A Better Man
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
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.
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