Rating: PG-13 for some harsh and nookie-based language
Classification: VRAH, AU
Time Frame: This tale is the
first in the "Pillow Talk" universe, which begins two weeks
after the events of my story "The God of Your Whims". It would
be helpful to have read that, so you know how they ended up betrothed,
but it's not necessary. You can find it here.
(It's also been called my "Improbable Scenarios" universe, for
Pillow Talk 1: Worth
by Livia Balaban
"Yeah, well," Mulder says, "when it wears off, the garlic will be back." <smooch> "Trust me." He emphasizes the remark with a quick swoop of his tongue across my upper lip. Yum.
"Sorry. I got a little carried away there."
"'sokay." <smooch> "Good garlic toast." <smooch> "Besides, those parsley oil capsules you gave me are great. Been burping up minty freshness for a half hour already."
I wince. "Charming."
"Hey, they were your idea." Mulder's expression shifts from playful to contemplative before he shatters the silence of the room with a decidedly minty belch.
"And a good idea, if I may say so," I confirm.
This is the first time in the two weeks since his proposal that we've simply dived into bed without any sexual preamble, but for some reason I am utterly unconcerned that the flame is waning. One glance, aimed in just the right way, with just the right amount of hunger in it, is still perfectly capable of stoking my fire to a roar.
We cuddle. He has both a great body for it and a tremendous aptitude. I think it's his long arms.
Of course he chooses that moment to burst this perfect little bubble of a moment.
"Nice house, hm?"
He is suddenly treading on unstable ground. "Stop it. You are a horrible, awful tormentor. A force of evil in an uncertain world. A..."
He cuts me off with a kiss. "Which room did you like best?"
"Now you're just being cruel."
"Why, whatever do you mean?" Mulder asks in mock-innocence, batting his eyelashes girlishly.
"What I mean, Mulder, is that you took me on an unauthorized tour of a multimillion-dollar mansion. Furthermore, you insisted upon impressing me with both the roominess of the accommodations and the overall grandness of the views. And as if this torment was insufficient, you insisted on presenting the finest room - in a flourish dramatic enough to rival the Academy Awards - last of all. I will never, not in all my days, forgive you for showing me that bathroom." I turn away from him and sulk. "I hate you."
Okay, I don't hate him, but I am mighty irked. We decided last week - only two weeks before The Day - that neither of our apartments was adequate for cohabitation. Actually The Day should have already come and gone, but as it turned out, Judge Pinkham was out of town when Mulder tried to contact him. Our wedding plans have been therefore unavoidably delayed. Considering the living situation, it's actually a blessing. I'm glad we have a little extra time to work out the logistics and financial details.
It's the financial details that I've found so bothersome for the last week. I calculated our annual salaries and arrived at a figure we could afford. Sadly, the effective price range yielded property choices normally below my standards, and I found myself a little disappointed. All of this has been further complicated by Mulder's apparent lack of interest in the process.
Then the jerk had to get interested. I'm sure today's tour was a product of his mischievous sense of humor, but that doesn't make me feel any better. He took me to that house in Cleveland Park; the exquisite mansion I found myself pining over when we passed it nearly three months ago, on our way interview a witness a few doors down. "If only..." I thought as we'd driven past. The thought was dangerous, partly because at the time I thought I was merely daydreaming, but mostly because Mulder must have caught me mooning at it. We weren't involved at the time, but I'm in no way surprised he committed the moment to memory. And now that I've seen the interior of that beautiful home, I'm afraid of setting my sights too high once he genuinely commits to the project.
So this morning he said he had a surprise for me, and when we arrived, the foreign keys jingling in his hand, I knew I was in for both a treat and a torment. I wasn't wrong.
The place was palatial, and Mulder took obvious joy in presenting each room with a grand flourish and a glib remark about what we could put in it. He was playful, and I tried to play along. Grand foyer with cathedral ceiling. A rear deck, complete with stunning view, encompassing more square feet than my entire apartment. Library as big as the one in that old house we had the misfortune to visit a couple of Christmases ago. A kitchen more complex than I could ever use. More ridiculously huge bedrooms than we could ever occupy. It was a luxurious, impossible, guilty pleasure.
By the time we passed through the French doors and down the brick stairway out into the back garden, I gave up. "How much?" I asked innocently.
"One nine six five."
"That all? What a bargain," I bluffed.
A million dollar plus mansion and he had the nerve to treat it like a field trip. I tried to go along with his spirit of fun. He chuckled, I chuckled, but I couldn't keep it up. The house was beautiful, and it hurt me that he didn't see how much I loved it. That was when I began to bristle.
The balcony off the master bedroom was beyond words. And the bathroom...the en-suite...I nearly wept. It was almost as large as my living room. Double sinks, double vanities, silent-flush commode, glass-doored double shower. But in the corner...oh, in the corner...a massive Jacuzzi tub loomed over the room from high atop its granite platform. Big enough for two with room to spare.
So now, in bed, he has the gall to pretend he wasn't being cruel. An unauthorized tour of a palace.
"I beg to differ on your claim that the walk-through was unauthorized. I got the keys from the agent, I'll have you know."
"Great. Add 'misrepresentation' to your list of evil deeds, Mulder." I roll toward him and pout some more until I arrive at a well-reasoned and thoughtful suggestion. "You might want to pack an air conditioner for your journey into the hereafter. I hear Hell can get mighty toasty."
And he doesn't say anything, the smug jerk. Just lies there looking all confident and smiley and adorable.
"And *this* is the worst part. All that goddamned smugness." I am exasperated. "Don't you understand that what you did was just painful? We agreed we needed a larger place. On what we make, with maybe a little bit of our savings thrown in, we might just be able to afford a small townhome in the *unfashionable* end of Georgetown. Why couldn't we have just started small? Okay, it *is* too big for us, and yes, I get the joke. Ha, ha, Mulder; overkill, very funny. But don't you understand that seeing the inside of that house will make anything else feel like a hovel? I've loved that house for ages. Why couldn't we just admire the thing from a distance?"
He's still smiling. "I think I'm going to have to admit a deficiency in my 'courtly love from afar' gene these days. You've opened the floodgates, woman."
He has a point, so I deflect. "Don't call me woman."
Undaunted, he continues. "Besides," he says jauntily before I can protest further, "although I *am* guilty of presumption, said presumption is most certainly *not* the one you're thinking of."
I'm still miffed, but also confused. I need some clarification, so I can fume appropriately. "You're not guilty of presuming that I could fall in love with that mansion and then just forget about it."
"Nope," he says lightly, "not guilty."
"I don't understand," I tell him.
"What I'm guilty of is presuming you'd like the house before you even saw the inside."
"Scully, my presumption happened to include a bid on that house." He looks insufferably pleased with himself.
The best I can manage is some slight goggling. "I'm sorry, could you repeat that?"
He laughs. "I got 'em down to one six one four. Been in discovery for a week already. We should close in about three weeks, assuming all goes well with the legal crap."
That is simply too much information, so my mind narrows it all down to the single most incomprehensible bit of it: "One six one four."
"Yeah," he answers, not missing a beat. "Couldn't believe they went for it. I lowballed like crazy. They originally listed the thing for two two eight oh."
I am not to be deflected. "One million, six hundred, fourteen thousand."
"Yeah. Great, huh?"
"No, Lira," Mulder replies snarkily. "All real estate transactions since January one, two thousand, are required by federal law to be conducted in Italian currency."
"Mulder, this isn't funny."
"I know. I'd apologize, but I'm not sorry. I know you love that house."
One of those doors, I think, maybe the one that led into that Nirvana of a bathroom, must have actually opened into another dimension. It actually seems more plausible than this conversation.
"Mulder, where did you come up with one point six million dollars?"
"Plus closing costs and attorney's fees."
"I have it, okay? I have plenty of money. Well, we do. *We* have plenty of money." He looks directly into my eyes and seems to be evaluating my response. "You're still gonna marry me, right?" He nuzzles his nose into my neck, but that is not what I need.
I shake my head in an attempt to clear it. "Give me a minute," I plead. "I need to absorb this."
He looks up at me with a bland expression. "What's to absorb? It's just money."
"Have you always had it?"
"Some of it, yeah."
"Well then, there's no way you could understand. It isn't just money, Mulder."
"This isn't a secrecy issue, is it?"
"No, of course not. You had no reason to discuss this with me before we became involved. But I..."
Then I remember something he said two weeks before. I look down to my left hand, at the ring he gave me. "It's kind of valuable," he told me. With this new sense of scale, a man who could spring for a multimillion dollar home on a whim, I am suddenly terrified I have the Hope Diamond on my finger.
He must have seen the penny drop, because he takes my hand and kisses the ring, as well as the finger it adorns.
"Yes, it's very valuable. But you know why I had it made, and price was the last thing on my mind at the time."
He told me that very first night we spent together why he'd had that ring made. How afraid he had been of losing me to the cancer, how he needed to look into my eyes to remain focused and centered. How that huge blue diamond would have to replace my own gaze if I'd died. His confession was mostly implied, and it hurt to hear the remnants of such pain. At the time, all I could think about was how surprised I was that he'd loved me that deeply that long ago, and that even then he'd made the unconscious decision to keep going no matter what.
But the money is an entirely different issue. "Should I even ask?"
"Does it matter?"
Good question. Yes, it does. I can't say why, but it seems to be important. "Yes, it does matter."
"With the setting and the labor and all, just shy of four hundred and sixty thousand."
"I have a half-million dollar ring on my finger."
"Almost. I suppose I could've had some more diamonds put in there to bump up the appraisal." Smartass.
But he's right; we desperately need some levity. The money is already starting to feel oppressive. "No, that's okay, Mulder. It's fine just the way it is, even if you are a cheapskate."
"That's me, Mister Cheapo." He smiles when he says it.
"So those Armani suits, they're all knockoffs, aren't they?"
"Every last one."
"Good." I snuggle in to him again. "I'd hate to think I was marrying a conventional wealthy pig."
"Unconventional all the way. And we wealthy pigs prefer 'eccentric rich dude', if it's all the same to you."
"All right," I say, ready for the bomb to drop, "tell me the number."
"Which number? The big one?"
"The big one." I'm not about to ask something as trite as 'how
much are you worth?' because a man like Mulder is worth more than money.
He's my future. But this is about to become my life legally, and I need
to know. Just one simple, round number. I need to acclimate to the idea,
and net worth seems like a good place to start.
"Scully, you nearly blew a gasket over a house. You're gonna freak."
"I won't 'freak', Mulder. Really. Just tell me."
"Okay. Including everything?"
"Everything." Whatever that means.
"Brokerage accounts, semi-illegal Swiss and Cayman Islands accounts, the works?"
"The proverbial wad, Mulder."
"Okay." He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. Then he opens his eyes and I really do freak out. I see it in him, and the number is huge. I'm terrified. I can barely breathe, and I feel cold all over.
"See? I told you you'd freak out."
"I'm okay, Mulder. I think the suspense is worse than the shock."
"Why is it such a shock? I don't get it. It's just money."
"It ISN'T just money, Mulder. It's a lifestyle, a heritage I can't understand. I grew up on Navy bases; money didn't just appear when I needed it. I've worked hard all my life to attain the modicum of financial comfort I have, and if you haven't done that, how can you know what instant wealth can mean?
"I know you've worked hard, it's obvious, but without the constant reminder that you've got to keep working or face financial ruin, you simply can't understand how this would affect me."
He is quiet for a while before he responds. "You're right. I'm sorry. I didn't realize it would be so hard to accept. I just figured you'd look at it like you'd won the lottery and just go on from there." He sighs and holds me tightly. "It's about me, too, isn't it?"
I nod. "You grew up with money, Mulder. I didn't. It's a different mindset. In a way, I can understand now why you take so many ridiculous chances in your work. It isn't just because your instincts are so damned good, is it? It's because you *can* take the risks. Losing your job wouldn't be the end of the world for you. You'd just move to the CIA or NSA or Interpol, or even investigate in the private sector. Without the need to maintain full-time employment, you're free to do whatever you like."
"Yeah, I guess so. I never really thought about it that way. But if you'll notice, I've been much more conscientious lately. Our jobs are important to us, and I don't want to fuck that up."
It's true. He's been getting his reports in on time, he's been taking fewer frivolous cases, and he's even started calling for backup more often. Amazing what a year or two and the more-than-occasional brush with death can do.
"All right. I'll make a deal with you," I tell him. "You tell me the big number, and I'll pretend I just won the lottery. But without all the screaming and jumping around."
"Counter offer," he says. "I'll tell you the big number, you pretend you just won the lottery. No jumping around, but I expect some serious screaming later on tonight." He leers. When the hell did those annoying leers become adorable?
"Counter-counter offer," I reply. "You tell me the big number, I'll pretend I just won the lottery, no jumping around, but some moderate screaming, presuming you haven't lost your touch."
"Okay," he repeats after me. We are getting nowhere fast.
"I promise I'll be okay."
"Oh, for heaven's sake, Mul..."
I misheard, that's what I did. "Eighty million dollars."
"Well, that's what it was about three years ago. I don't actually pay a lot of attention to the exact numbers. It's probably a lot more by now. Between the house, the ring, and that trip to Antarctica it came down a little, but Melanie says I got in early on some Internet stocks, so I probably made that up in a couple of months. Dunno, I guess it could be a lot more. She says if the Dow stays up, it could break a hundred by 2001."
One hundred million dollars. That's too damned big. My brain takes a detour around it. "Melanie?"
"My broker. I just gave most of it to her and said, 'make it grow'. Haven't thought about it much since then. I keep a little in a couple of different hiding places, you know, emergency funds. But I don't use it unless I really need it."
"Like, say, when your waterbed leaked?"
"No, that was just me screwing up my checking account. I keep the big money away from the little money. They don't play well together."
I'm afraid to go any farther, but I really need to know. "Should I ask where it all came from?"
"I'm not sure you want to know that."
"I think I'd feel more comfortable with this whole thing if I understood how it all came about. I need some background on this, Mulder."
"All right," he shrugs. "Well, I always had a trust fund, but I never touched it. I figured that Social Security would collapse eventually and I'd need it for retirement, so I never really thought about it as available funds. Then when Dad died, all kinds of money started pouring in from every direction. Safe deposit boxes, hidden paperwork on foreign accounts, piles of German bearer bonds...I assume it was all ill-gotten.
"After a while, it felt like a joke. I'd pull out an old book of his and find a cashier's check for some obscene amount of money. I'd guess how much it was for, and if I was right, I gave it away. Gave one for a quarter-mil to a group home once. They added a wing. I tried to give some of it to Mom, but she kept refusing to take any of it. I guess I couldn't blame her.
"I figured it was best to invest it in growing companies - you know, try to get some good out of it - and when it got huge, just donate a load of it to different charities."
He has eighty million dollars and he's still watching it grow. Only Mulder. "You mean it's not enough yet?"
"Oh sure, Melanie takes care of the donations for me every year, mostly to the ACF and CMEC, but I'm holding on to the really big stash. I can't seem to shake the feeling that I might need it eventually."
Cancer research and missing children. Nothing he has ever done or said has expressed the quality of his compassion better than that simple statement.
"So are you okay with this?"
"I guess so, Mulder. Just promise me you won't do anything stupid like marry me without a pre-nuptial agreement."
He doesn't respond. He just lies there, holding his breath, tense as a rubber band.
"What is it? Was it something I said?"
"A pre-nup? You want a fucking pre-nup?" He is angry. You'd think if I was offering to ensure his money remains in his hands... When he speaks again, his voice is small and troubled. "Do you have that little hope for us, Scully?"
"What do you mean?"
"You wanna have an escape route all mapped out ahead of time? In case it doesn't work out, no hard feelings, no grab for the cash? What kind of bullshit is that? I thought we were building a future together."
I reassure him. "Of course we are. I didn't mean it that way. I just want you to know that the money doesn't matter to me."
"I know it doesn't. If it did, I wouldn't love you. You'd just be another one of those gold-digging flakes from the Vineyard with a big smile and acres of inherited family insincerity. You're the finest person I know, Scully. I trust you. I believe in you. Please don't plan for this to fail. Because if you think it's possible, then it can happen."
Of course he's insecure. His own family fell apart long before it disappeared from his life. He witnessed the dissolution of his parents' marriage while he was still trying to handle the loss of his sister. No wonder he fears the worst. Hopefully my family can serve as an example for him.
"Mulder, my parents went through a few years of hell, and believe me, if I learned anything from the experience it's that a healthy marriage can survive just about anything. We're already friends, so we're better off than most."
"You know," he says, reviving quickly, "statistics say that financial hardship is a leading cause of divorce. So I guess we have that going for us too. See? The money's doing some good already."
I nestle in closer to him. "Good. So, when do we close on the house?"
He smiles against my hair and strokes my back with his fingertips, clearly pleased that I've accepted this second decadent gift. "Three weeks, hopefully. We won't be able to move in right after The Day, but I guess we can rough it here for a couple of weeks. We'll need to pack anyway."
"Everything but your furniture."
"Hey, that leather couch and I are old pals." He nudges me. "Besides, I don't think it could exist happily without even minimal contact with your enchanting caboose on a regular basis. You've spoiled it."
I sigh. "Don't anthropomorphize the furniture, Mulder. It will do just fine without my presence." I foresee a pout in my immediate future.
And out goes the lip; on schedule and as predicted. I try to wait it out but he's being stubborn. He doesn't budge, so it's my turn to give in.
"Fine. You can put it in your office."
He smiles in gratitude and offers a compromise. "You know, there's a pile of antique furniture in the house in Chilmark. I bet some of it would look great in the front hall."
"Foyer, Mulder, the foyer. And antiques would be beautiful in such a grand space." Talk of his family's bequests always makes me uncomfortable, but since he brought it up, I forge onward. "If you want, maybe we could take a trip up to the Vineyard next weekend. We'll have a lot to do around here, but..."
He kisses my forehead gently. I can feel his smile against my skin. "That's a good idea. Poke around, see what's there. Open up the windows, air out the place." He rubs his cheek against the top of my head playfully. "Maybe a swift breeze or two will blow away the ghosts."
I don't know how he does it - how he takes his pain and finds a way to transcend it - but I still feel the crushing weight of his losses, as if they were my own. In a way, they are. "Oh, Mulder," is all I can get out in a strained voice.
"It's okay, Scully," he reassures me. "You're my family. I don't feel like I'm missing anything. I mean, I have an adopted Mom I confuse, a distant brother I never see and an authoritarian brother who I always manage to irritate. Sounds like family to me." His fingers trail along my shoulderblades aimlessly. "Actually, they're more like family than I've ever had before."
In all the years I've known him, I never imagined him so content. The knowledge that I have given him this elates me. "What's mine is yours, Mulder. But - trust me on this - don't lend Charlie any money."
"Well, the good news is, if he does decide to crash at our place, he won't have to sleep on the couch. Plenty of rooms."
And it hits me anew. That beautiful house. "Oh my God, it's really going to be ours."
"Yup," he replies, returning to the subject easily. "I had Melanie set up an account to cover all the renovations and furnishings and stuff. I figured a mil was enough. We can get more if we need it. Just say the word."
"I think that might be just a little extravagant," I tell him, chuckling at his unpredictable sense of excess.
"Nothing's too good for the little woman," he teases. "You're gonna want a nice place to spend your days once you quit your job."
"Once I quit my job."
"Of course," he says through a wicked grin. "No wife of mine is gonna wor..."
He stops my hand just before it gets a really tight grip on his right nipple. He knows I would never harm him that way, but his reaction is instinctive, which is precisely what I was going for. He gives me a look of mock warning.
Wealthy pig, eccentric rich guy. Hell, it doesn't matter. He's mine.
"Any more secrets, Mulder? Anything else I should know about?"
He ponders for a moment as he releases my hand warily. "You mean aside from that gay fling in college? Nah."
"Damn," I pout playfully into his neck, "the mystery is gone."
Rolling me over onto my back, and pressing his hips urgently against mine, he refutes my claim. "I got yer mystery right here."
He feels more than good, he feels perfect. Tall and heavy and hard and warm, nudging just the right spots with all the right extremities. But I find my attention wandering again to something he said only a moment before. "Gay fling, Mulder?"
<smooch> "Just checking" <smooch> "to see if you were" <smooch> "paying attention."
"Mmmmm," is the best I can offer. My mother taught me never to talk with my mouth full.
Many thanks to Woody Allen for the timing and rhythm of the "You tell me the number..." section of this story. If you're not familiar with his 'kidnapped' monologue, it's priceless, and you'll see what inspired that little exchange.
Weird thing: I wrote this story and then found a house that matched. Spoooooooky.
Thanks again to Galia and Punk for rapping my knuckles soundly to keep this saga blissfully mytharc-free, and to Narida Law for reminding me that Scully actually LIKES Mulder. Thank you, ladies.
This thing has been finished for near-on two years now, but I've been
holding on to it for some reason which has now been obscured by the mists
of time. Two more chapters are forthcoming within the next two weeks.