Draco was grateful that the illusion spell of the desert had caused them to only think they had traveled for countless miles. With the Sphinx only a mile away, that meant they could be back in the city within an hour. He wished more than ever that he could Apparate again now though, because traveling in awkward silence with Potter when he was weighing the possibility of starting a romantic relationship with the man was making him jittery.
Luckily, they were only half way back to the Sphinx when a canary yellow motorbike came roaring out to meet them.
"Oh my dear Merlin!" Susan nearly screeched as she jumped off her bike and tossed her helmet aside. She sprang at Potter and gave him a tight hug before, to Draco's surprise, doing the same to him. She pulled back, grinning broadly. "I've been watching the horizon off and on since you left. You guys did it! And in hardly any time at all, too."
Potter laughed. "You look about as relieved as I feel. Just kind of too tired to express it. And starved." He looked sideways to Draco. "Did we eat today at all?"
"I can't remember," Draco mumbled, though now that Potter brought it up, he was almost sure they hadn't since Draco had stormed off to the pyramid before giving them any time to eat breakfast.
"Then let's grab some dinner," Susan suggested. She bent to retrieve her helmet from the ground and brushed some sand off it. "You can tell me all about it. The others would love to hear too."
Draco shook his head, and she looked momentarily crestfallen until he said, "I don't think I can handle that many people right now. It's been a long day. But we can get dinner, just the three of us. I'm sure they'll still love to hear the story from you later."
Susan immediately agreed and after a brief discussion about where they wanted to eat, she Apparated all three of them plus the bike to a side street in Cairo. They walked only a block to reach the restaurant Susan had suggested. At that point, Draco was just grateful for food regardless of what it was.
As they ate dinner, Draco was the most quiet of the three, only speaking up at choice moments as Susan and Potter talked. Again, he was grateful for her presence since it meant Potter wouldn't be solely focused on him. But, as Potter recounted the story, he also had brief moments of panic until he realized quickly that Potter was changing or omitting a few parts of the story. The man told the events as if the pyramid had simply appeared to them at dawn one day with no mention of divulged secrets of mutual attraction. And graciously, he recounted the pyramid as only having two tests inside, completely skipping from the banshee and Anubis statue challenge to Slytherin's burial chamber.
Susan hardly touched her food as she listened to Potter talk. But, eventually, the story and her questions ran out, and she turned to other matters. "Are you heading out for Gryffindor's tomb immediately in the morning?"
Potter glanced at Draco questioningly before shrugging. "We haven't planned that far ahead. Right now, I think the goal is to get a hotel room and rest."
Susan nodded. "Right. Do you want me to take you back to your hotel?"
"We checked out of the room there when we left since we weren't sure when or if we'd be back." He turned his attention to Draco. "Do you want to stay at a different hotel for any reason?"
Draco shrugged a shoulder, not looking up at him as he gathered the last bit of rice on his plate with his fork. "Same one or different is fine with me. As long as we have two beds."
He could almost sense Potter's scowl, but he still didn't look up.
Susan ended up Apparating them back to their original hotel and gave them each another hug before she left.
As soon as they had checked into a new room and walked upstairs to it, Draco tossed his bag onto one of the beds and slipped into the bathroom without a word.
His chest felt like it was constricting while a weight on his stomach felt very much like someone had implanted a brick there. This tension in his body had built during dinner, accompanied by whirring thoughts. That was a big reason why he had been quiet. He could feel the anxiety attack coming, building, rioting in the blood in his veins.
This was different than his panic attack on the plane. That had been a reaction to finding himself in a tight space, but this anxiety was more thought-driven. Thoughts ran circles in his head of how he wanted to give in, risk heartbreak with Potter. And then every time he saw himself smile in some fantasy future with the man, the floor seemed to disappear from under him as his mind brashly interjected with thoughts of death or a simple change of mind turning his happiness to abrupt devastation.
He tried to combat these thoughts, but either his arguments were feeble or his internal voice wasn't loud enough because the thoughts repeated on a loop. After several moments where he had begun to shake from the sheer speed of his thoughts ramping up his emotions, he hastily peeled off his clothes and got into the shower.
The steaming water on his back seemed to loosen the tension just slightly, but it was enough to bring down a barrier. He began to sob, holding his hand over his mouth to stifle the sound and praying that the rushing water would be enough to cover any sound that escaped his fingers.
His mind was churning too fast now and it was adding more blurred and anxious thoughts every minute. It was as if someone had set up a whirlpool in his head and decided to chuck wet-start fireworks, dragon dung, and a Howler in it. The most negative things he thought about himself, attachments, and recent events of the past few days swirled around in a fast, loud spiral that seemed to drag him deeper and deeper into despair that he couldn't entirely explain.
A hurried knock came on the door of the bathroom. "Malfoy? Are you ok?" came Potter's voice.
Damn, how had Potter heard him? Oh. Right, the tattoo on his arm would probably be lit up and burning now that Draco seemed to be in peril.
Draco lowered his hand from his mouth and used all his control to help stop his voice from breaking. "I'm fine," he said, though he sounded anything but fine. "I'll be out in a bit. Just go back to what you were doing."
A mixture made of relief, annoyance, hope, and anxiety all at once swept through him as Potter outright ignored him and opened the door. The man's silhouette appeared on the other side of the curtain.
"Draco," he said softly. "What's wrong?"
"N-nothing. Go away, Potter." He was struggling against his tears again, which felt physically painful to withhold. His throat was burning from the effort, and talking only made it worse.
"Not until you tell me what has you so upset." There was a pause. "Did I do something? Are you angry with me? If you feel like I'm pushing you into something you don't want or aren't ready for, that's not what I-"
Draco's sobs burst from him again, and this time, he didn't even try to quell them. "N-no, I..."
Strong arms enveloped him and pulled him flush against Potter's chest. Potter had torn back the curtain and climbed fully clothed into the shower, sneakers and all.
"W-what are you d-doing?" Draco said between shaky sobs. But even though his tone sounded a bit combative, he didn't fight Potter. Instead, he curled his fingers into the fabric of the man's t-shirt, clinging to it tightly.
"Holding you, what else?" Potter said. He shifted so one hand was pressed into the small of Draco's back and the other was on the back of his head, holding him close.
"Why?" Draco pressed his nose in against Potter's neck, forcing himself to take deep breaths. Even amidst all the anxiety and racing thoughts, he formed a solid good one, which was that Potter's scent was comforting.
"Because I care about you, and I care that you're unhappy, and I want to help if I can." Potter ran his fingers through Draco's hair, and though hot water was hitting his back and making him warm, Draco shivered.
Draco was highly aware that he was naked in Potter's arms, but he didn't pull away. Instead, he leaned on him and simply sobbed, unable to speak through the tears now as his emotions seemed to unravel from their tightly bound cord and spring from him. He was grateful to find that Potter didn't speak again and only held him, rubbing his back and waiting until Draco was ready to speak once he had calmed a bit.
"I think I liked it better when we were enemies," Draco finally said after several long minutes had passed. He felt Potter tense at his words.
"Why is that?" came his reply.
"It was easy to hate you," Draco explained. "The possibility of...of loving you or anything like that...it's fucking terrifying."
Potter pulled back enough so that they were now staring into each other's eyes. Potter cupped his cheek in his hand and stroked his thumb across his cheekbone. He gave a nod. "Things are terrifying sometimes. They may even seem impossible. But, that shouldn't stop you from living. Instead, let yourself be scared and then do what ever the so-called impossible, terrifying thing is anyway."
Draco rolled his eyes. "That's easy for a Gryffindor to say. Bravery is what you're all about."
"Maybe." Potter slid his hand down to Draco's neck and brushed his thumb over his jaw now. "But Slytherins are about determination and ambition, are they not? That's motivation for bravery too." When Draco turned his head away, he continued, "Is that what got you so upset? Thinking about how scary attachment to me could be?"
Draco gave a slight nod and released Potter's shirt finally. He lowered his hands to his side and stepped back so there was a few inches between them. "Partially."
"Ok, so what else was it?"
"The third challenge," Draco said, and he hated that he blushed just bringing up the topic. He cleared his throat. "Look, why don't we talk about this when I'm not in the shower?"
Irritatingly, Potter raised an eyebrow and smirked. "Why? I rather like it this way."
Draco smacked his arm. "Get out!"
Potter laughed and climbed back out of the shower. Draco heard his shoes squelching with every step back into the main room.
Back in the main room, Harry used a quick spell to dry himself and his clothes. He then changed into pajamas and sat down to wait for Malfoy to finish his shower.
Ten minutes later, Malfoy walked out of the bathroom in pajamas, his hair still a bit damp. Harry couldn't help but think this freshly-showered and tousled look made the blond look even sexier than usual. As it was, Harry had barely restrained himself from looking over Malfoy's entire body while in the shower with him. But he had known it would have been inappropriate and much unwelcome in that moment.
Malfoy made about stuffing his day clothes into his bag for what seemed longer than necessary. He was obviously stalling, and when Harry cleared his throat pointedly, he sighed, slumping his shoulders a bit as he turned to frown at Harry. "There's no chance you'll let the conversation about the third challenge drop?"
Malfoy rolled his eyes and sighed again before moving over to Harry's bed and sitting down at the opposite end so they were facing each other. "I just started thinking about how you wouldn't have ever done any of that stuff in the tomb if the test hadn't made you. Or...if I hadn't made you. It feels...I feel dirty and kind of sick thinking that I forced you to touch me like that."
Harry laughed at this, but he quickly stopped when he saw Malfoy's expression darken. He shook his head. "I meant every word and action in that room."
Malfoy's cheeks turned a sharp pink. "Even the, uh, bit about the chastity cage?"
Harry couldn't help but smirk. "Yeah, if you'd like that. But if you're not into kinky stuff, we can-"
Malfoy waved a hand frantically, indicating for him to shut up. "Stop, just...stop. We shouldn't be thinking about each other in that way. Besides, even if you had those thoughts about me, you never would have actually acted on them if I hadn't made you." As he spoke, he rubbed his fingers over his inner left wrist, making this action seem like a nervous tic Harry hadn't noticed him do before.
Harry ignored this for now, deciding he could only handle one problem at a time. He looked at him tiredly and sighed. "You didn't make me do anything. I would have acted on those thoughts and wants eventually if you allowed, no, wanted me to. The challenge was just...a nudge, I guess, for both of us. But, if you feel ashamed of what we did or even hate that I touched you like that, I'm sorry. I'm especially sorry if you feel I took advantage of you."
Malfoy shook his head, and the color in his cheeks became even more pronounced. "The test was only passed because it was consensual like the snake said. I wanted you to touch me. I just..." He swallowed thickly and closed his eyes. He was now pressing his thumbnail hard into the skin of his wrist.
Harry pushed himself forward and snatched both of his wrists, now holding them apart. "Stop," he said firmly, and it was this that made Malfoy meet his gaze, looking startled. "Stop touching those scars. If this conversation is making you so upset that you feel you need to cut or even harm yourself in the slightest, let's stop. I won't bring up the topic of us or those challenges or anything romantic again."
Malfoy shook his head again, and tears formed quickly in his eyes. "It's not the topic exactly," he said softly. "It's my anxiety. It's just the stress and worry over everything that's happened in the past few days building up all at once. I feel the urge to cut sometimes when it gets this bad, but I've been good about not doing it for a few years now. I just put pressure on my wrist to do something with my hands and quell the urge."
Harry scowled and released his right wrist, which had no scars. He pulled the marked left one closer though and closed both hands around Malfoy's wrist. "Do not," he said, staring purposefully into Malfoy's eyes now, "ever, ever try to hurt yourself again."
"I know. I don't want to, believe me," he said. "And that's partially why attachment and heartbreak scares me. I'm scared of feeling so low again. It was a scary time in my life that I barely made it through. I was always scared I would cut too deep or something and that would be it. Despite how low I felt, I never wanted to actually die." He swallowed and rubbed at his eyes with his free hand. He sniffed and pulled his hand from Harry's. "Anyway...I think I'm going to make some hot chocolate. Would you like any?"
Harry was a bit taken aback by this offer, but he nodded and smiled a bit, his chest feeling a little lighter. "Sure."
Draco went to his bag and began taking out his travel cauldron and what he would need to make some quick hot chocolate. It was about the only thing he knew how to make himself, and he always found it comforting, which was why he had packed the ingredients with him.
But, he found himself give pause when he made to move some potion vials out of the way. They were from the night they had been handcuffed together and stayed up late brewing them for the trip into the desert. And one of them was a Sleeping Draught.
The plan forming in his mind was a bad one, if not incredibly stupid and rash. But, he needed time away, time to think without Potter around. Maybe, if he could put some distance between him and the man for a bit, he would be able to consider things with a clearer head and realize his feelings for Potter weren't really worth exploring further.
Making the decision, he carried the cauldron, ingredients, and carefully concealed Sleeping Draught vial to his nightstand. He set up the hot chocolate to brew and set the potion vial behind the cauldron where Potter wouldn't be able to see it.
"So, maybe we should figure out where we're going tomorrow," Draco suggested, turning back to Potter. "The prophecy mentioned something about vines and a jungle. I hope that doesn't mean the Amazon in Brazil."
It didn't take them long to get out the map and vial of their mixed blood and pour a few drops onto the parchment. Their blood did not move as far south as Brazil, but instead colored in the lower portion of Mexico, stretching from where it touched the Pacific Ocean just above Guatemala, along that shared border, and ending at the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula where it jutted into the Gulf of Mexico. The whole colored in area was about the size of Draco's thumb.
Potter frowned. "About the same amount of land to work with as we had with Slytherin's. Do you think Gryffindor's tomb migrates too?"
Draco shrugged and turned back to the cauldron to stir their hot chocolate. Steam was starting to rise, so he knew it was almost ready. "Possibly," he said as he added a dash of cinnamon. "And it's possible Gryffindor was also obsessed with ancient civilizations. I think that's where the Mayan Empire was located. They were pretty revolutionary and did brave things, I'm guessing. Plus, their temples and such were built in the jungles there."
"That sounds like a lot of 'maybe's' and 'if's' to me, but it's somewhere to start, I suppose," Potter said and laid the map aside. "We can fly there in the morning. Or, hey, we could ask Susan to Apparate us so we avoid the plane altogether."
Draco gave a noncommittal hum as he ladled the hot chocolate into two mugs he had conjured. "We'll see how I feel in the morning." He shifted so his back was blocking Potter's view of the cauldron and carefully poured the Sleeping Draught into one of the mugs. Then he slipped the empty vial out of sight in his pajama pocket. He walked back to the bed and handed Potter the spiked mug. "I make it the perfect temperature so it's ready to drink," he said as he sat down opposite him. He took a large gulp of his pointedly and indicated for Potter to try his own.
Potter took a long drink and was smiling when he lowered the mug. "It's rather good. Who taught you to...to..."
Draco forgot just how quickly a dose that large would act, and he lunged forward to take the mug from the man's hand before he dropped it. Potter's eyes were rolling back, but before he was dragged into a deep sleep, Draco could have sworn he saw a look of utter betrayal flash across the man's features.
Though he knew Potter would be out for several hours, possibly till dawn at least, Draco packed quickly. When he had gathered everything, he wrote a note and laid it on the nightstand beside Potter's bed. He leaned over and gingerly took the man's glasses off his face. He imagined sleeping with glasses on would probably be painful. He laid the glasses atop the note.
As soon as he stepped out into the hall and shut the door of the room behind him, pain flared up near his elbow. He growled, pulling back his sleeve to see the prophecy's mark changing. The serpent had now turned its back to the lion.
"Oh, don't be so dramatic," he hissed at it and shoved his sleeve back down. "It's only for a few days. I'm not giving up on the prophecy." He adjusted his bag on his shoulder and headed down the steps.
Ah, yes, unexpected turn of events! Also, did no one catch my Hamilton reference in the last chapter?