It took somewhere between one and twenty minutes - the immortal vampire's grasp on time was not stellar - but finally Friedrich popped back into existence. It was a startling, instantaneous process, and Dracula could have sworn he heard a tiny literal pop. It was like the sound your lips make when they come off the wine bottle.
"Welcome back," Dracula said.
Friedrich smoothed his hair back and looked slowly around at Dracula. His eyes took in the steps - a sniff seemed to bring him the stench. He opened his mouth but only produced a cracked, murmured, "Aaaah?" Eventually, he coughed and said, "You took me here? Thank you."
"You... don't remember?" Dracula started to stand up, his knees cracking as they straightened.
Friedrich followed him up. "Uh, no. I never remember."
"You don't remember me bringing you back to my castle either?" he asked.
Friedrich shrugged. "No, but you gave me tee und decker... um, blanket? I just... I don't know." Friedrich's eyes widened slowly as something seemed to dawn on him. But instead of saying anything he turned towards the door. "Are you coming in?"
"If you can convince Erik to let me, then sure," Dracula said.
Friedrich knocked on the door. Almost immediately, a slit of light appeared as the door opened a crack, and Erik's eye was back observing them.
"Ah, gut, Friedrich... Warum hast du Dracula mit dir?"
"Ich spreche Deutsch!" Dracula called over Friedrich's shoulder. If this man was going to be rude about him he could at least do it in a language he had less of a handle on.
Erik muttered something under his breath not even loud enough for Dracula to guess the language. He held out a small black coin purse through the slit.
"Oh," Friedrich said. He slung his bag down off his shoulders and removed the Testosteron box from it. A vein in Dracula's neck twitched and he gripped the top of the low wall. Erik took the box with his other hand and Friedrich took the purse.
Erik opened the door slightly wider so they could see both his eyes. "Next time, you come alone, Friedrich. Or at least, not with him."
Dracula's gut clenched as the door shut. He hung his head. He heard Friedrich putting the purse back in his bag then turning around.
He looked up at him. "I suppose neither of us are going in."
Friedrich put his back on and pulled the straps tight. He looked up at Dracula, his chin trembling as he tilted it upwards. "Herr, I do know the things that you have done."
Dracula's body tensed even worse and he crushed his fingers against the sides of the walls. "You do? If I'm honest, I do not. But I have heard reports."
A slight smile suddenly twitched at the edges of Friedrich's mouth. "You... don't remember?"
Dracula realised what he was smiling at - he knew exactly what it was like to have no memory of his body's actions. Dracula found his muscles easing a little. "Nein. I do not."
Friedrich started to move past him. "Come on. I will give you Miss Clarke's address."
Friedrich had to stop when he reached the bottom of the steps. He glanced left then right then left again. Dracula tapped him on the shoulder and motioned with his head to the left. Friedrich blushed.
"This way," Dracula said.
They walked side by side back along the alley, the street so narrow that this was actually quite tight. Dracula wondered what had finally got Friedrich to smile. He still wasn't exactly chatty, but neither was Dracula really. Sometimes he could feel the desire to talk to someone bubbling up inside him, but once it was burnt out he was happy enough to walk in silence. And that little chit-chat with Erik had burnt him right out.
When they reached Dracula's cab, Friedrich took a deep breath. He caught Dracula's eye as Dracula stepped up to the driver side door.
"This is what I last remember," he explained. "Walking to this cab."
Dracula paused in reaching for the door. "You need help?"
"Nein," Friedrich said. "Just a moment. You go in. Come pick me up if I'm not there soon, yes?"
Dracula smiled and put his hand on the door handle. "I promise." He opened the door and swung himself up into the drivers' seat. A few moments later, Friedrich burst through the passenger door and plonked himself down in the seat beside Dracula.
"Woo! I did it!" He grinned at Dracula. "Small wins, you know?"
"I'm impressed," Dracula said, snapping the reins. The horses moved off quickly, like they too were excited to be gone from this place. Dracula took a sniff of the clean air inside the cab. "Ah, that's better. Glad to be out of that stink hole."
Friedrich frowned at him. "It's not that bad..."
"Are you joking?" Dracula exclaimed. His hands started to move around in the air and for a moment the horses got very confused.
Friedrich's voice was slightly quieter again, and he looked down at his shoes. "It is like where I grew up."
"Oh," Dracula said, "I'm sorry."
"I'm not ashamed," Friedrich said.
"Of course," Dracula said.
"I mean it!" Friedrich looked up at Dracula. "It's easy for you in your big house with all the rooms and the tea and the windows! Some of us don't have that."
"Okay, okay," Dracula said. Suddenly it seemed like Friedrich's smile had disappeared for good again, and it was all his fault. "I really am sorry. I don't get out much. I'm sorry."
Friedrich watched him for a moment as they bumped over a particularly misshapen cobblestone, then they were back on the main country path. Finally, he said, "You are forgiven."
"Thank you," Dracula said. That was twice he'd had to be forgiven now. Once for frightening the wits out of the man, now for insulting his home. He really hadn't had company in a while. "Where are you going now?"
Friedrich pursed his lips. "Well... I was meant to going to Austria. But it is very late."
Dracula narrowed his eyes. He thought he could see where this was going, but didn't want to slip up for the third time. "Are you... asking for a place to stay tonight?"
Friedrich inspected his fingernails. "If you are seeking a way to repay me for calling my friends stinky..."
Dracula rolled his eyes. "Yes, of course you can stay. I have guest rooms for day in my big massive house."
Suddenly Friedrich sat bolt upright. "That's it! That is what you can do for the family."
"Use those rooms! You should open them to the family! Like Erik!" Friedrich started bouncing up and down and Dracula was worried he would hit his head on the cab ceiling.
"I could do that..." Dracula said. "And don't get me wrong - I want to help. It's just... do you think they would want to come? You saw how Erik reacted."
Friedrich waved a hand in the air. "Ach, that was because of the terrible things you have done. Do some good things! And I will get word from Miss Clarke that she is happy with it. That will tell them it is okay."
"And what will Miss Clarke have to say about it?" Dracula asked. The trees on either side of them were thinning as they reached the bottom of the hill. Dracula got Friedrich to pop out and open the gate, and he ran inside suspiciously fast after the cab, as if he'd been worried Dracula would leave him behind. Dracula stopped the cab and let him back in, even though he had to go a bit farther in to park it.
At last they were out the cab for good and walking up the path. It was quite a steep incline, and Dracula usually removed his binding garment before he attempted it. But he also didn't usually have company with him. He didn't feel like entangling himself in the straps and squeezing his head out the top in front of his newly made friend.
So they walked in silence until they reached the main doors of the castle.
Friedrich stopped and stared up at the turrets. "You could put the whole family in here, I think."
Dracula took in the size of his castle for a moment. Usually he just slumped through the door, not even really caring if it was locked behind him. He smiled. "That might be nice."