Finally

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Finally

Being Thalia

Chapter 36

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: 3612

Summary: Tom and Thalia come full circle on the most important day of their life.

Previous Chapter 35, Final Countdown

December 31, 2021

The first notes of the wedding march sound, and Tom has to remind himself to breathe. Bloody hell, he’s really getting married. Torn between doing a giddy little jig and puking all over his black tux, he turns along with the other guests in the church to stare at the double-winged door with its white flower arch.

They may not be doing many things traditionally, but Tom insisted that they would at least adhere to a few customs. As a consequence, he hasn’t laid eyes on the wedding dress that Thalia picked last week. Neither did he see her yesterday, choosing to spend their last night separately. Not that he slept a wink, nerves kicking in at the last minute.

Breathe, Hiddleston, he reminds himself—then nearly swallows his own tongue when it reminds him that the woman he loves will soon carry his name…alongside her own last name, as she doesn’t want to give it up. He’d happily have taken hers to please her but the possessive, authority-loving man inside a corner of him preens at the thought of staking such a public claim on her. She still brings the caveman in him out sometimes, although he’s learned a lot over the years.

A collective murmur travels through the church before hushed anticipation descends as the wedding march plays its most important melody. The door opens, and in steps a figure bathed in sunshine. His earthly angel, come to bless him with her shining light. He’d always thought it was just a phrase used in literature that one’s heart could skip a beat, and yet when Tom first lays eyes on his bride stepping out of the light and onto the carpet, he could swear his heart does cease to beat for a moment. When it recommences beating, it does so with a great, big thump of unbridled joy.

Lord in heaven, she is a vision. Thalia steadily advances towards him—alone because without her father, she didn’t want anyone else giving her away. Her exact words were, “I’m my own woman. The only person giving me to you, is me.” He’d laughed at her determination, her spirit. Seeing her unaccompanied now, Tom stares and stares, drinking in his fill.

She has chosen a gown in a creamy shade of white, with only a few lace accents and no veil. Modest yet pure feminine allure, it hugs her luscious curves, allowing a peak of ample cleavage, and cinching tightly at her waist before falling into a long train behind her. There’s a flower in her hair, the usually riotous curls tamed for the occasion in a fancy updo. Her modest bouquet is as classy as her gown, and it includes pink orchids and oleanders. He catches a peek of bejeweled sandals beneath the dress’s hem. Those have to be seriously high heels, judging from the height of the gorgeous woman gliding towards him like a goddess.

His brain blanks out for a moment, only a feeling of bliss remaining behind. If someone asked him for his name, he wouldn’t have remembered it.

Tom fastens his gaze on Thalia’s face, seeing the same stunned joy with a tinge of trepidation on her features that he must be radiating. He watches enraptured as she glances left and right, then breaks out into an astonished smile when she sees their guests.

They’d decided that they wanted a small, intimate wedding without any fancy pomp. First a short, personalized ceremony in church—no bridesmaids, no flower girls, no elaborate choir or British fanfare—and then a garden party for a few guests in an inn on the outskirts of London. What Thalia didn’t know until now is that Tom conspired with her family to surprise her on her big day. In secret, he organized and paid for tickets for most of her closest relatives and friends to attend. Her step-mother and grandmother are standing next to his family, some of the aunts looking decidedly weepy. He can’t blame them; his own eyes are glazing over a little. Henrí and his small little family, with Lucía by their side, blow kisses and wave to her as she giggles at the bouncing children.

Thalia’s eyes return to him and remain there, wide and shiny, and filled with so many emotions that he can feel resonate inside his own heart. She’ll probably kill him once the celebrations are over or demand that he lets her pay part of the ticket and accommodation cost. Not that he minds. He’ll die a happy man—or more probably, quarrel for a bit and then have sensational make-up sex. Jesus, not a good time to think of getting Thalia laid. Neither is it a good idea to be wondering whether she might be wearing stockings underneath that beautiful, not too showy dress. Or sinfully sexy lingerie?

Tom fidgets with his bowtie. He’s tied it himself, of course, fussing with it a few agonizing minutes in front of the mirror because this isn’t just any occasion. He’d picked out a black tuxedo, feeling as if it was a century ago that he last wore tails and a waistcoat. There’s a white flower in his buttonhole, and he’s even splurged on new shoes.

Thalia’s gaze rakes him from head to toe, and the tip of her tongue glides over her red lips, which makes all the muscles in his body tighten. He can feel her eyes like caressing fingers on his cheekbones and jaw and can’t resist a tiny smirk.

She’d been pestering him for days to get rid of the beard for the grand occasion, using her body and her sass to plead and cajole and argue. Day before yesterday, he conceded to at least trimming it—which ended in Thalia taking matters into her own hands, sitting on his lap and trimming the gingery scruff herself. That, inevitably, led to steamy shenanigans. But Tom didn’t tell her that he would of course heed her wish. This morning, he shaved himself with the greatest care, feeling oddly naked. But he didn’t need the ‘armor’ anymore, did he? He had what he wanted, with whom he wanted it. The haircut was an added bonus for his love.

Finally, what feels two seconds but also two decades later, his bride is in front of him and he holds out his arm to draw her nearer. When she twinkles up at him, he notices how fast her pulse flutters at her throat, and how her hands tremble. But it isn’t anxiety or doubt, for her eyes shine with love and happiness. It’s all he can do to not kiss her.

“You look utterly ravishing. The most beautiful bride in all of England’s history, I’m certain,” he says in a voice that sounds raspy to his own ears.

A blush spreads over her cheeks, highlighting a smattering of freckles. He notices for the first time that she’s wearing a string of diamonds around her wrist and beautiful drop earrings.

Caressing his thumb over the spot her wedding ring will sit in just a short while, he asks, “Ready to spend the rest of your life with this besotted old fool?”

Her answering smile nestles deep in his heart. She nods. “Are you ready to put up with my sass and stubbornness?” Of course, he nods as well.

Most of the ceremony is a blur. He knows he tears up a little during the personalized vows, almost stuttering when he recites some of Shakespeare’s most famous lines to profess his love and swear his undying fidelity to Thalia. “‘My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep; the more I give to thee, The more I have, for both are infinite.’ My love for you, Thalia, my Warrior Princess, has always been. Even as hard as I fought against it, and pushed you away, it was always there.” He tenderly reaches up to wipe away a tear from her check. “Thank you for putting up with me.” The crowd laughs when she murmurs that it takes a lot of patience. He chuckles, shaking his head. “You never wavered, even when we were apart. I always felt your love, knew it called to me. I’m so damn lucky to have this chance, this forever, and I promise I won’t mess up this time.”

Somehow, they manage to exchange rings without him making a complete fool of himself, and then he dimly hears “you may now kiss the bride” and bends his head.

“Mine,” he whispers against her lips before giving her the first kiss not just as her man but also as her lawful wedded husband.

“Mine,” he feels her murmur against him as she kisses him back, and then he sinks into the magic of the moment and forgets everything and everyone around them.

It’s the nip of Thalia’s teeth on his lower lip that brings him back to reality and to the mingled sounds of tittering, throat-clearing and tentative applause. Tom knows he’s blushing, and Thalia’s face is flushed too when he draws back enough to drink her in.

His. Truly his.

Holding out his arm, he marches his radiant bride down the aisle where even more women are teary-eyed now and where his chum Luke gives him a grinning thumbs-up. There’s confetti to be thrown, there are photos to be taken, and then a cute old-timer Bentley takes them to the venue of their garden wedding as the rest of the guests file out to wave and cheer.

The ride to the location breezes by, mostly because he’s so busy holding Thalia’s hand, their fingers with their silver and platinum wedding bands linked together, and kissing her permanently smiling lips. The car takes them to the Marquee and Lawns on the little, enchanting Ravens Ait island on the river Thames, not far from Hampton Court and Kingston.

While the venue had been Tom’s suggestion once they had decided on a garden wedding, Thalia had accompanied him to check it out and finalize the decoration and menu. With less than fifty guests, theirs is probably the smallest function organized at this idyllic place that feels like miles out of London while technically still within the city limits. The couple takes a private launch to the island, Tom insisting on lifting Thalia aboard as if he were carrying her bridal style into their honeymoon suite. Their guests arrive soon after in a hired bus and are also ferried across the river.

“I feel as if I’m in a fairy tale,” Thalia whispers breathlessly into his ear as she clutches his hand tight enough to hurt.

“More Cinderella than Maleficent, I hope?”

She shoots him a look. “Definitely. Do you know that I’ve been pinching myself since this morning, to make sure I’m not dreaming?”

She shows him the inner curve of her elbow where he can make out tiny crescent shapes where her nails must’ve dug into her skin. Tom lifts it to his lips and brushes a soft kiss over the marks.

“If it is a dream then I never want to wake up.”

They are helped out onto the shore and greeted by smiling, ever so polite staff. There are more photos to pose for on the old stone steps and in the manicured garden before they find their seats beneath the white tent.

The next few hours go by in a blur, with a few special moments standing out. There is Prosecco and a three-course dinner altered to incorporate some temperamental Latino dishes. There is a wedding cake to cut, of course with another Shakespeare quote worked into the elegant décor. There is also a speech, then another one, then a toast that Tom makes before he steals another kiss from his bride.

Another surprise up his sleeve, he pulls his phone from his pocket when it rings and hands it to his beautiful wife. Thalia’s eyes widen in surprise when a cheerful young girl greets her. He motions her away to a quiet corner, allowing her privacy as she talks to her dear friends who were unable to make the wedding on such short notice. He tugs on the arm of his shirt, adjusting his cufflinks, thinking of the chat he’d had the other day with his old nemesis. Tom held true to his word and tracked Professor Evans down. The man hadn’t been ignoring Thalia’s calls. He’d been trapped in a family vacation disaster, snowed in at a resort in the mountains with his in-laws. Taking a drink from a tray as a waiter passes by, Tom wonders how he’d fair in the same situation. Stacey likes to dish it out to him as much as her daughter does…

Older and wiser, Tom had asked Evans for his blessing of sorts, knowing the act of civility would please Thalia. Maybe it’s the wine, or the few shots he’d tossed back with old friends, but he’s almost grateful for the challenges the other man in Thalia’s life had presented, because it brought them back together in the end. Made them stronger. Made him see how he couldn’t live without her.

“You’re a lucky man, Thomas,” his mother says quietly at his side. “She’s beautiful inside and out. First woman I’ve ever known you to love who wouldn’t let you walk all over her. She fights back. I like her spirit.”

Tom chuckles, putting his arm around his mother’s shoulder. “Appreciating a woman who speaks her mind and knows when to hold steady? I have no idea where I would have learned the importance of that…” He raises his eyebrow as his mother playfully swats his arm. “Let’s dance.”

Leading his mother to the dance floor, other party attendees fill in around them. He watches Thalia finish her call and take another glass of wine before joining him on the floor.

“Thank you,” she whispers, snuggling into his arms, her eyes still wet with tears.

Wiping them away, he simply nods. Him making the call, that was another important step towards coming full circle today. Not an end of an era so that a new one can start, but an acknowledgement how much the past has shaped their present and will shape their future.

***

Dancing of course is among his favorite moments of the day. He tugs Thalia closer into his hold, her curves gliding along him as her scent envelops him. Nuzzling her neck, bare except for a few curls of hair that have escaped her up-do by now, he presses a kiss to her tanned skin.

“Is everybody else busy dancing?” he asks softly.

She shifts a little in his possessive hold to glance around. “Some are. Others are talking non-stop or taking second helpings of that to-die-for dessert. Speaking of which, how about feeding me some more of that?”

Her glance at him from beneath her lashes is nearly his undoing but Tom reins himself in. He gives her his most smoldering look, which makes her steps falter despite his sure lead as he twirls with her across the garden.

“I’d much rather feast on you than have you feast on dessert, no matter how decadent it tastes,” he growls low in his throat.

Thalia blinks once and then stares up at him with wide eyes, nearly stepping on his foot so that he pushes her outwards, turns her in a sort of pirouette and reels her back in. He presses his smooth cheek against hers and slows their movement somewhat, using it as an excuse to whisper hotly into her ear.

“I’ve been wanting to get my hands on you for hours, Mrs. Bareo-Hiddleston.” Her full-body shiver fuels the fire inside him. “You look good enough to eat, and I’m a starving man. Surely you wouldn’t deny me a taste?”

As further incentive, he dips the tip of his tongue into her ear, then breathes against the bit of moisture to make her shiver again.

“But, Tom…” Gratifyingly, her voice sounds wobbly and needy, and her fingers are digging into his shoulder as she hangs on for dear life, dance steps forgotten while he continues to sway them. “We can’t just leave. What will everybody think?”

“Screw what everybody else will think,” he says vehemently, pressing her close with his free hand splayed low on her back so that their bodies rub against each other promisingly. “When have we ever let others get in the way of the magic between us?”

He hears the click of her convulsive swallow despite the romantic music all around them.

“True. But promise me it’ll just be a few stolen kisses.”

She lifts her chin to hold his gaze and he gives her a nod. Deftly, he maneuvers them to the edge of the area reserved for dancing while mentally going over what he remembers of the place’s layout. They have booked a flight for the early morning hours to enjoy an exotic honeymoon, so they aren’t staying at the venue and have no room here. But surely there will be some corner secluded enough to seduce his wife?

His wife. The thought makes him beam.

Making sure with a furtive glance that everyone is busy, he grabs Thalia around the waist and half-hauls her out of the garden and into the nearby building, wedding finery and propriety be damned. While she giggles and he chuckles—and they startle a waiter into nearly dropping a tray of Prosecco—they make their escape. The ground floor is deserted, as the venue is usually closed off whenever a wedding party takes place. Tom spies a few doors marked ‘staff’, then looks into a room that seems perfect. It’s almost a sign, meant to be.

Veering right, he pulls Thalia with him and closes the door behind them, locking it with a click that seems to seal their fate. It’s a guest room, the interior reminding him of typical English cottages. But Tom doesn’t pause to appreciate the décor; he’s spied something far more interesting and suited to having his way with the willing woman in his arms: The far wall is covered in a bookshelf, stocked with what at a glance looks like old classics mixed with new bestsellers. Of course it’s got to be a bookshelf because over six and a half years ago, he first claimed this beautiful temptress in a library. And now he’ll get to do so for the rest of his life.

The joy makes his head reel for a moment before he steadies himself and holds his woman close. “Now give me a kiss like a good girl. Or should I say, like an obedient wife?” he commands, tilting her face up.

There’s a gleam in Thalia’s eyes. She licks her lips and leans close, pressing herself against him so he fills his free hand with curves and expensive fabric. “I’m not sure I like the word ‘obedient-’”

Tom gives her a light tap on her tulle covered ass, and pulls her closer to claim her lips. The kiss starts out tender, but Tom soon gives in to all the pent-up desire.

“You’ve been driving me crazy all day,” he whispers hoarsely, the blood pounding in his ears. “Looking like a queen and not just a warrior princess. Let me worship you, on my knees like a good king should always worship his queen.”

She shivers again, her hands clutching at his biceps.

“But…Tom…”

He holds her gaze, his grip on her chin firming. “Do you trust me?”

Thalia nods immediately.

“Do you want me?”

An even more eager nod.

He claims her mouth in another kiss, letting his tongue delve deep to explore and entice, one single kiss enough to blow his control to smithereens. With a stifled, needy groan he pulls her towards the bookshelf so her back hits the wood. Giving her a heated look, he sinks to his knees in front of her—and Thalia gasps as realization dawns in her eyes, her pupils dilating. Does she remember it too, their first naughty encounter a lifetime ago?

“If you don’t want this, tell me to stop,” Tom grinds out as his hands wander beneath the skirt of her wedding dress, recalling a similar warning from those days.

“You said you’d only steal kisses,” comes Thalia’s half-whimpered reply.

He smirks at her, his long fingers stroking up her calf and higher to dig into her flesh. “I’m getting to the kissing part, darling.”

Wagging his brows, he leans forward to press a kiss to her clothed belly as his hand inches higher still, then bites off a moan when he discovers she’s wearing a garter and stockings.

“God, I love you,” comes Thalia’s answer, almost sounding like a curse, although her eyes shine down at him.

“I love you too.”

He holds her gaze a moment longer, then gives her a wink and ducks under her gown to nuzzle the rapidly dampening heat between her thick thighs. His fingers join his eager mouth, drawing the fabric aside so he can slide his tongue through her folds and make his wife come as she clutches the bookshelf.

The muffled sound of Thalia reaching her peak is followed by the clock in the room striking midnight. After a final soothing lick, Tom struggles a bit to extricate himself from under layers of fabric and stand up. His joints protest but nothing, absolutely nothing, can spoil this moment.

“Happy New Year, my darling wife,” he all but purrs, and Thalia blinks open heavy-lidded eyes. Her smile is slow to form but absolutely glorious in its joy.

“Happy New Year, and happy beginning of our new life together!” she whispers and seals the fervent wish with a kiss.

The End

Thank you for reading and sticking with us till the end. Your comments and likes have been appreciated!- Love, Cass and Devika

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

A Better Man

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A Better Man

Being Thalia

Chapter 34

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: 3003

Summary: A lazy Sunday morning, reading in bed, turns into something more-

Previous Chapter, Chapter 33: Over Her Head

December 2021

This is bliss. And she’s missed it, Thalia realizes. More than she cares to admit.

Not reading, of course; she always manages to squeeze that into her schedule because books have been her first love and will always be part of her life.

It’s sharing the experience of reading that feels so wonderful. A lazy Sunday morning together. They’re lounging on her bed, snuggling while the rain is pelting the window with a lulling pitter-patter. The colorful Christmas lights on the tree Tom insisted they get for the bedroom add a soft glow to the room. She’s stolen one of Tom’s ultra-comfy sweaters, big and worn enough to accommodate her curves. Off and on, she inhales deeply, bathing in the oddly familiar and soothing scent of Tom with its hint of citrus and male.

Tom is wearing the blue twin to her red sweater, the sleeves rolled up to reveal his freckled forearms, long fingers cradling an iPad. He’s totally engrossed in whatever he’s reading on it, the tip of his tongue poking out in concentration occasionally.

Thalia drinks in his profile, which has softened a tiny bit over the years although the scruff highlights his still admirable jawline. With the slightest, contented sigh, she turns her attention back to her paperback and wiggles to get more comfortable.

They started out an hour ago with her head in his lap and his fingers sifting gently through her curls, massaging her scalp almost absentmindedly while both of them were reading. Then Tom got up to make them two hot chocolates, and when they settled back down, it was him with his head in her cushiony lap. He turned it occasionally, to softly rub his scruff over her thigh or press a kiss to it.

“I love a lazy day like this,” Tom murmurs absently, almost as though he’s thinking out loud.

Thalia drags her fingertip down his nose. “Can you read my mind? I was thinking the same thing earlier.”

His chest rises and falls when he chuckles softly. “I think, love, the ability to read your mind could be a very dangerous thing.”

“It’s full of nothing but food and sinful thoughts,” she giggles, flipping the page in her book.

“The best kind,” he replies, tracing his hand down her raised calf, clad in Christmas leggings. She hums, nodding. “Lazy vacations like this are wonderful. All the days are running into the next. Remind me when we’re going to the airport to get your mother?”

“Move, you’re making my leg fall asleep.” He huffs when she slides out from under him. Standing next to the bed, she shakes out her achy muscles. “Wednesday, around two? But we’ll have to leave earlier that morning. Remember? I rented a car for a few days.”

She steps out into the hall and jogs towards the bathroom.

“And Christmas is next Sunday?”

Thalia ignores him, hating when he yells at her through closed doors. Just to be petty, she takes a few extra moments to apply lotion to her hands after washing them.

On her walk to the kitchen, she tilts her head to the side, stretching out the kinks in her neck. “Yeah, but we’ll go to Mass the night before and open a few presents at dinner. That’s our tradition.” With a plate of cookies in her hand, she returns to the bedroom, crawling up next to him. “Dad never wanted to wait. Stacey says if she’d have let him, he’d have never even wrapped the presents, just given them to me when he bought them. And he was always sick after opening presents and dinner. He would skip church and Stacey and her family would take me to Mass.” Breaking a cookie in half, she hands a piece to him. Licking the crumbs from her thumb, she continues, “I didn’t figure it out till I was older that he stayed home to put out the Santa gifts that always magically appeared while we were gone.”

Tom good-naturedly laughs, thoroughly enthralled in the story of her childhood. “That sounds like a good plan.”

Tucking the pillow to her chest, she flops face first on the bed, hugging it under her, and pulling her book in front of her. She agrees. “They’d let me stay up and play with my new toys until I wore out under the tree, and they could sleep in the next morning until it was time to meet family for brunch.”

Rolling over onto his belly, he snuggles next to her, copying her pose, propping himself up on his elbows. “It’s nice to hear you tell stories, share your memories with me.”

Thalia blushes, hiding behind her curls. “It’s therapeutic. I can’t put all my feelings in a box and lock them away anymore. Or so Doc keeps telling me.” She rolls her eyes.

“It’s nice,” Tom reiterates. “Lets me learn more about you.”

She lifts her eyebrow. “Well, I’m done for now. That’s all you get to know today. I’m sure Stacey can tell you all kinds of stories when she’s here.”

“She is a talker.”

Clearing her throat, she explains, “She was trying to cover up for Dad’s sullen behavior.”

She sucks in her breath, hoping he’ll let that comment slide for now.

Patting the back of her hand, he quietly says, “Your father would want you to be happy. Are you happy?”

Thalia grins. “If we can stop talking about my feelings now, that would make me happy.”

Shaking his head, Tom wraps his arm over her shoulder, pulling her close to kiss the top of her head. “Fine. Go back to studying, Professor Bareo.”

Morning turned to afternoon. Naturally, they shifted and drifted again after some time, and now she’s half draped across his lean, impossibly long body, one of Tom’s arms around her waist while he holds his iPad in the other hand.

“Here, listen to this.” Thalia sits up a little straighter, loving how her curves slide against the hard, muscled angles of his body, willing the instant twinge of arousal down because she enjoys this time of cuddling and reading.

“This is the chapter about Sapiens and language,” she clarifies briefly. She’s reading “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari because Tom mentioned it years ago and lately she’s found herself doing astonishingly many things he’s recommended. “So, he says it’s all about gossip: The new linguistic skills that modern Sapiens acquired about seventy millennia ago enabled them to gossip for hours on end.” She clears her throat. “Harari goes on to say that the majority of day to day communication, whether it’s social media or articles in newspapers, is gossip. Here, this is where it pertains to our world.” Thalia adjusts her glasses, reading from the thick book again. “Do you think that history professors chat about the reasons for World War One when they meet for lunch, or that nuclear physicists spend their coffee breaks at scientific conferences talking about quarks? Sometimes. But more often, they gossip about the professor who caught her husband cheating, or the quarrel between the head of the department and the dean, or the rumors that a colleague used his research funds to buy a Lexus.

She giggles, hearing Tom chuckle too as he adjusts his position and stuffs a pillow behind his back. “Well, as a professor, I can certainly certify that affairs and cars are mentioned more often than historic finds or quantum theory,” he says with a raised brow.

“This is one of the author’s more controversial statements but it makes a whole lot of sense,” he adds. After a thoughtful frown, he elaborates in his teaching voice, “Doesn’t Harari go on to say that Sapiens had the language advantage over others because they were able to transmit information about things that did not exist? Things they haven’t yet touched or seen or tasted or smelled? Which of course paved the way for religion in all its forms.”

Thalia sits up straighter, a finger between the pages marking her place in the book. “I swear, Tom, your ability to remember things is just freakish. It’s almost as if you have a photographic brain.”

He gives her a sheepish grin, the hint of a blush rising on his cheeks. “Can’t say I do, darling, but I sure wish I did. I’m sure I would be taking lots of brain photographs of you, then.”

“Idiot.” She scoffs and playfully punches his stomach.

Catching her wrist, Tom lifts her hand to his face and kisses each knuckle.

“Your idiot.”

Something about his words sink all the way into her, slides into all corners, sidles into the little cracks and holes and mends her. Completes her-

Not so keen to analyze it, to break the mood of a lazy Sunday, she pulls her hand away after a quick smile and focuses on her paperback again. She mimics Tom, sitting up and leaning against the headboard, offering him another smile when he stuffs a pillow behind her back as well so she can get comfortable.

After minutes of blissful silence, Tom speaks up.

“Listen, this is absolutely share-worthy too.” He clears his throat and fidgets with his glasses.

To begin with I love you with a depth and passion that I have felt for no one else in this life and if it astonishes you it astonishes me as well. I never thought that — even if one was in love — one could get so completely besotted with another person, so that a minute away from them felt like a thousand years.”

Glancing up from her book, Thalia shoots him a glance. She’s caught only some of it as she wasn’t prepared for such a long read-out excerpt. That sounds like a love letter? Surely Tom hasn’t suddenly developed a taste for romance novels?

“What on earth are you reading? Is that some romance novel? Since when do you read those?” Still thinking on her own reading, she doesn’t pay him much attention.

He clears his throat once more. “It’s from the Letters Live publication. Titled ‘All this I did without you’. A letter from British conservationist, Gerald Durell, to his future wife.”

His voice cracks a bit, and she wonders whether Tom might be catching a cold. He did run through the rain earlier this morning to fetch them breakfast from the little corner store he likes, getting thoroughly wet because of course he didn’t take an umbrella with him.

“Beautiful,” she mumbles, diving back into her reading matter when Tom doesn’t say anything else.

She’s read maybe half a page when he clears his throat, speaking up again. “There’s more, it’s quite lovely. Listen: Darling I want you to be you in your own right…always, especially with me.

Thalia’s head snaps up. “Okay, that IS a nice one. Sounds like something you’d tell me… Got any more gems like that? He sounds like he’s an amazing letter writer.” She sighs. “It’s a lost art, letter writing, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is. Sadly, some never find a way to express themselves.”

“I have old letters Dad wrote me when I went off to school. Postcards you sent me. I even have old text messages saved. But that’s not the same as a love letter, not really. It’s not tangible.”

Tom readjusts his glasses and takes a deep breath that makes his arm brush against hers. Why does he seem so agitated all of a sudden? Then again, it shouldn’t surprise her. If he’s in, he’s all in. It’s one of the things she loves so much about him. Someone else’s declaration of love probably has him all emotional, and he wants to discuss his thoughts on the passage and she’s babbling about text messages.

“I’m sorry.” She runs her hand down his arm, tracing her fingers over his veins. “I interrupted your reading. Please continue.”

With a small smile, she waits for more snippets as his eyes skim down and up again, his tongue darting out to moisten his lips.

“This one is my favorite passage.” Swallowing with an audible click, Tom sits up straighter and she wonders briefly whether he’ll turn it into a theatrical performance of sorts like when he reads Shakespeare to her.

In you I have found everything I want: you are beautiful, gay, giving, gentle, idiotically and deliciously feminine, sexy, wonderfully intelligent and wonderfully silly as well. I want nothing else in this life than to be with you, to listen and watch you (your beautiful voice, your beauty), to argue with you, to laugh with you, to show you things and share things with you, to explore your magnificent mind, to explore your wonderful body, to help you, protect you, serve you, and bash you on the head when I think you are wrong.

Thalia guffaws at the last one, clapping a hand over her mouth. Oddly, it feels almost sacrilegious to laugh now. There is something so solemn and heart-touching about the words, something so emotional and sincere in Tom’s hoarse voice. It’s almost as if he’s written these words just for her, not simply reading someone else’s love letter.

The crazy thought has barely entered her mind when Tom lifts his gaze from the iPad and looks straight at her, the blue of his irises dark and gleaming. Thalia freezes in place, reacting instinctively to the almost palpable shift in the atmosphere.

Whipping his glasses off his face, Tom shifts his body so he’s kneeling up on the bed and facing her. He reaches out to take her hand, and it registers that his is clammy and trembling slightly.

“Did you catch cold in the rain this morning?” She reaches up with her other hand to brush a floppy curl from his forehead. “Are you running a fever?” There sure is a feverish intensity to his gaze now, and his jaw is all tense.

Why can’t she shake the feeling that she’s missing an important point here? Why does her heart tell her something her mind hasn’t fully processed yet?

Thalia feels a shiver run down her spine for no apparent reason as Tom’s fingers tighten their grip on hers and he pulls in another deep breath.

“Thalia María Bareo.”

Oh god. Oh god, oh god, oh god.  Her brain starts to catch up. He’s not sick. He’s –

“I meant every word I just read to you. From the moment you came into my life, you’ve turned me upside down and inside out. You’ve made me a different man, hopefully even a better man.”

This…this can’t be happening. This isn’t what she thinks it is. Or is it?!

Tom’s grip grows so firm it’s almost painful, and his eyes are alarmingly shiny.

“In you, I have indeed found everything I’ve ever yearned for, everything a man could ever want. I was a fool, more than once. I let life come between us, other people come between us. But perhaps that was for the better because now I couldn’t be more certain…or more in love.”

There’s a dull rushing sound in her ears and her heart is beating so fast she puts her free hand against her chest as if to prevent it from falling out.

“Darling Thalia, my fragile, yet strong, orchid… my one and only, I love you more than words can express. Will you share your wonderful body and magnificent mind and above all, your generous heart with me, for the rest of our lives? Will you make me the most incandescently happy man that has ever walked this earth? Will you…” His voice breaks again as she holds her breath. “Will you marry me?”

* * *

Tom has never felt so anxious in his life. It’s all he can do to breathe, and in a corner of his mind he’s amazed that he’s got all the right words out. There was more he had been planning to say. A proposal that was somewhat more eloquent and elaborate, more his own phrases than those wonderfully meaningful quotes. But his heart overwhelmed him in the middle of it all—and maybe that isn’t such a bad thing. Because it’s all coming from his heart and he means every single word with all of his being.

He’s planned this…sort of. No stereotypes for them, like a ring hidden in dessert at a restaurant or a moon-lit walk where he’ll drop on his knee in front of her. They’re not a normal couple, theirs is not a normal love. And so this feels right. Books and feelings. And his life offered up on a platter, for her to accept or to kill him.

Thalia is staring, her mouth opening and closing silently, her fingers shaking. Or maybe he’s trembling so hard that he makes her shudder as well. When the silence stretches and the only reaction he gets is a single tear rolling down a chubby cheek, his heart plummets from his throat all the way to the floor and further down.

He feels hot and cold at the same time.

“Darling, say something,” he begs at last, feeling his whole world teeter on the brink.

“I…Tom…oh my god, Tom.”

Suddenly she’s blinking to life. Another tear rolls down—and then she launches herself at him and knocks him flat on his back, luckily not falling off the bouncing mattress.

As a garbled mumble against his chest, drowned in sniffling sobs, he hears her answer.

“Yes. Yes, I’ll marry you. Sir, Professor, Tom.” She giggles through her tears, lifting her eyes to his, the fevered pitch a match. “I’m yours, whatever you want me to call you!”

His smile is so wide, his face could nearly break in half. “Anything that makes you happy, my love, as long as I can call you Mrs. Hiddleston in return?”

Her lips land on his, soft and salty with tears. The corner of her mouth turns up to a smile and in her true fashion, she sasses back, “How does Bareo- Hiddleston sound?”

***

Proposal inspired from Tom Hiddleston reading Love Letters Live. For reference: This link has the full transcript as well as the video: https://sinosicat.com/2015/12/11/all-this-i-did-without-you/

Click here to read Chapter 35,  Final Countdown. There are two chapters remaining in this fan fic novella.

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

Over Her Head

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Over Her Head

Being Thalia

Chapter 33

By avenger-nerd-mom & devikafernando

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: 1656

Summary: A conversation with her stepmother makes Thalia realize her true growth.

Previous Chapter, Ready?

December 2021

Cradling the phone to her shoulder, Thalia digs through the box of wrapped ornaments. “I know it’s in here somewhere,” she mutters.

“Did you even hear what I asked? I asked what I should pack, weather-wise. Are you even paying attention to me? What are you doing that’s more important than talking to your mother?”

Thalia drops her hand down into her lap. “I’m sorry, Mum, you’re right. Just lookin’ for something I can’t find.” She sighs and tugs her cozy sweater over her belly. “No, I didn’t hear what you asked. Can you repeat it please?”

Stacey’s laughter stutters over the phone line. “Do you hear yourself? You just called me ‘Mum,’ with a British accent. Are you and Tom spending that much time together?”

Thalia screws up her face and scratches her brow. “Was that your original question? Or are you changing topics to try to get info from me?” She laughs. “Um, yeah. I guess we’re spending a fair amount of time together. I was in Greece for a week, after we got back from London, so-”

“London? What were you two doing there?”

Thalia blushes, grateful this isn’t a video chat. She swallows and runs her tongue over her teeth. “He took me to meet his parents. We had afternoon tea and cake with his mother and sister, before going to see a production in the West End, and meeting some of his school pals for drinks.”

“You met his old friends too?”

Thalia fidgets, wanting to get back to decorating the tree, and not wanting to give away too much information to Stacey. She takes every little detail and makes it bigger than it needs to be. She had shared with her mother they had patched things up and had been spending some time together, but she hadn’t gone into much depth, wanting to avoid the psychoanalyzing of every moment, every word spoken, that Stacey was known to put her through.

Besides, she likes keeping her new life with Tom private. Something they share between themselves because they want it that way. Not secret because it has to be, like before.

“We met his friend, Luke, and some other schoolmates happened to be at the pub where we were.” She clicks her teeth at the memory. “We didn’t stay long actually. One of the fellows was piss drunk and made an ugly comment about my weight.” She pushes down the flood of anger in her gut. “It was all I could do to drag Tom out before he started a fight. But he’d also had a pint or two, and was feeling no pain. Luckily, Luke and I got him out of there before fists started flying.”

“Oh, Thalia, honey, I’m so sorry. I hope that didn’t put a damper on your weekend getaway.”

She hides her smile behind her hand. No. The damper on the weekend was when the proper asshole insisted she sleep alone in the guest room, since his mother had it fixed it ready for her stay. He’d told her she was too noisy! Of all things!

She’d gotten even by sending him filthy texts and photos the rest of the night before finally falling asleep in his old rugby jersey. And when she trounced downstairs in her usual ‘morning before coffee’ grumpy mood, his mother was astonishingly nice. Kind and open with exactly the same charismatic smile as her son, and with a backbone of steel hidden beneath the affable charm. Mrs. Hiddleston–correction, Diana–hadn’t once treated Thalia oddly, even though she had reason enough to do so. They’d amiably shared coffee and fresh scones, teasing Tom about is wild, floppy curls when he came in from his morning run.

“No.” She answers her stepmother after blinking away the memories. “We had a really nice visit. His childhood home, his mother and sister, everything was great. It’s all so funny when you really get to know people and find out they are definitely a product of where they were raised. Books and music everywhere. Everything with a story or fact to go with it. His mother once worked in the stage and theater industry, so Diana really fostered his love for the dramatic arts. She had photos of his school plays, and albums with his school papers. He was always so smart!” She shakes her head in disbelief of his achievements. “You could tell he was a charismatic young boy.” Stacey giggles, but Thalia ignores her. “It was nice to get to know him on a more personal level, you know what I mean?”

Stacey hums quietly. “Thalia, neither of you are getting younger. He practically left a woman at the altar to have you back. Is this what you really want?”

Want, Mom? We’re just together, having fun. Getting to know one another, differently now. Better now. We’re both adults, have our own jobs and interests-”

“-Thalia, don’t be foolish. That man will want to settle down with you. There’s only one reason a man his age calls off a wedding and mere weeks later takes a former love home to meet his parents. If you aren’t looking for long term, if you’re going to break his heart-”

“Stacey, stop. Just stop it. We’re not putting a label on anything.” Is ‘mine’ a label? She smiles slyly, again thankful this is not a video chat. “He comes to the city to research and write. I fly off wherever the museum sends me. In the next five months, I have to be in Greece again, Australia and Egypt. I might have to speak at a conference in London. We’re together when we can be, but we’re not making a big deal of it.” She tries to squelch down the gnawing feeling that meeting his mother was a big deal. Maybe if she keeps shoving that aside, the thought will go away. “I’m just enjoying life, right now. I’m happy. You’ll see when you get here for Christmas.”

Moving the conversation away from her relationship with Tom, she tries to refocus her mother. “I can’t wait to take you to all my favorite places, and introduce you to my friends, Henrí and his family, and Lucía. You’re gonna love it so much, you’ll wanna move here!” She digs her hand back in the box, looking for the Christmas ornament Tom bought her in Munich years ago. “So if you wanna keep talking nonsense, I’m going to hang up. Or you can tell me more of the things you wanna see when you’re here or the neighborhood gossip from back home? Oh! Did I tell you I’m wearing the Christmas sweater you sent? It’s so soft, I love it!”

Twenty minutes later, the phone call is over. Thalia rolls over onto her knees, placing her hands on the couch and pushes herself up. The couch cushions separate and a piece of paper draws her eye. She pulls it from its wedged spot, laughing at the childish scrawl. “I think you’re beautiful. You’re my warrior princess. Always, Tom.”

Dropping it in the glass dish on the table, it lands with the pile of other secret notes she’s been finding around the house. Some feature words of encouragement and wishes for a good day, others spout Shakespeare quotes or random facts he knows and wants to share.

Lifting the box from the floor to the coffee table, she leans over to better dig through it. The wrapped ornament she was looking for is nestled in the corner, next to some popsicle stick tree ornaments she and Avery made together. Carefully unwrapping the ornament from Tom, she decides both have an equal place on the Christmas tree this year. Both have made her the woman she is today…

She admires the individuality of the hand blown glass ornament he’d bought at the Christkindlmarkt the year they’d spent the holiday together in Germany. It had been too painful to look at after he left her in Paris, so it had been hidden in the bottom of the box. The Christmas box that went from Paris, to the US and survived the fire, and followed her to Madrid. Holding it up to the light of the setting sun coming through the window, the colors dance and swirl, making her feel warm and happy.

Turning up the volume on the Christmas music playing from her tablet, she places the conversation with Stacey out of her mind. Stacey, who always worried about her, always pushed her to find a man to take care of her. “That’s her life. Not mine. I can take care of myself.”

Realizing she’d spoken aloud, she shakes her head. With her free hand, she loops the ribbon from the handmade child’s ornament over one finger and an angel ornament her father had given her over another. Thalia carries them to the tree, adding the last additions to the tiny little tree on the table top window. Tapping the bottom of a Disney ornament Chris had gifted her on a trip, she watches it spin, laughing when it bumps the hotdog one she and Tom bought their first Christmas together, when he’d surprised her in Chicago, to commemorate their feast at Portillo’s. Always a battle between those two. She laughs out loud, stepping back to admire the tree. Tilting her head to the little display of colorful ornaments collected over the years from her travels, something feels like it’s missing.

With a sigh, she reaches for her phone and snaps a quick picture. Attaching it to a message, she sends Tom a little note: Something’s missing from my tree! Bring your tartan wool scarf this weekend. It would make the perfect wrap around the base. Found another little note… Thank you!

When she re-reads the message, it gives her pause. These notes he’s left for her. The messages they send each other. How things automatically remind her of Tom or how he will sometimes give her impulsive calls just to share a tidbit of new knowledge–this isn’t what two people in a casual affair would do.

Deep down she knows that there’s nothing ‘casual’ about her feelings for him. Never was, never will be. The thought is scary…and yet it doesn’t terrify her as much as it would have some years ago.

Click ahead to Chapter 34: A Better Man

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

 

Digging into the Past

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Digging into the Past

Being Thalia

Chapter 21

By devikavernando & 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

Gif created from images found on Pinterest

Word Count: 2252

Summary: After a long day together at the museum, Tom and Thalia each spend time digging up old memories.

Previous Chapter, Museum Musings

September 2021

Unable to convince her to join him for dinner, Tom left Thalia at her office, under the guise that she had daily reports to finish. The late summer air is warm and inviting, so Tom decides to meander the city, lost in his thoughts. Taking off his jacket, he casually drapes it over his arm, clutching it to his side. He takes a deep breath, letting his muscles relax from the long day. Being so near her, but not being able to have her had put a harsh strain on his body, and he’s almost relieved she turned down his offer.

He watches a young family cross the street in front of him, and he feels a pang of… something. He can’t put a name to the feeling. Loss? Guilt? Hope?

Could that be him one day? A father, pushing a stroller while a little one toddles ahead, the mother rushing to keep up. Thalia. Would she even want that? He brushes his hand roughly across his forehead. She’s older now, her early thirties. Does she want to have children? It was something they never discussed, actually.

“You fucker, Hiddleston,” he murmurs aloud, crossing to the other side of the street, watching for traffic. She’d said it the other day, at the park, that she’d only been his sexual partner. On the phone, she’d said she felt he’d taken advantage of her. That was her truth, her view. He’d been such a hard, British arse, keeping his emotions in check, she’d never known he truly loved her, would have given anything for her.

No wonder she sought out Evans, and his affections. Bloody hell, the American had been right all along. Evans allowed her to be a partner, whereas he’d always had an air of instructor about him, guiding her and leading her to new experiences. But she enjoyed it, he has no doubt about that. She’s changed though, and so has he. Their needs are different–but they would still counterbalance each other, he believes.

He remembers seeing Thalia and his former colleague together in Toronto. It had been the last stab to his already broken heart. Evans had stayed in the shadows, only moving forward after her presentation. His hands balling into fists, Tom lets his mind travel back to the day when he realized he’d truly lost his beautiful orchid.

**

After her presentation, he’d finally collected his courage and given himself the push to go and congratulate Thalia, share his unabashed admiration, when the other man appeared seemingly out of nowhere. As if they had both waited for this moment, Thalia stepped to greet him and went willingly into his arms. They hugged for what seemed like eternity, and it made Tom recall the way she would always snuggle into his hold and feel as if she belonged there for all eternity. Well, no more.

Tom remembers actually having made a sound of anguish at the pain that sliced through him, as if someone had taken a blunt knife to his intestines, hacking and sawing away until he could almost feel himself bleed. Rubbing his chest, he’d made himself stare until the two of them were seated next to each other, heads bent close together with a devastating sense of familiarity. This could have been him–should have been him, dammit. But he’d fucked it up. It hurt like hell that she’d moved on, and the worst part was that he knew he’d driven her to this.

Vowing he would let her go, Tom had left before the evening was over, finding his way to the nearest bar to drown his sorrows. It had been ages since he’d last sought out alcohol to make his inner wounds more bearable–in fact, after he’d pushed Thalia away. This one time, he’d allow himself to wallow in guilt and regret. It was just too much to handle, as if a vital organ had stopped functioning at the sight.

A few hours later, after nursing his third whiskey, Tom had tried miserably to pull himself together. Paying and leaving a high tip because he’d been such a foul-tempered guest, he wound his way to the exit on not-so-steady feet. He wasn’t piss drunk but the liquor had indeed dulled some of his hurt. He was still wearing the nice dark blue suit he’d chosen for the occasion, as if she would even care what he looked like. Hah, what a fool he’d been, even wondering what she’d have to say about his beard. During his hours at the bar, he’d removed the suffocating tie and opened a few of the buttons on his white shirt, feeling as if he couldn’t breathe properly.

Running a shaky hand through his now longer, wavy hair, Tom took a few deep breaths of the cool night air and turned into the alley that would–hopefully–take him back to the hotel he’d booked in Toronto. Staring at his feet, the shiny shoes incongruous with how damaged he felt, he walked on.

His head snapped up at the sound of laughter, the one he sometimes still heard in his dreams. What he saw stopped him cold as if he’d slammed against an invisible brick wall. There she was, his Thalia–so very much not his anymore. With him, of course. Professor Evans had his arm slung around her shoulders and they were walking side by side, dressed like a couple out for a drink. Thalia was wrapped in a party dress, even wore heels, making her legs look spectacular. She laughed again at something her companion said, then shook out her riotous curls that Tom had loved to feel between his fingers and on his skin.

It felt like a betrayal somehow, although he knew even in his haze that he had no bloody right to such bitterness, no more claim to stake on her. He swallowed thickly, rooted to the spot. The air grew too dense to breathe when the American leaned even closer and kissed Thalia, backing her against the wall, unaware of passersby and watching eyes. Not waiting to see whether she would kiss him back, and half-afraid they would spot him, Tom turned on his heel and mechanically strode the other way. He could feel tears pricking his eyes, and the metallic tang of blood in his mouth as he’d bitten down too hard on his tongue. The numbing effect of the alcohol had been chased away by a cocktail of crippling emotions.

Fuck. She truly was lost to him. And he had nobody to blame but himself.

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**

Shaking off his melancholy thoughts, he vows to do better. On the sidewalk ahead, he spies the perfect little shop, and enters. As the bell rings overhead, a cheerful voice calls out to him in Spanish. He smiles, and points to the display he wishes to order. He’s well aware that a simple gift won’t make it all better. But he also knows that small gestures can amount to something grander, can in this case be a sign that he’s not giving up on Thalia.

Crossing the room with a few strides of his long legs, he meets the shop clerk at the counter. He asks for paper to include a note with the delivery, and he quickly scribbles his ‘thanks’ to Thalia for a lovely day at the museum, and for teaching him so many things. Tom includes mention that he’d like to see her again before he leaves town at the end of the week. He arranges with the shop clerk for the present to be delivered to her office the next morning.

“Lucky girl,” the older woman murmurs in Spanish, smiling at him as he steadies up the bill.

Is she, though? Or is he the lucky bastard because Thalia hasn’t smacked him upside his idiotic head and told him to leave her the hell alone?

***

Returning to her office, Thalia stiffens when she sees the slim, wrapped gift on her desk.

Taking her glasses off and dropping them on top of her planner, she falls into her chair, praying, “Dear Lord, don’t let it be jewelry.” She kicks off her shoes and reaches with pointed toe for the foam roller she keeps under her desk. Rolling her feet over the top, the strain from the heeled shoes begins to ease. Just like him to think everything can be fixed with a fancy dinner or a gift. Not that tapas are fancy…

“Quit being a bitch, Chica,” she says to no one but herself. “You caused the problem by not communicating well, just as much as he did.”

Her printer whirs to life on the side table, indicating the requisition forms she needs to sign from the morning budget meeting are ready. Work should be her focus, but instead she can only laugh, thinking of the silly stories Tom created from the hieroglyphs they’d read together yesterday.

He makes me laugh… I haven’t laughed with a man since Chris.

I deserve laughter.

Picking up the gift, she reads the store label. Shocked he’d discovered one of her favorite stores, she quickly tears off the paper and lifts the lid from the gift box. Thalia gasps, pulling out a beautiful silk scarf, the colors warm and vibrant.

The way he makes me feel- bright and full of life.

A folded piece of paper falls into her lap, and she lifts it up to read it. A blur, she leans forward to retrieve her glasses. She quickly skims the note, faltering when it says he’ll be leaving soon. She sighs. “Probably better that way. At least we can say we’re friends again,” Thalia mutters to herself.

Standing from her chair, she stretches, looping the scarf around her neck. In the mirror above the credenza, she sees the colors pop against the stark black business shirt she’d chosen that morning. She fiddles with the fabric, placing it just so, adding a haughty flair to her style. Picking up the forms, she returns to her desk and settles in to work.

An hour later, her phone buzzes, causing her to jump. Shit, I forgot to text and thank him.

Sliding her fingertip across the screen, unlocking the keypad, Thalia opens her messages. “Is that all I am now to you? Someone you text when you’re drunk?”

The text is punctuated with a smiley face.

“Shit,” she hisses. “Who did I text?”

She squints at the screen. Chris. “Thank God,” she chuckles, opening the actual message thread, enlarging the fonts.

“Sorry I didn’t answer last night. Avery had soccer, two games on Tuesdays. Ridiculous. BTW,  the team sucks since their best coach moved to Madrid. We miss you.”

“Aw,” she whispers, continuing to read. “Miss you guys too.”

“Honey, I can’t tell you what to do. Be happy. And I’ll deny I ever said this, but he makes you happy. I would know you’re safe and loved-”

“Jesus, what did I say to him?” Thalia scrolls up, but the messages are gone, only some old ones that had been locked for safe keeping. Drunk Thalia deleted the messages. “Just great.”

“-and I wouldn’t worry so much about you. Not that you need my permission or acceptance. For a British asshole, I guess he’s not a bad guy.

Running her fingers over her lips, she nods. Man, that had to be hard for him to say.

She types out a quick reply, thanking him- “You didn’t have to say that but it’s appreciated”– and telling him to give her love to Avery, and that she’d be in touch soon. She doesn’t let him know she didn’t remember texting him last night. After finishing at the office, she’d stopped to see Lucía at work and had a few too many drinks at the bar before Henrí walked them both to their respective apartments. She hoped she didn’t drunk text Tom too.

Lifting her head to a knock on the door, the office assistant reminds her it’s almost time for her two o’clock tour with the group from the US. She waves, saying she’ll be ready in a few minutes.

Her fingers open a memo to Tom, tapping out a thank you. “The scarf is lovely; I’ll get one of the staff to take a photo so I can send it to you. I’d like to see you again before you return to London, but not yet. I need time to think. Apparently three years wasn’t long enough.” She inserts a smiley face emoji, even though she hates them, and is nearly a hundred percent sure he does too. She wanted to soften the words so they wouldn’t read as harsh as they seem. She gulps. “Not that I didn’t think nearly every day what I’d do if you showed back up in my life. I just never expected it to happen. A week ago, if someone had asked me what I wanted, I solidly knew the answer. Now I’m not sure. I’ve grown and changed from the young girl I used to be. I’m not accustomed to feeling unsure. Please continue to give me space. You’ve been very kind and patient, and I respect that.” The secretary knocks again. “I have to give a tour to an American group, but I’ll talk to you again soon. Enjoy the sights in the city!”

Leaving the phone on her desk, not waiting for a reply, she slides into a pair of more sensible shoes, ready to go meet the high school students from Philadelphia.

Click here to read Chapter 22, Beg For It

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

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

Night In

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Night In

Educating Thalia

Collaboration by @devikafernando & @avenger-nerd-mom

AU FICTION

Chapter 30

A collaboration involving Professor Hiddleston and Professor Evans- The two are rivals at a posh New England university and have no idea they both have taken interest in the lovely Thalia Bareo. She’s a grad student with interests in language and history; a sassy full-figured Puerto Rican girl from Chicago.  Story updates are posted on Wednesdays and Sundays.

Word count: 5279

Warnings:  Language, Adult Situations, Fluff, food porn, serious discussions

Summary: Thalia isn’t still isn’t feel well, so Tom comes to take care of his girl.

Click here for intro to Educating Thalia

The doorbell buzzes, and Thalia nearly jumps off the sofa.

Oh God, he’s here. Is she really up for this?  He can be so intense…

The feeling from earlier stayed with her all day. She did have a slight fever earlier in the afternoon.  It’s not really the flu, but maybe a severe cold?   She never could tell the difference; she always had Stacey around when she was sick, to figure it out.  Thinking of Stacey and her dad only only makes it worse. She feels…odd. Off balance and uncertain, and she hates both with a vengeance. And to top it all off, she has no idea how to act around Tom this evening. At least if she’s quiet, she can blame her attitude on being ill.

With a sigh, she pads to the door. She’s dressed in her favorite canary yellow pajama pants, a baggy gray sweatshirt and fluffy, warm socks, with a shawl wrapped around her.

When she opens it, the first thing she sees are two enormous paper bags, one single pink orchid wrapped in transparent gift paper poking out on top. Then the bags lower, and Tom’s tired yet smiling face appears.

“Hey there,” she says, feeling her lips stretch into her smile almost against her volition.  “You look tired.”  She reaches for one of the bags, but he twists from her grasp.

“Hey there yourself.” Tom steps in, somehow managing with his freakishly long arms and big hands to maneuver the bags so he can lean in and kiss her cheek.  “Don’t worry about me; just tired.  My right hand was too sick to come in to work today,” he chuckles.  “How are you feeling, darling?”

She ponders the answer a moment, her gaze drawn to the concern in his deep blue eyes. “Not too bad now. Staying at home was a good idea. And I took some medicine to get the fever down. But I’m kind of tired.”

“Well, I’m armed with chicken noodle soup and movies, just as the lady instructed.” His smile turning goofy, Tom jerks his chin at the full bags. “And I brought a flower because a wise woman told me not so long ago that proper dates need flowers.”

Thalia’s mind does a little dance at the mention of their first ‘date’ when he treated her to a lavish dinner. How fitting that he draws her mind to this particular memory, because he pampered her amazingly well before a long night of loving. And pampering is just what she needs today.

“You’re too good to be true,” she murmurs, and Tom wiggles his brows at her.

“Need me to pinch you? I’m definitely true and real.”

With an eye roll, Thalia steps out of his way so he can walk over to the counter, where he sets the bags down. With a comical flourish, he takes out bags, boxes and cans until he’s emptied half a supermarket on her counter.  He shrugs out of his coat and lays it over the back of the chair, turning to point out the selection with pride.

“Jesus, Tom, I said I’m sick not looking for a food orgy.”

His signature “ehehehe” turns her to mush for a moment, and she licks her lips as he removes his tie. “I saw that, luv,” he chuckles.  “Don’t give me ideas we can’t follow through with.  You need your rest.”  Looking down at the food, he grins.  “I know you don’t need all this, but what’s a movie night without some snacks?”

Before she can protest, he waves a can of soup in the air.  “But first, your soul food.” He roots around in her drawers for cooking utensils, and she points to the cabinet for the pot. Still dressed from a long day on campus, she watches him heat up the soup and add some fresh chopped carrots and celery as well. Her mind transports her into a possible future. She imagines really being sick and having Tom fuss over her and make her soup, reading her a bedtime story from Shakespeare’s works and reminding her to take her medicine.

“Darling?” Tom’s voice and his hands on her shoulders pull her out of her thoughts. “Are you quite alright?”  One large hand feels her forehead, checking for a fever.

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine, don’t worry. Just entranced by that mouth-watering smell after I barely ate anything at all today.”

It’s not a lie. Her mind’s been so off that she hasn’t had more than the reluctant bite she had in the morning, as if she’s really sick.

Another smile lifts her lips, and the noose she’s felt so tightly around her neck all day loosens a fraction.

“I also bought mashed potatoes, as you requested” he adds. “But let’s leave those for a proper dinner after your stomach has been mollified.”

Together, they get the soup into a bowl, and then Tom hands her a few DVDs he’s picked from another bag and pushes her over to the couch with a gentle hand on the small of her back.

“Go and get settled, darling. I’m going to go change out of these clothes and put on something comfy, then I’ll make us a tray with snacks and I’ll be with you in a jiffy.”

Obediently, Thalia walks over to the couch, not sure how she feels about Tom puttering about in her kitchen. It’s all so…strange. It never feels this way with Chris, and…

No. She won’t think of Chris today. Not now.

God what a mess. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea.

Determined to make this a good night, she gets the TV screen from the closet and hooks up her computer, getting ready for their movie night before taking her seat.

A few minutes later, Tom walks into the living space, giving the room only a cursory glance before settling his eyes on her.  He smiles when she sucks in her breath at the sight of him in his cozy plaid shirt, with a peek of a tshirt underneath for added warmth in her cold apartment, and well worn jeans.  He sets the laden tray down carefully before plonking himself down on the sofa next to her. It takes him a bit of adjusting because his legs are so damn long, but once he’s finally sitting comfortably, he shoots her an eager smile. Hidden behind his glasses, his eyes are sparkling with expectation and excitement, and there’s that boyish quality to him again that surprises her so much. Combined with his decidedly manly looks—highlighted by the shadow of stubble along his strong jaw and by his slightly disheveled hair—it makes him so attractive she wants to curse the unfairness of it all. Instead, she wiggles closer readily when he lifts an arm so she can lean into his side.

“Right, let’s have a look at your beloved superheroes,” he says with that infectious enthusiasm of his, and Thalia hits play on the DVD.

The movie hasn’t even properly begun and Tom’s hands are already wandering. But there’s nothing sexual to his touch. The hand of the arm he’s draped across the backrest of the sofa winds into her hair, and he tugs the hairband off to run his fingers gently through her tresses. Off and on, he stops gliding through her curls to massage her scalp ever so lightly or to trail his fingers over her neck in a soothing, rhythmic motion that relaxes her blissfully. If she wasn’t so focused on the movie, she’d feel drowsy by now.

With his other hand, he digs into the snacks—pretzels, individually wrapped chocolates, popcorn, toffees, peanuts, his long arms giving him easy access without having to shift. Off and on, he feeds her a bite in between spoonfuls of her soup.

Half-way into the movie, Tom disentangles himself from their embrace, and she can barely hold back a protesting sound because she hasn’t felt so relaxed in days.

He takes the empty soup bowl out of her hands to set it on the coffee table. Thalia’s eyes watch his long fingers deftly open a couple of buttons of the rumpled flannel shirt. Her mind is transported back to Chicago, where he wore the shirt for the first time. Something stirs inside her. Is it melancholy? Wistfulness?

She stomps down on the flicker of feeling. “Feeling nostalgic?” she asks, popping some popcorn into her mouth to hide whatever expression might be on her face.

Tom smiles a little crookedly. “As a matter of fact, I do.” His face grows thoughtful, and she can feel him zone out for a bit. When his gaze settles on her eyes again, he looks serious. “I may sound like a sappy old fool, but the time I spent with you in Chicago ranks way up high there with the happiest days of my life.”

God, why does he have to tug at her heart strings like that? “Way too sappy, mister,” she jokes, trying to lighten the mood. Tom’s expression clouds over instantly, and she feels as guilty as if she’d just kicked a puppy.

His beaming smile returns when she shares, “Mine too, Tom.  It ranks really high for me too.”

They turn back to the movie, and even though he pulls her snugly into his side again, something about him feels off.

With a small sigh, Thalia places a hand on his thigh and rubs up and down softly.

“I’ll always treasure our time in Chicago,” she admits, and some of the tension melts out of Tom’s body. She can feel him press a kiss on top of her head before he moves his arm to place his hand on her waist. It stays there, as if it belongs there for the rest of her life.

Soon, both of them become too engrossed in the movie to make normal conversation. Shocked that Tom hasn’t seen any of the Marvel movies, Thalia keeps throwing in extra information, filling him in on relevant tidbits that happened in previous movies. The first intermission has her pause the DVD and half-turn towards him.

“How come you haven’t watched any of these? They’re modern classics, damn it. It’s like never having listened to Shakira or something equally blasphemous.”

Tom chuckles, downing a few gulps of soda before answering. “In my defense, I did read some of the comics in my childhood. And they were fabulous. I just never got around to really caring enough to watch the movies.”

Thalia shakes her head, her curls brushing his face. “Shame on you. So, how do you like it so far?”

“It’s amazing. I’m positively surprised by how much backstory between the lines there is, how much emotional depth beside all the action.”

That is such a Tom thing to say that it makes her smile. But she gives him a mock-stern glare. “Well, I hope you’ll remedy your grave mistake and watch all the others too.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He salutes smartly, giving her a goofy grin. It turns into a smile when he leans in and pecks her on the cheek, a chaste brush of his lips that lingers a while and warms her from the inside out. “Thank you for introducing me to them, Thalia.  We can watch them together?”

The nagging voice in the back of her head won’t stop.  “That means you’d have to find time for me outside of office hours.”

The pained expression returns to his face.  “I know, darling.  Spring semester is always so busy for me, my evenings just seem too full.  I’ve been lackadaisical when it comes to making time for us away from my office, and you’re always on the go, my love.”  He squeezes her hand.  “I hope visits to the storage closet make up for some of the missed times?” he inquires, referencing their meeting earlier in the week.

She smiles, “For now,” winking at him playfully, though she wonders if it’s really enough.  But then again if both men were competing for the same hours, she wouldn’t know what to do with herself, so she lets it go.

She unpauses the movie and snuggles back into his comforting embrace. After a while, Tom pushes the tray to the side and props his socked feet up on the coffee table. Not even the action sequence on the screen can keep her from catching an eyeful of his long feet. It’s disconcerting to see him without shoes, in a weird way. His feet look even bigger without shoes on, and a giggle bursts free when her naughty mind wanders to what they say about men with big feet. Well, she knew all too well that there was some truth to that…

“What’s so funny, darling?” Tom shoots her a confused glance, his lips automatically lifting to mirror her gleeful grin.

“Nothing.” She chokes back her laughter and bites her lip, concentrating on the movie. From the corner of her eye, she can see Tom still looking at her. He crosses his legs at the ankles and rests his free arm behind his neck, sinking a little lower in his seat. Thalia mimics his actions, feeling mighty comfortable as she pulls the blanket over them.

She picks up her commentary, and somehow that sends her off on a rant about Loki and how Marvel doesn’t give him the attention he deserves. She talks about his development throughout the Thor and Avengers movies, and about how the actor playing Loki had managed to make the villain outshine the hero.

“So, you’ve got a thing for the bad guy, hm?” Tom asks, shifting his attention from the screen to her again.

Thalia gives it some thought. “I wouldn’t say that. Firstly, Loki isn’t a stereotypical villain. He’s kind of misunderstood, and he’s got this mischievous side to his character that always gets him into trouble but isn’t really meanness or evilness.”

Tom nods. “That’s kind of how the real Norse mythology portrays him, if my memory serves me correctly.”

It’s her turn to nod. “And secondly,” she shoots him a grin, “I’m pretty infatuated with Captain America too, and he’s definitely the good guy.”

Shifting to catch her attention, Tom says with a twinkle in his eyes, “Personally, I think a man should be a bit of both in real life, it will get him far.” He wags his brows at her comically. “A good boy in certain situations, a bad boy in others.”

With a guffaw, Thalia elbows him in the ribs. She’d been feeling so guilty just a few hours ago, and now look at her, laughing and thoroughly enjoying Tom’s company.

Being with him like this, with sex and secrecy out of the equation, is a totally new experience—if you disregarded Chicago, which was different in a way—and she’d thought at the beginning that it might be awkward. But it isn’t, and that gives her pause.

Pushing thoughtfulness away, she asks with a raised brow, “And what about women? Are we supposed to be a mix of good girl and bad girl too?”

Tom’s grin fades, and there’s an intensity in his gaze that she’s seen often. It always leaps into his eyes so suddenly, and it’s one thing she appreciates so much about him, how he’s genuine and all-in, whatever he’s tackling.

“Well, you’re the perfect mix of both, and look how wonderfully irresistible that makes you,” he says, his tone almost a low, growly purr before bestowing a quick kiss to her neck.

God, if she wasn’t feeling so out of it today, she’d be all over him by now. Even in her confused state, she feels a flutter in her belly.  The warmth bubbles out of her and she tells him just that.

“Good; then we’ll have another movie night soon, when you’re feeling better.”

The sound of an explosion pulls their attention back to the screen, and they watch the rest of the movie in amicable silence, punctuated by the occasional gasp or whoop at a great scene.

“Well, that was lovely, darling.” Tom says when the end credits are rolling. He makes a soft, satisfied grunt and shifts his position. She feels him nuzzle her throat softly, his stubble barely scraping across her skin, the clean, unobtrusive shampoo smell of his hair mixing with the scent of his skin. One of his big hands caresses her stomach, so lightly she senses the heat of his palm more than actual pressure. It draws lazy circles over the soft gray fabric, lulling her into a state of boneless bliss.

But she doesn’t want to doze off. Damn it, she has Tom over at her place for really the first time. She wants to treasure this.

“What’s a movie you’ve watched so many times you’ve lost count?” she asks, trying desperately to stay awake. She holds his hand steady on her stomach with her own, their fingers entwining.

“Mmm…” He leans his head back against the sofa, his face scrunched up in thought. “I think it’s a close tie between ‘Heat’ and Disney’s ‘The Jungle Book’.”

“What?” Thalia sits up straighter and lets go of his hand, checking his face to make sure he isn’t kidding. Those two movies are like night and day, and… “But that’s a children’s movie!”

He lets his head roll to the side, quirking his brows at her. “Yeah. And your point is?”

Now it’s her turn to frown thoughtfully. “Seriously? You’re not pulling my leg?”

Tom places a hand over his heart, assuming a comically solemn face. “Dead serious. Scout’s honor.”

That makes her giggle again. “I doubt you were ever a scout.”

He grins back at her. “Got me there, darling. But I was honest about ‘The Jungle Book’. I mean, how can you not love that movie? It teaches us so much, about friendship and family, about nature, about never giving up. Even after all these times of watching it, it makes me cry and laugh and sing along.”

As if to prove a point, Tom starts humming the tune to ‘Bare Necessities’, which sends her into another fit of laughter. She can’t remember a time when she’d felt so shitty but ended up laughing so much.

“Laugh all you want,” Tom said, crossing his arms over his chest and looking like a kid again. “It’s one of my all-time favorites, and I see no reason to be ashamed of it.”

Thalia shifts, half-turning on the sofa so she can face him. “I’m not saying it’s something to be ashamed of. You just surprised me, is all.” They exchange a smile. “It’ll be a great movie to show to your kids one day,” she adds automatically, then bites her lip.

Something shifts in his expression, almost imperceptibly. Curiosity has her shift closer and reach for his thigh, tracing circles on the bluish-purple, well-worn denim.  Her breath catches before she speaks, her heart racing.   “Do you want to have children some day, Tom?”

He stares into the distance before seeking out her eyes, his shoulders lifting in a shrug. “I think so, yes. I’m not so sure of when.” One finger lifts to his lips, rubbing pensively. “I know I’m not getting any younger, but for now, settling down and playing house isn’t how I envision my life.  Even if I found the right partner, I feel like there’s more I want to do first.”

The pounding in her chest echoes in her ears and she feels like it fills the room, wondering if he thinks he’s found the right one in her.

His hand captures hers against his leg, stilling it. With his thumb, he’s the one now tracing circles on her wrist. “But if I do get married and become a father one day, I’d probably love to have first a girl and then a boy because I know how wonderful it is to have a sister.”

Thalia allows her mind to wander for a moment, picturing a slightly elder version of Tom with glasses, a bit of grey at his temples and in his ginger scruff. She imagines him strolling to the park somewhere in London, holding the hand of a merrily skipping little girl with pigtails while a smaller boy is riding on his shoulders.

What does it say about her that her mind draws a blank on the woman who should be walking alongside him, holding his other hand?

Before she can dwell on the fantasy, Tom gives her hand a squeeze. “And you, dear Thalia?  Are children in your future?”

She chews on her lip, momentarily thrown by the question because being with Chris has made her oddly aware that having her own family isn’t so much in her distant future anymore but a real possibility if she chooses to take that path.

“I think I’ll go with your answer,” she says slowly. “Not now. I’m not ready for settling down yet, and it’s kind of scary to think of dedicating myself solely to a little person I’m responsible for when I’ve worked so hard to get to where I am.”  She sighs, searching his blue eyes, so intently focused on hers.  “Does it sound selfish to say I feel like I need to finish making myself before I make someone else?”

Tom shakes his head, squeezing more firmly. “Not at all… I don’t think anyone could ever accuse you of being selfish.”  He watches her thoughtfully.  “But when you do have them one day? What shall it be? A little girl with your riotous curls and your sass? Or a small, intelligent boy who loves burying himself in books?”

They exchange a look and a grin before blurting out at the same time, “Both. Both is good.”

Once their chuckles have subsided, Tom sits up and stretches with a drawn-out sigh, his plaid shirt rising to show a glimpse of his pale, nicely defined abs and sparse happy trail.

Somehow managing to look graceful while unfolding his long limbs and getting to his feet, he bends to pick up the tray with the half-eaten snacks and soda cans.

“Would you like anything else now, darling? Tea maybe? Your mashed potatoes?”

She shakes her head. “What I want right now is another movie, and some cuddles.”

He smiles, his eyes crinkling. “Your wish is my command. Give me a minute.”  Moving to the kitchen, he pauses.  “Is that a yoga mat in the corner?  I didn’t know you practiced yoga.”

His turn of phrase pierces a bit; just another example of how little they really know about one another.  She’s sure in passing on work days she’s mentioned going to the gym, possibly even yoga class.  It just proves how when Tom is in work mode, the real world often slips away.  Blushing a bit, she admits, “Yea, I was a little sore and achy this morning.  Some stretching helped, but then I was too zapped to put the mat away.” She shrugs.  “Perk of living alone; at least it’s my mess.”

He chuckles.  “Funny how we get set in our ways, then we begin to wonder if we could give up our freedoms to live with anyone else.”

She thinks on his words, but by the time he’s returned, she’s half asleep. Even more reluctant to lose her time with him, she stirs when the couch shifts from his weight. True to his word, he arranges himself for some cuddling. Sitting sideways on the sofa, his long legs hanging a little over the other end, he places a cushion on his lap and urges her to half-lie on him. It takes them some wiggling again, but then it feels so comfy she never wants to get up.

Between his steady heart-beat close to her ear and his soothing caresses all over her arms and back, she ends up missing half of the movie because she dozes off in between. Tom is quiet the whole time, only whispering an endearment here and there, holding her close without caging her in.

But then her stomach rumbles, and Tom grows alert from one moment to the next. He sits up straight, gently shifting her too. “Does my Warrior Princess need some magical health-restoring sustenance?”

She grins and nods, rubbing her sleepy eyes. “I’d kill for a steak right now, but I guess I should settle for those mashed potatoes.”

A mischievous glint enters Tom’s eyes. “Your stomach seems well enough, don’t you think? Can you handle some proper food?”

Thalia nods, wondering where this is headed to.  “What time is it?”

“It’s barely half past eight.”  Tom basically jumps off the sofa, not forgetting to resettle her tenderly. “I’ve got just the right thing in mind. Stay right here and let me treat you to one of the few things I’m truly good at.”

And off he is, with a bounce to his step, making Thalia wonder what on earth he’s talking about. What he’s good at? Shakespeare and stuff?  Amazing sex?  What’s that got to do with being hungry?

In a state of bliss and relaxation, Thalia tries not to think anything at all and simply wait.  She jumps when the phrase “bite that tattoo on your shoulder” rings from her phone.  She thought it was on mute, and rushes to cover the speaker with her hand.  Looking over her shoulder, Tom is focused on cooking, and not paying attention.  So like him actually, to be lost in his thoughts.  She sighs and shakes her head, still feeling a little off.  And guilty.  Terribly guilty.

Opening the screen to the picture Chris sent of him and Avery playing Legos at his kitchen table draws a smile to her face.  Their adoration for one another is touching.  However, her discussion with Tom reminded her of what she wants, but that doesn’t mean she has to make any decisions right away. Chris is still holding Avery at arm’s length from her.  He’s not pushing her into a mother role, and she can live with that.  He doesn’t seem to want an instant family, and Tom seems nowhere near ready to settle down.  Sending a quick reply, she snuggles down into the couch and laughs at the deleted scenes on the DVD.  Tantalizing smells waft from the kitchen after a while, making her practically salivate although she hasn’t had an appetite all day.

Looking over the back of the couch, she hides her laughter at the pile of bowls and broken eggshells on the counter.  She never would have guessed Tom was a messy cook.

“Hurry up, I’m starving now,” she whines.

“Patience my darling; good things come to those who wait.”

“I know, I know.  Delayed gratification,” she giggles.

What feels half an eternity later, Tom walks over the imaginary divide into the living space, his tray even more laden than before.

Her jaw hits the ground when she sees plates heaped full with mashed potatoes, fried eggs sunny side up and cut into pieces, sausages in bite-sized cubes, toast, two glasses of juice, grilled tomatoes, and bacon strips.

“What the… Thomas William Hiddleston, is that what I think it is?” She looks wide-eyed from the tray to his face with its smug grin and back.

“If you think what I think you think,” he jokes, “then you’re right.”

Thalia shakes her head, curls bouncing. “That’s a full English breakfast, right?”

He nods enthusiastically. “One hundred points, A+, Ms. Bareo. It sure is.”

“But, but…” she splutters. “Just in case you hadn’t noticed, it’s eight in the evening, Tom, not in the morning.”

He shrugs, barely managing to keep the tray balanced. Walking over, he sets it down and kneels in front of her, making a big ceremony of shaking out a cloth napkin he’s somehow found in her tiny, under-stocked kitchen. He drapes it over her knees, the funniest, kind of proud and precious grin still lighting up his features.

“If I may say so myself, I’m really gifted when it comes to putting a full English breakfast all hot on the plate at the same time.” Thalia muffles her incredulous laughter behind a hand as he goes on. “The tricky thing is the timing, you know. The toast should be hot enough for the butter to melt.” He points to the plate, his grin widening even more. “The bacon should be sizzling, the sausages and the eggs fresh.” He tilts his head, giving her one of those boyish, infuriatingly adorable expressions. “It isn’t an easy thing, but I do love a good challenge.”

“Dork.” She playfully hits his chest, and he captures her hand and peppers it with tiny kisses.

“But a dork who can cook. Want to see for yourself?”

He takes his place next to her again, and they tuck in, banter going back and forth between appreciative moans at the food.

Damn it all to hell, the man really can cook. Thalia represses the voice at the back of her mind that says it would be lovely to have him prepare breakfast for her on a regular basis.  She tries to stop the back and forth pendulum in her brain between Chris and Tom, instead focusing on the delicious food and wallowing in his attention.

After the late dinner, Tom drowns out all protests and does the dishes by himself while they have a shouted conversation over the running water, because he insisted she stay cuddled on the couch.  She could get used to letting him care for her in this way.  He  tells her more about English breakfast traditions she remembers vaguely from her time in Stratford-upon-Avon.

They put on another movie, this time a chick flick because she wants to wind down, but Thalia falls asleep midway. The next thing she notices is that she’s being carried. Groggily, she opens her eyes and squints at Tom’s face in the dim light.

“What…what’re you doin’?”

“Sh, darling, don’t fret. I’m just taking you to bed. You need a good night’s rest and then you’ll be back to your usual sassy self again in the morning.”

Shushing her half-hearted protests, he sets her gently down on the bed and tucks her in. He reaches out and brushes her hair from her face, checking her forehead for a fever again with gut-wrenching concern.  “I tucked you in here once before when you weren’t feeling so well.”

Thalia grabs his hand before he can withdraw it, leaning her cheek into his touch.

“You did.  I remember it well.  It seems like a lifetime ago.  Who would’ve ever thought we’d be here now, like this?”

“It was only my wildest dream, and I still can’t believe it came true, darling,” he whispers, placing a kiss to the back of her hand.

“I’m sorry, Tom. I wish the night didn’t have to end like this,” she says, fighting the drowsiness because it’s important to her to get these words out. “I can’t even give you a proper good night kiss, and I…and you…ugh.”

“Hey, hey, hey, don’t worry.” Tom leans in and brushes his lips over her forehead, wrinkled in distress. “I may turn into a starving sex maniac around you at times, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t keep it in my pants and just enjoy some time with you.” He smooths the blanket over her with a little smile.

“Sleep, my Warrior Princess. I’ll be on the couch. If you need anything, just call out.”

She wants to say more, her heart in her throat, but Tom places a finger over her lips and shakes his head. He waits until she closes her eyes, his hand brushing over her arm rhythmically—and before she knows it, she’s asleep.

Click here to read Chapter 31 Cabin Fever

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