A/N: Look at me being all fancy repeating the same sentence at the start of this chapter as at the end of last chapter. Imagine it like coming back from an ad break. Remember - silly, silly story.
Dracula grinned, trying not to show too many teeth. "Ja. Ich bin Herr Dracula. Listen... I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you. Would you like to come in and get something to eat? Or dry off a bit?" Dracula asked.
Friedrich's eyes widened yet further and his eyes started to dart back and forth. He gulped and said, "Und... after. I go?"
"Of course, I promise. I just want to make up for frightening you. I'm honestly not trying to frighten you more," Dracula said. "But you don't have to. If that would make you even more scared, you can go."
"I would like-" Friedrich started to say, but whatever he had been going to say next was lost in the whistle of the dark, windy night. Friedrich had disappeared.
There was a flash of movement on the ground, then Dracula felt something on his leg. He started to bat it off, assuming it was a rat. But a moment later a spider scurried all the way up his waistcoat and rested on his shoulder. That seemed like excellent aim, assuming that had been what it intended to do. It made a beeline for the crook of his neck and his shoulder, and then just sat there.
He let it sit there for a moment while he tried to process what had just happened. He was fairly sure he had just secured access to Testosteron, whatever that was. He sniffed, frowning. He could still smell it. On his shoulder? He twisted his head around to look down at the spider, and sniffed again. The spider folded up all its legs and seemed to be trying to make itself as small as it could.
"Um... Friedrich?" he asked. It tiptoed slightly closer to his face. He shook his head, eyes squeezed together. This seemed like maybe the whole night had been a dream, or a fantasy invented by his mind while he lay in the bath drying not to hate his body. But he was a five hundred year old being who never breathed and had an inexplicable need to suck the lifeblood out of people whenever he found himself consumed by self-loathing. So it wasn't like he could judge.
"Friedrich, I'm going to go inside," he said. "If you would like to come with me, stay there. If you would like to leave, jump down into the snow."
The spider didn't move. But then again, an ordinary spider wouldn't have understood a word he said anyway.
"Okay... I'm moving," he said, turning around and starting to walk back towards the back entrance of his castle. "Going back through the trees, over this ditch here, back in the door... Right. Here we are, home sweet home. Haus sus haus."
He pulled down one of the torches from the sconces and carried it up the stairs, having sprinted down in the dark earlier on his way out. The spider didn't seem to move at all until they were in Dracula's sitting room. Dracula draped his cloak over a maroon leather armchair and deposited the spider there, then set the torch on the wall behind the matching couch, and took a seat.
The room was stone walled, but clean enough that it never felt like you were sitting outdoors. The ground was hard flagstone, but he'd collected many rugs over the years and laid them out in an arrangement he footered around with whenever he got bored. There was also one window on the other side of the room, but he rarely lifted the shutters.
"So, can I get you anything to eat?" Dracula said. The spider didn't say anything. "Of course you're not saying anything. You're a spider. You know, if you are just a spider you could live here as a spider. There's plenty of flies around after all. Actually, I don't know about you but I fancy some tea. I'll be right back."
He stood and crossed to the back of the room, where he'd set up a little with boxes of loose black tea, and a little kettle he could hang in the fireplace. "Do you take anything in your tea, spider?"
"No, just black," came the reply. Dracula whirled around and saw Friedrich, just sitting there, pulling Dracula's cloak tight around himself.
"So it was you!" Dracula sprang to his feet and let the kettle drop to the ground. He rushed back over to the couch. "I could still smell the testosteron, or whatever it was called."
"Uh... too much Englisch. Konnen sie sprechen langsamer?" Friedrich's voice was quiet and thin.
"Sorry, yes," Dracula said, trying to speak slower as he'd been asked, and clearer too. "Um... so you're sometimes a spider?"
Friedrich shrugged and fidgeted with the string tie at the top of Dracula's cloak. "It happens. I don't understand it."
"Yes, I don't understand a lot about myself either," Dracula said.
"This is clear." Friedrich chuckled. But he gasped and gripped the arms of the chair. "Sorry, I'm sorry. I should not joke."
"No, no, it's alright," Dracula said. The poor thing had been starting to relax slightly, holding his tea. Now his eyes were darting about all over the place again. Dracula had been rather looking forward to having an actual conversation with him, but alas. He rubbed his hands together. "So... You mentioned a family?"
"Yes..." Friedrich said. He cleared his throat and moved his hands slowly into his lap. "For people with no other family, or who don't understand much about themselves. I can give you an address to write, of Miss Clarke."
"And who is she? The... mother?" Dracula asked.
"More like... my boss," Friedrich said.
"And what do you do?" Dracula asked, wondering if he could ease the man into the conversation with some small talk.
Friedrich smiled slightly and rummaged around under the folds of his own cloak. He pulled out the box from the forest. Dracula hadn't even considered it. He just knew he could still smell whatever it was he needed as he had carried Friedrich inside. And now he could smell it again.
"Uh. I see. That's there. Still. You brought that?" Dracula did his best to keep his voice low and calm.
"Stuff seems to stay, when I'm a spider," Friedrich said. "So I bring it from country to country. People cannot see me when I'm small."
"I saw you." Dracula's voice rose higher and thinner as Friedrich put his box away again.
"That should not have happened," Friedrich murmured, scratching at the skin in the crook of his elbow. "I do not usually come back so quickly."
Friedrich didn't offer a reason why this might have happened. Dracula thought about pressing him, but the chances were he didn't know himself.
"What about you? Can I have your address?" Dracula asked.
"I don't have one, not really," Friedrich said, scratching his head. "But I'll probably be back. Mit Testosteron."
Dracula kept his fangs sealed tight away behind his lips and smiled. "I would like that."
They chatted for a while, switching between German and English, as they nursed their cups of tea. It was strong and bitter, causing Dracula to grimace with every gulp. He always had his tea as toxic as this, any attempt to inflict some sort of sensation on his senses. Friedrich didn't seem to mind, or if he did he still wasn't okay with showing it. Finally the tea was finished, and Dracula stood up to tidy them away.
"Danke," Friedrich said.
"You're welcome," Dracula murmured. He set the cups back with the pot then returned. "So, where are you off to?"
"Not far," he said, "The narrow streets a few miles east."
As he put his coat on and started to head towards the door of the drawing room, Dracula felt a tug at his shirt, jerking him forward. He thought he'd got his desire for the Testosteron under control, for the moment. He glanced at where he reckoned the box was, and the pull didn't get any worse.
"Friedrich," he called, zooming forward to catch up.
"Ah!" Friedrich cried out as Dracula appeared at his side. Dracula realised just how quickly he'd moved - he must have seemed like a blur to Friedrich.
"Sorry," he said, "I was just... I have a cab, if you'd like to use it. You must be late by now, so it could help you make up time."
Friedrich paused for a long moment, but eventually looked up into Dracula's eyes. He frowned, biting his lip. "Yes, I think that would be good."
"Wunderbar!" Dracula cried. He grimaced and cleared his throat. "I mean, good, yes. That should be fine."