade is the storyteller of One Thousand and One Nights, and her story, if you've never heard it, is pretty beautiful. I recommend giving it a Google.