Museum Musings

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Museum Musings

Being Thalia

Chapter 20

By devikafernando & avenger-nerd-mom

AU Fan Fiction

In the sequel to Educating Thalia, the lovely Thalia Bareo is growing up, making her own way in the world after losing both men she loved, Professors Chris Evans and Tom Hiddleston. The sassy full-figured Puerto Rican girl from Chicago holds down a job in Madrid as she tries to deal with the real world. She continues her studies and freelances as a consultant for museums around the world. Being Thalia updates are posted on Wednesdays and Sundays.

Warning: As a whole, this work contains adult content. If you proceed you have agreed that you are willing to see such content. Each chapter will not be coded with individual warnings. The overall story contains no hidden triggers.

If you are new to the series and characters, click here to the beginning of Educating Thalia.

If you are looking for other stories in the sequel, click here for the beginning of Being Thalia

Word Count: 3046

Summary: Thalia enjoys showing off for Tom at the museum, sharing her work with him.

Images found on Pinterest

Previous Chapter, Opportunity Calls

Thalia is standing on the grey stone steps in front of the National Archaeological Museum, a grand neoclassical building that seems just perfect for containing such immeasurable wealth. As museum curator, she can practically offer a tour of the place blindly. But today is different. Today she’ll keep her eyes wide open and her wits about herself because experiencing this with Tom will be a completely new experience.

Smoothing her hair back, she checks no loose strands have fallen from the elegant twist she’s finally mastered for her wild mane. Thalia glances at her watch. It’s ten to one. Surely Tom hasn’t changed so much that he’s stopped being overly punctual? Then again, what does she really know about the present version of Tom, as opposed to the one that dragged her under and turned her inside out six years ago? People can change within the span of days, for fuck’s sake. Looking down at her colorfully designed dress, she knows she’s definitely moved on from the person she was. Essentially, though, she’s still herself.

And Tom? Despite her misgivings, there’s a yearning inside her to get to know the man he is now. There’s something in his eyes, in his voice, that takes her right back to where they started, and yet new impressions wiggle their way into their interactions. She’s noticed a new gentleness, almost a cautious hesitancy about him. It makes her itch to take the upper hand for once but another part of her wants to submit, relive what used to be. Fuck if he hasn’t got her tied in knots just like in the past! Thalia grimaces, shifting from one foot to the other. She’s wearing her favorite camel colored shoes, their heels neither too high nor too low, but just right to elongate her legs.

That’s another thing that should annoy her… She spent entirely too much time worrying about her outfit for the day. Normally she wouldn’t give a rat’s ass what she wore to a morning stockholders meeting, but knowing she’d be seeing him after, she’d put a little extra care into her clothing choice. Something fashionable she’d picked up at the market with Lucía, a little revealing, but not too much, just enough so it hints at her voluptuous figure. Thalia wants Tom to look his fill but not to ignore her words because of her body.

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The sound of shoe soles on scuffed stone makes her turn towards the left. There he is, in a navy sweater, a sport coat, giving off a collegiate air, and black jeans, his scuffed grey suede shoes making his go-to outfit complete.

Of course he’s on time. She feels herself smile at him, surprised to realize that she’s genuinely looking forward to touring the museum with him because she knows they share similar interests.

Bienvenido al Museo Arqueológico Nacional,” she greets warmly. She can feel his eyes sweep over her figure, and he turns his head to hide his approving smile before removing his sunglasses and storing them inside a coat pocket.

Tom’s in front of her now, and for a moment she has no idea how to greet him. “Tan colorido, so colorful. Eres bonita, Thalia.” He moves in for a hug, quick and chaste, but she hears him inhale deeply when she returns the gentle pressure.

“Ready to show off?” he asks, his eyes crinkling with his grin.

“Absolutely.” She steps back from his grasp, waiting for a tour group to pass. “I’m assuming you’ve done your homework and informed yourself a little about what to expect?” She uses her best stern teaching voice and sees Tom’s grin widen.

“Sí, Profesora Bareo,” he intones in his best Spanish accent, making something flutter inside her against her will.

“Well, let me hear it then,” she says as they begin walking up the steps to the entrance with its majestic columns and its proud letters spelling out Museo Arqueológico Nacional, which tends to be shortened to M.A.N. by insiders. He chuckles, recognizing her reference to his typical start to a class session, when he questioned the group to know if they had done their assigned readings.

They’re walking so close their arms almost touch. It’s simultaneously exhilarating– because nobody would care if they did touch– and unnerving. So Thalia stomps down on her wayward emotions and focuses on his cultured voice reciting words from heart that he must’ve found online.

“Well, the M.A.N. was founded by the royals in the mid-19th century and covers pretty much everything from prehistoric times to the Renaissance. What’s interesting is that it contains so many exhibits with a religious significance because lots of the items were removed from monasteries and churches.” He pauses as he goes through the motions of buying a ticket while Thalia flashes a badge and exchanges friendly nods. “If I remember correctly, some of the museum’s highlights are the Lady of Elx bust and the prehistoric cave paintings of Altamira, the ones we discussed in London.”

Thalia gives him a nod, unable to keep the teasing tone out of her reply. “I see your brain hasn’t slackened with age. I was a bit worried that the M.A.N. might overwhelm you.”

He puffs out his chest and feigns indignation, a hand rising to his chest as if wounded. It makes the sweater stretch all too fetchingly across his well-defined pecs and abs. Jesus, she can even see his nipples outlined beneath the well-worn fabric.

“I am mortally offended by how little faith you have in me.” There’s a sad undertone beneath it, as if he’s indeed aware that she might be lacking faith in him. “I’m 42, not on the edge of death, dear.”

She chuckles. “This way,” she steers him into the first hall of exhibitions, choosing to let the topic rest.

Tom shoves his hands into his pockets in a move she hasn’t seen often. So he won’t touch her? Or so he won’t touch the exhibits because he is by all means a very tactile person?

Focus, she should focus. “This…” she gesticulates, “is actually what we call the New Museum. Between 2003 and 2013, the whole place was remodeled and renovated. Not only did they refurbish the building itself but they also changed the permanent exhibition and made parts of the M.A.N. more interactive. We’ve now got bigger common areas, better security and modern technical solutions that make the exhibitions easier to understand for visitors from all over the world.”

Tom nods, sticking to her side as they meander along between glass cases and pictures on the wall. She notices him pay attention to every detail, even lifting his head to study the hall, the ceiling, the lighting. It’s so like him to drink in the whole experience, to all but wallow in the details that make it complete.

There isn’t much for her to add to the information displayed so they walk in silence, finding their leisurely way to the second hall.

“Any idea how many people visit the museum annually?” Tom asks, nearly folding his tall body in half to bed over a case and peer at ancient scrolls. His thin lips move silently as he tries to read them.

“Around eight hundred thousand per year, by our estimates. There was a huge increase ever since the M.A.N. reopened.”

Tom gives a low whistle, righting himself. He winces slightly, rubbing his back. She clears her throat, sorry for teasing him about being older.

“So there’s six floors altogether, divided into areas with common topics, right?”

He’d done his homework well.

“Yes. There’s a lot of space to work with, for public and internal uses. The permanent exhibition alone spreads over more than 9000 m2.”

He looks duly impressed before spending a long time reading a board. Thalia uses the moment to study him. His jawline is covered in gingery scruff, looking less razor-sharp. His eyes crinkle when he squints, leaning forward to read, before reaching in his pocket to pull out a pair of glasses. His gaze darts to hers and she giggles as he blushes. She steps back to answer a quick question from another museum visitor before turning her attention back to Tom, watching him, analyzing him, just as she would an exhibit. There are fine lines on his face and she can see a tiny permanent frown etched between his brows. Thankfully, his hairline hasn’t receded more, though his hair looks different now that he isn’t cutting it short. Now it’s her turn to stuff her hands into the pockets on her dress because she’s feeling the urge to touch.

“How many exhibits do you have?” Breaking her from her revery, Tom inquires, ever the inquisitive seeker of knowledge.

“Around 15,500, give or take a few. The largest number of exhibits are for the areas Prehistoria and Oriente Próximo as well as Edad Media.”

She watches the look of concentration on his face as Tom fidgets with his glasses and figures out the translation for the words, such as Middle Ages.

They continue on their tour, Tom’s long legs and never-waning enthusiasm sometimes taking him ahead. But he keeps circling back to her side, asking questions, soaking up the tidbits of additional information that she can offer. Thalia, in turn, pays less attention to the exhibits than usual, making Tom her focal point. His face hasn’t lost its astounding ability to express so much in silence. He reads and looks, his features contorting in shared pain, widening in awe, rearranging themselves to fit the emotions and stories that the exhibits evoke.

The two of them leave the prehistoric areas behind and work their way through the Greek and Roman influence on Spain, which seems to fascinate Tom even more. Now he’s the one who adds little snippets of insight, relying on his knowledge of ancient Greek and Latin. He seems fixated on the emperor Hadrian, the one who built the famous Hadrian’s Wall in Britain.

“I went to see part of it,” Tom tells her. “The Millennium Bridge was rather fascinating, on the eastern side of the River Irthing where the remains of the bridge lie that once carried Hadrian’s Wall across the water.”

She nods. “I’ve visited parts of it too.”

“Of course you have.”

He beams at her, such approval in his velvety purr that it makes her want to press her thick thighs together. Instead, she pushes him on. Statues and busts mix with bronze legal texts, pottery and coins. Tom stares and stares at the well-preserved mosaics like that of a colorful quadriga, a carriage drawn by four horses.

Several halls later, they take a break in the cafeteria, and Thalia has to battle flashbacks of similar situations, even of their hidden conversations on campus and their meals on the outskirts of their former college town.

Tom’s body is sprawled in the smallish chair, his legs nearly tangling with hers beneath the table, his beautiful fingers wrapped around a steaming mug of coffee.

“What’s next?” he wants to know.

“The medieval exhibition.”

His face scrunches up in thought. “Ah, the Arab influence?”

It shouldn’t please her that he knows enough about Spanish history to guess correctly. Thalia nods, taking her own sip of coffee. She’s barely taken more than a few bites out of her sandwich while Tom has demolished two pastries. He seems more relaxed now, but not all of his smiles reach his eyes. Why?

They sit in silence for a while, the sounds of other visitors filling in around them. Suddenly Tom lifts his head, something steely in his grey-blue eyes.

“You’re very good at this, Thalia. Guiding and lecturing.” There’s something about his voice that sets her on alert. “I’m not surprised. I experienced once before that you’re a pro at conferences and presentations now.”

Slightly on edge now, she nods. “Despite some people trying to mansplain things to me occasionally?”

He has the decency to flinch and apologize again. Thalia waits, wondering why he would bring up this topic.

“I went to your first one, you know.”

He’s not talking about their panel in London? She blinks, thinking she’s misheard him. “You what?”

He nods grimly, a tiny muscle ticking in his jaw. “I did. Traveled all the way to your first ever speaking event in Toronto. Not because I thought you’d need moral support, mind you. I was certain you would ace it. But because I had to see for myself.”

Something lodges in her throat at the same time as her heart aches. He came to see her? But… but he never came to speak to her? Her brain is drawing a blank. Why didn’t he approach her that day? It would have made a difference for both of them, wouldn’t it?

“Turns out,” his mouth twists downwards in bitterness or pain, “you already had someone else there for moral support.”

She turns cold, her hands beginning to tremble over her mug. She hides them in her lap and lifts her chin. Thalia fights to keep her voice steady. “What do you mean?”

“I saw you there, with him.”

There’s no need to elaborate. He’s only ever used that tone for one person. Chris. And now the memories come back, of Chris being there at the venue and later taking her out on the town.

Tom’s fingers clench around the cup, his usually ruddy knuckles going white before he unclenches them deliberately and sets his hands in his lap. Sitting back, she can see him try to loosen up.

“You didn’t need me then. I should have known that but it was still a shock.”

Thalia lets that sink in, unsure what to do with that confession. “Do you…do you need me needing you?”

He scowls, then shakes his head. “I probably did, yes. But I’ve realized now that it isn’t just that. I never wanted you dependent on me, Thalia. I hope you know that. But it did wonders to my ego that you were there, ready to submit sometimes, to turn to me. And over the past few years, I’ve taught myself to live without that. But…” He rubs the back of his neck, seeks out her gaze. “But I still want you. Want you to want me.”

She can’t deal with this now, just can’t. Shoving her chair back, she stands, and ever the gentleman he hastens to get up as well.

“Let’s get going,” she mumbles. “There’s still so much to see.”

“And so much to learn,” she hears Tom mutter under his breath, realizing that he means more than the exhibits. She’s caught him looking at her intently several times today, a small proud smile on his face as he watched her in her element. And even though she isn’t actively seeking out and craving his validation, it does feel damn good. After all, she’s worked with him as a student and professional for years; she knows how hard-earned his approval can be because he’s such a damn perfectionist and knows so freaking much that he tends to expect the same from others.

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Strangely, the next few hours pass amicably, without any more tension. It’s as if Tom had been building up towards his confession and can finally live in the here and now. He becomes more cheerful by the minute, swallowing up the knowledge like vitamin pills. He touches her elbow a few times, even snatches her hand once to haul her over to an interactive exhibit. And then he keeps holding it and it feels exactly right. She doesn’t even pull her fingers out of his gentle-but-firm grasp when they meet a colleague of hers and chit-chat for a while. They only let go so they could gesticulate wildly as they were talking with the older gentleman.

They enter the last hall with the Modern Era exhibition, walking closer together now, more relaxed. This one’s very dear to her too because it encompasses the discovery of the New World and the Spanish influences on countries that today belong to South and Central America. Thalia sneaks some insights on Puerto Rico in, Tom hanging on her every word.

“Whoa,” she teeters when a group of bored-out-of-their-mind children dash by so closely that she’s shoved out of the way. Two strong arms grab her as she collides with Tom’s solid chest and fights the urge to snuggle right into his hold. Then he shifts and something pokes her thigh.

Thalia freezes, extricates herself and peeks down. Her cheeks flush.

“Are you so happy to see me?”

Tom blushes even redder, chuckling sheepishly. “I am, yeah. But it’s not just that, I’m afraid. It’s this place, all the wisdom, you giving me lectures…”

“So museums give you a boner?”

His guffaw makes a gaggle of women look over, then give him longing once overs that make Thalia feel oddly possessive.

“You could say that.” Then his voice lowers and his eyes gleam with mischief, sending a hot lick of fire across her skin. “But it sure helps that the knowledge comes wrapped in such a deliciously tempting package.”

He hasn’t flirted with her all afternoon but this single attempt is enough to make her want to combust. Dammit, and she thought she would be immune to him.

Swatting his arm, Thalia steps away to a safer distance. “Well, I hope not all your blood has traveled south yet because we have a last hall to visit.”

Sniggering, Tom follows her. “I swear it’s you and not the…well, ‘busty’ busts of erstwhile queens,” he adds with a wink as they pass by a naked marble sculpture.

This time, she elbows him in the ribs so he rubs his side with a winded ‘oof’.

“Behave, Hiddleston.”

“Yes, professor.” He chuckles when she mumbles under her breath about statue kink.

He blinks innocently at her as they round a corner and enter the last exhibition. And with a sinking feeling, Thalia admits to herself that she’s enjoying this. Even wants to do this again.

Fuck, that wasn’t the plan. But to be honest, it’s not a big surprise either. Whether that’s healthy or not, Tom has always held a part of her happiness in his big hands.

Click here for Chapter 21, Digging into the Past

Copyright © 2019 avenger-nerd-mom and devikafernando.  All rights reserved. Intellectual property of avenger-nerd-mom

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