While this series has been inspired by writing prompts up until this point, by now, I knew how I wanted it to end, so I just wrote it. It’s not cheating, I swear!
A Vial of Tears
The Greek statue exhibit at the Norton Museum of Fine Art was just as deserted as Grace had ever seen it in her own hometown gallery. Perseus’ state stood in the corner opposite the entrance. Grace was certain he couldn’t see her yet, because he hadn’t called out to her inside her head.
She lingered there, reviewing the plan in her head. On the long series of flights back home from Greece, and then on to Texas, she had formulated a dozen different plans and discarded them all. She knew she would have to see the inside of the museum before she could work out what to do.
There were security cameras, of course, but the coverage had gaps. She’d struck up a conversation that morning with the guard at the front desk, pretending to be a vapid tourist who wanted the dirt on all the “really cool” local attractions, and he’d thought she was flirting, so she managed to sidle around the curved desk to chat with him while getting a glimpse at the security display. There was only one camera in each of the smaller exhibits, and none in the hallway leading to the closest set of restrooms, which seemed like a terrible oversight to Grace. But she whispered a prayer of thanks to Aphrodite anyway.
So, before she went to revive Perseus, she ducked back out of the museum and took her rental car out for a spin, looking for a clothing shop. The first thing she found was a Wal-Mart, which she wrinkled her nose at, but it was close and it was cheap. She made her best guess at Perseus’ size and bought a polo shirt, a pair of jeans and a belt, a pack of underwear, and finally, a pair of flip-flops, since she was afraid of getting his shoe size wrong. No one would bat an eyelash at flip-flops in late summer in Texas, or so she hoped.
Packing it all into her ridiculously oversized purse, she paid her admission to the museum again–a different attendant was at the booth, which was lucky, because Grace hadn’t considered until she came back how odd that would look–and meandered the building for a while admiring the artwork. She needed to give the attendant long enough to lose track of when, exactly, Grace had arrived. And hopefully to forget she’d come alone.
When Grace’s heart started to pound with the excitement of what she was about to do, she found a bench and pretended to study a Vermeer painting while she got her breathing under control. She remembered Perseus counting her breaths for her, and had to hold back from reaching out to speak to him. If this went wrong, if this didn’t work, then she wanted him never to know she’d even been here.
After two hours of pacing the polished wooden floors and pretending she was just a regular patron, she made her way to the statue exhibit and stood inside the doorway. The camera wouldn’t see her here, so she pulled a red silk scarf from a pocket of her purse and draped it over her hair, looping it around her neck and tucking it into the collar of her white blouse. Her curls were her most distinctive feature, and unless she went full ninja, it was the only reasonable way to disguise herself.
She kept to the outer edge of the room, keeping her head down and approaching Perseus’ statue from the side. She slipped her purse from her shoulder and set it on the floor, kneeling and drawing a small glass vial from another pocket. Her hands shook, but not from fear–she was almost certain she was hidden from view of the camera by another statue. They shook because when she touched the glass, memories flooded her of the vigil she had kept to earn Aphrodite’s blessing.
In so many of the tales, stone reverted to flesh when wet by the tears of a loved one. If Perseus had still been close at hand, Grace would have tested her unblessed tears on him first–but making the extra trip to Texas seemed like a needless delay when it was likely her tears alone would fail.
The bottle of tears in her hand now, though, came from the full day and night she had spent on her knees in the ruined temple of Aphrodite outside Athens. Not knowing how to pray properly to a goddess she had never before thought was real, she had spent the hours reliving every conversation with Perseus in her head, allowing herself to say silently to him the things she never had, letting the goddess of love and desire read what was in her heart.
When morning came and Grace thought that nothing had happened, that she had failed, she stood, and swayed, and fell back to her knees weeping with exhaustion and sorrow at her failure. But as she wiped her eyes and tried to stand again, an empty vial etched with a pattern of seashells appeared on the stone before her. When she picked it up, it was full, and the tears had vanished from her face.
Now, she pulled the stopper and poured the contents out onto Perseus’ sandaled stone foot.
She held her breath, waiting for something to happen.
A crack appeared under the sheen of the liquid. Then another, and another, and then a spiderweb of cracks radiating from the first. Slowly they traveled up the leg.
Perseus! she cried. Try to move!
Grace? He sounded sad and exhausted under the surprise on the surface. What are you doing here?
Try to move, she repeated. She reached out to brush at the crumbling stone, and she smiled when she saw warm olive skin underneath. She laid her hand on the top of his foot and felt the tremor run through him.
Grace! I can feel that!
The cracks widened with a crisp popping sound as Perseus twisted and struggled. The shards of stone that fell away shattered into pebbles, and after a few moments the pebbles melted to dust on the floor. More and more of the man beneath was revealed until, at last, Perseus shook his head wildly from side to side, scattering the last few bits of stone. Grace stood, then, and looked up at his living face, smeared with dust but smiling. She reached up a hand to help him down–his pedestal was still stone, as sturdy as ever–and when he took it and stepped close to her, she saw his eyes were brown, darker than she’d imagined, but just as intense.
“Grace…” he whispered, his voice hoarse. And then, when she considered for a heartbeat tipping her face up to kiss him, he looked away and began to cough, deep and dry, covering his mouth with the back of his hand. When the fit was over, he looked at her sheepishly. “Water?” he rasped.
“There’s a drinking fountain by the restrooms. Come on, you’ve got to change anyway.”
He set aside his spear and shield before following her out of the exhibit. They encountered no one in the hallway, to Grace’s relief. While Perseus drank his fill at the fountain–which he knew how to work without prompting, leading Grace to surmise he’d been displayed somewhere he could see one before–she ducked into the women’s bathroom and checked for other occupants. Empty. Perfect.
She took Perseus’ arm and steered him inside, then began pulling the clothing out of her purse. “Go into one of the stalls and put all this on. I’ll be right out here if you need anything explained.”
He looked it all over briefly and nodded, seeming fascinated by the plastic bag surrounding the underwear. “It’s so thin,” he murmured.
“Plastic is pretty neat stuff,” she said shortly. “I hate to rush you, but the longer we’re here, the more likely it is something will go wrong.”
“Of course.” He took everything into the first stall and the lock clicked behind him. He asked no questions, so Grace spent the time pulling the scarf from her hair and stowing it in her purse again, splashing her face with cold water to combat the flush in her cheeks, and counting her deep breaths so she wouldn’t think of how Perseus was undressing not ten feet from her.
He emerged looking oddly normal in his new and utterly boring clothes, though his cloak was rolled up in his hands. “Is there room in your bag for this? The armor I’ll have to leave behind, but I’d like to keep this if I can.”
Grace nodded and took it from him. The deep-red material was thick and sturdy, but the roll nestled neatly in the bottom of her purse. While she took care of that, he washed his face at the sink. “We should hide the armor, though.” She stepped past him into the stall and clambered up onto the toilet seat. She could just reach the ceiling tiles, and she lifted the corner of one and shoved it over to make a gap. “Hand it up,” she told Perseus. His eyes widened, but he complied.
“You’ve thought of everything,” he said admiringly.
But she laughed. “I’ve barely thought of anything. I’m making it up as I go along. And we still have to get out without raising any kind of suspicion.”
Perseus handed her the last piece and she settled the tile back into place. He lifted her down with his hands around her waist, but when she was safely on the floor, he didn’t let go. He took the half-step necessary to break into her personal space, bent his head an inch, and kissed her.
Grace forgot how to breathe, or maybe forgot that she needed to. Perseus kissed her with thousands of years of longing and passion, fierce and undeniable. His body pressed hers against the stall divider, hot and solid and alive.
Before she had time to do more than accept his kiss–because Grace would certainly have liked to do more–he pulled back, turning his head away. “I’m sorry,” he choked out. “Now’s not the time, I know. And…and maybe you don’t…” He shook his head, unwilling to finish that sentence. “But I had to. Once. In case something goes wrong. I’m sorry.”
Grace touched his face with one hand, lifting his chin. She liked that she was almost as tall as he was. She liked the way he leaned toward her even as he apologized, like he couldn’t bear to be any farther away. “Don’t be.” She took his hand and led him out of the bathroom, collecting her purse from the sink on the way. She kept his hand in hers while they ambled towards the front entrance–any quicker than a slow stroll would seem odd.
Before they reached the ticket booth, though, she let go. They stood past an archway that shielded them from view. “‘Something else I didn’t think of,” she murmured. “The attendant saw me come in alone. You’ll have to go first, without me. Don’t run or anything, but don’t dawdle. If she looks up and notices you, just smile and say ‘Have a nice day.'”
“She won’t remember I never came in the building?”
“There was a different attendant at the booth earlier today. She’ll assume you came in on his shift. I hope. I mean, why would she think anything else? You don’t look much like a statue anymore.” She smiled. “Just wait outside. I’ll only be a minute.”
Watching him cross to the door was the most anxious minute of her whole day, or maybe her whole life. But nothing happened. Perseus stepped out into the sunshine and Grace’s shoulders sagged in relief. She made herself wait another minute before following, and when she got outside and didn’t immediately see him, her heart nearly stopped. But he’d gone halfway down the entrance stairway and seated himself on one of the steps, rolling up the cuffs of his jeans, which had turned out to be too long. She hadn’t noticed, in the bathroom–she’d hardly looked farther down than his lips.
He stood up quickly when she approached, catching her in a tight embrace. “Thank you,” he breathed into her hair. “A thousand times. A million. I can never say it enough. Thank you.”
Grace’s eyes started to water. “I still wasn’t sure it would work. Until it did.”
“What did you do?”
She shook her head against him, and he pulled back, though he didn’t let go. “I’ll tell you, but not now. We’ve got a long drive home, so there’ll be plenty of time to talk.”
He swallowed hard and nodded. “How long?”
“Three days. I flew out here, but with you, we can’t fly back. And I’m not sure how you’d feel about flying anyway…”
“I’ll try anything for you,” he said with a wide smile. “You saved me.”
“Yeah, I guess I did.”
“Grace?” His expression was suddenly worried.
“You said, home. Am I…?” He trailed off.
However he’d intended to finish that question, the answer was definitely yes. Instead of saying so, Grace leaned forward and kissed him, softer and sweeter than the one they’d shared in the restroom, but no less satisfying. “Your home is with me,” she whispered against his lips when the kiss ended. “For as long as you want it to be.”
“Forever,” he answered, and kissed her again.