Chez Seaside was a long walk from anywhere. At least anywhere that Kruger would have been going there from. Out of the city was something he?d promised to be, though he didn?t sleep, and constantly looked towards it from Belglade. It meant staying with Niko, which was good. His mother had said he would always have a place there. It wasn?t the place she?d wanted when she said it. It was a far more awkward situation than what he was doing now. He?d stood outside the hotel, pulling off his shoes and knocking sand out of them. He didn?t trust the city yet, and a few crowns to be ferried from Dockside, to the beach Seaside was worth a few grains of sand and uncomfortable looks from departing residents.
Jeans, and a plain black t-shirt were hidden beneath the beat up leather he wore to keep the wind off of him. He was grateful, though he?d never admit it to Addie, that this wasn?t a place with higher standards. They?d have never let him in otherwise. He kicked his foot into the LED sneaker and pushed his way through the door, heading straight for the hotel restaurant and finding a seat at the bar to wait. He carried a wrapped package beneath his arm, the purple paper was semi-reflective and the blurry outline of his glass was mirrored in its side. Kruger sent a simple text out to Addie, downstairs at the bar. His head was on a swivel as he kept turning to look at the door waiting for her to make her entrance.
Addie?d had far less distance to cover in order to reach the restaurant. For all of the protests otherwise, she had refused to leave the city, instead holing up in one of the penthouse suites at the very top of the hotel?s tower. It wasn?t the nicest of hotels in Seaside or in the city, but it was by no means shabby, and as such it made for a nice place to crash while the rest of the city lost its mind. A few minutes after their designated meeting time, she emerged from the lobby?s elevator with a jaw cracking yawn. Her hair was an artfully disheveled mess in the way that seemed natural for rockstars and she had traded out the night before?s little black dress for a pleated skirt decorated with safety pins, a long sleeved crop top and a set of beat up Chuck Taylors. Those would likely be swapped out before the show that night for something taller in the heel department but for now she was going for comfort and convenience over style.
?Downstairs at the bar,? she read out loud from her phone as she stepped through the restaurant?s double doorway. Familiarity had her gaze swinging to the bar without having to scan the layout and after the night prior?s chaos, it was easy to pick him out amongst the sparse bodies that populated the noon hour crowd. With a wave for the maitre?d, she passed the host up and went to meet the Anvil at the counter. ?You wanna sit here or do you wanna get a proper table??
A quick grin found itself permanently embedded on his face as Addie became suddenly visible. ?Honestly, I think I?d prefer a proper table today. Unless that means waiting for one to open up, and having to grossly over tip the Maitre?d to get us in earlier.? He winked at her, the only indication that he was not being serious. Kruger picked up both the glass and the present, and slid from his stool. He snapped his fingers at the bartender to get his attention. There?d been no small talk, which only made Kruger believe this was not a normal one. ?Send another to our table?? He looked up at Addie curiously. ?You want anything? Nevermind? Send two more to the table.? He jerked his head toward the dining room, maybe they could avoid the middleman and get their own seats. It wasn?t like the place was packed, there were empty tables all over the place.
?You doing all right, Addie?? She?d certainly looked far worse, though that tended to be after a tough fight.
?I?m good, stayed up late.? Her smile was coy to go with the shrug of one shoulder. ?Or maybe I?m just getting old...er.?
With a grin she pushed away from the bar to find a table away from the few groups that were actually braving the lobby for lunch. It put them somewhat near the bay window that overlooked the beach, giving them a decent view for their lunch. Addie slouched her way into a chair just before the bartender sent a server over with a couple glasses. She took hers up for a testing sip then snickered to herself. It shouldn?t have surprised her that it was just soda. After all, it was still early in the day, but some part of her was grateful for it. The server lingered long enough to give them menus before scampering off to give them time to look the offerings over. It gave Addie time to peer at the purple present. After all, the paper was so pretty. ?Everything go okay for you and Niko yesterday??
?You don?t look a day over twenty.? He did his best to look serious, in another time and place he might have succeeded. This was supposed to be a celebration, so he left that side alone. ?Went okay, a bit quiet for my tastes. Niko?s kind of down right now because he wanted to come along. I just don?t trust it yet.? Kruger caught her glance, and put his hand protectively on the present. ?We can do this now, or after we eat. Guess it depends on how curious you are.? He looked away from her, to the menu bypassing most of the courses offered and spending a long time on the rabbit food page. He closed it quickly and pushed it to the end of the table. ?I actually have a couple of things for you, they?re just both in the same box.? He leaned back in his chair, looked out the window for a few heartbeats before looking back at her to see what she prefered.
?Check again tomorrow, that may change.? Addie laughed. Though she scanned the menu, she wasn?t feeling all that hungry so she settled on an order of cheese fries and set the menu aside. ?No, it?s better that he stays away until things settle. Last night was pretty loud and crazy and from what I could see from my room there?s still a lot of stuff going on.? A lot of people had left, she hadn?t blamed them. But she wouldn?t be one of them. ?Ummm let?s do presents while we wait for food? Best of both worlds??
?Alright, I will.? He laughed with her, nodding at her assessment for what was best. Kruger sighed heavily, a bit of that serious side coming out again. He pushed the present across to Addie. ?I made sure to put the bow on the top. There?s an order to these thing, ya know?? He released it reluctantly, his brow creasing with worry. ?I mean, it?s not much? but it means a lot to me.? He put both hands in his lap, and fidgeted a bit as she began to open the gift. ?The first one is old. It belonged to? someone who took care of me when I was young. I?m sure that I?ll never have a use for it, and honestly it needs to be used.? Once Addie had gotten the wrapping paper removed, she?d find a dark wooden box, plain for the most part though it?s polished exterior was mottled in blacks and browns. Inside she?d find a matched set of hand mirror and hairbrush. Both were of the same dark wood as the box, though they were extravagantly carved into the shapes of wolves. The mirrored glass was actually being held in place by the forepaws of a wolf that stared forward at the person using it. ?I had to have the bristles replaced on the brush. They were pretty deteriorated? and hard as cactus needles. I think they used horsehair, it?s really soft now.? He watched her reaction carefully, doing his best not to let the sight of the giftset make him tear up.
?Oh?? She gasped the word, her eyes widening as she peeled away the paper. There was a cautious delicacy in her touch and the way she handled the two items. First came the mirror and then the hairbrush. The latter was turned over in her grasp before being set down reverently upon the table. Both hands carefully picked the mirror up again for closer examination, her thumbs tracing over the intricate carvings. Her bottom lip wobbled, prompting her to bite down on it and pull her smile askew. ?Oh wow? this is wow. I don?t even have words for this except for wow? and thank you. They?re both beautiful.?
The lip quiver nearly had him, if she hadn?t bitten down it likely would have. ?I got the feeling that Elle had that long before she met me, and I?d just turned eight. So, it?s been around, and seen probably more than I have.? Kruger?s hand went to the open box and just kind of laid inside of it flat palm against the cloth interior. ?You may not want the second one. I talked to Niko about it for a while before we decided it was the right thing.? His other hand stretched out to take one of hers.
?Addie? Adelaide?? His fingers curled around her hand, and his face had finally gone to complete and truthful, seriousness. ?You?re not a kid, not anymore really. I?m not your father, and Nikolai isn?t your brother. We don?t share blood in any way that I am aware of. What?s in the box, though is an offer, a request really and one that only you can answer.? It wasn?t that Kruger wanted to be cryptic, he was doing his best to make the words come out. They seemed to need some convincing. ?If you want us, I had some papers drawn up so that you could adopt us as the family that we are in everything but what the?? He couldn?t really continue, instead he just pulled the little shelf up and out of the box to reveal the documents beneath. ?It?s okay to say no.? He promised himself he wasn?t going to cry for this. There?d be no evidence because he brushed his eyes dry before breaking that promise. ?And you don?t have to answer now, but we both hope you?ll say yes.?
Addie traded the mirror for one of the Anvil?s hands, her eyes wide and intent on his as he explained the next part of his gift. As he revealed the contents beneath the lip of the box?s bottom layer, she craned her neck to take a look. It seemed to take a few moments for it all to sync in before she released his hand to take up the paperwork for her own examination. She read it once, twice, thrice before swallowing hard and setting it down on the table, just over the mirror that had been recently relinquished. Family was more than the blood in your veins, that much she had learned over the past year. Family was more than your last name or your lineage or who created you. Her mouth had gone dry and not even a long drink of her pop could remedy it. When she looked up again from the paperwork, her eyes reflected a sheen of welling tears that threatened to spill over with little provocation.
?You mean it? Really?? She asked softly, her voice barely a whisper as she stared at him to see if he was kidding.
An echo of her earlier expression revealed itself as Kruger bit down on his bottom lip. ?I, we mean it.? He kept his eyes on hers as he nodded his answer. ?I?m not trying to take anyone?s place. I can?t really do that, but your mom?s?? He didn?t continue that thought, not wanting to dredge up that memory in her. ?And you dad? your?s from your time is still there, and you?re here. You don?t have to be here alone though if you don?t want to. I would like it if you were part of our family, and Niko?s already really attached to you.? She might understand why he was so bummed about not being able to come along now. ?There?s some weird language in that, one because of your age, and two because technically you?re three. Take your time with it. The offer doesn?t have an expiration date on it.? He managed to pull a smile out, though he had no idea where it had come from.
?I can?t go home? not anymore. This is my home now and you and Niko and Michi and Miz, you?re all my family.? She said softly. Their waiter had seemingly abandoned them, leaving them to their tender moment without interruption. Her gaze fell to the top sheet of the paperwork, her teeth worrying at the pulp of her bottom lip. The legal jargon was a stretch of her knowledge base but she managed to muddle through it with only the slightest of pauses. ?I?m not her, that little girl in New Haven. She might get a chance at? I dunno. Something different but this,? she tapped her fingers against the papers, ?this is mine. I don?t need to think about it. Yes. Yes, if you?ll have me.?
Tension moved out of him, his shoulders lifted and widened like a bow gently unstrung. It was only then that he?d realized how weighed down he was with things. Kruger did his best not to complain, simply shouldering another burden and continuing onward. Complaints would have made him seem soft, or worse made him unrecognizable to the people he cared about. He?d taken that route in late autumn, and lost many things. Trust had been the hardest to bear, it still was though he believed he was making some headway towards getting that back. Maybe for some it was even stronger, these things were so hard to tell. The young woman before him was an exception, still trusting though he?d become a train wreck in the wake of Nick?s death. Addie?s answer made him happy and sad at the same time. Happy because she?d said yes, but someone should have done it sooner.
??Course I?ll have you. You?re already right there anyway. This?? His finger touched the paper in her hand. ?...is just the candle on the cake. It doesn?t change how good it tastes, but it does brighten up the shadows.? Kruger stood up, he needed to in order to lean across the table. He placed a hand on the back of Addie?s neck and kissed the top of her head. ?Thank you.? He said the words, but so soft he wondered if she would even hear him. He wasn?t really sure who he was thanking in that moment. Addie for saying yes, Niko for being so on board with the idea, or maybe the memory of a woman long dead that had kept him going so that he could be here now.
(<3 Thank you Addie for writing this with me!)