After a tearful reunion between the two brothers, Cross couldn't help but feel a slight ache in his soul. He's happy that Nightmare found his brother, of course, but none of them even KNEW Nightmare ever had one. It makes Cross realize Nightmare still doesn't tell them a lot of things.
But to be fair, he never asked- none of them did. And while Nightmare has always been slick with brushing things he doesn't like to talk about under the rug, Cross appreciates how Nightmare has begun to talk to all of them about more complicated things. Things like the balance, his fears, and his feelings. Yet, none of them ever really focused on their own pasts, so none of them ever asked Nightmare of his own.
Cross remains quiet as the small sobs from the tiny skeleton in Nightmare's arms die down gradually. He can only assume the yellow-clad skeleton named Dream was still a child; he couldn't be older than nine. Of course, he would need to ask Nightmare about specifics. Nightmare has stressed that since he isn't a mortal, time, age, and necessities for life were different for him. Cross still can't help but see Nightmare as some sort of otherworldly god for taking pity on him and giving him freedom from his prison of a white abyss. Not to mention Nightmare silenced the human that had been fused to his soul. Nightmare was practically godlike, untouchable, and invincible even to those in Nightmare's inner circle. Cross has seldom seen his savior weak before.
The young skeleton in Nightmare's arms finally pulls away to look at Nightmare in the face and pulls their own face tight together, as if scrunching their eyes up into a squint would prevent further tears from falling. Cross watches Nightmare sit up, the difference in height between the two less noticeable than when Nightmare first came into the room. Cross can't help but feel a bit tense as they look at each other before Dream opens his mouth,
"H-How did you get so..." Dream tries to find the words before waving a hand at Nightmare, attempting to gesture to all of him, "Slimey?"
Cross stifles a laugh and relaxes, taking notice of the gentle, pained smile that crosses Nightmares' face. The same sort of smile he took on when the boys said something about their own painful pasts. The taller gently brushes Dreams tears away with a thumb while watching the other with a fond expression. Nightmare drew a shaky breath in before answering his younger brother,
"There was... a fight. At the tree, I mean," Nightmare starts, his hand moving towards the blind side of his face and rubbing it tenderly, as Cross knows he is prone to do when he is stressed, "Some of the villagers were furious, since I allowed no one to touch the tree or the fruit unless both of us were there..." His eye darts to the side, going quiet for a moment as heavy tension hung in the air. Nightmares magic flaring up, an aura of negativity starting to leak into the very air around them. If Cross didn't know Nightmare was just processing his own feelings, he would have thought to run away. He glances at Dream, but the other seems to take no notice or care in the change of aura around them.
Dream watches quietly, looking down and mumbling to himself before Nightmare continued, "You had gone to town to try and buy us a pie I believe... but a few minutes after you left the villagers started... to come up in groups and demand the apples..." Nightmare glances at Cross and brings his hand down from his empty socket, "Ah, my apologies Cross, this must be... confusing for you..." Cross watches as Nightmare shifts on the bed to better face Cross while still remaining close to Dream, moving the smaller body to sit up, despite Dream still clinging to him.
"Me and Dream were meant to guard a tree, a tree that held the emotional balance of the multiverse. Isn't that right Dream?" Nightmare asks, a small smile on his face as he gets the other's attention. Dream blinks away from his thoughts and smiles a grin so wide it makes Crosses own cheeks hurt,
"Yeah! Me and Nighty are the best guardians! We make sure everyone has all their feelings and protect mom!" Dream beams happily, pointing to Nighty for Cross, as if Cross wasn't aware of the skeleton holding Dream, "Nightmare is super strong! I don't think anyone can beat him!" Dream beams happily as Nightmare gives a weak smile, a smile Cross has come to recognize when Nightmare grows uncomfortable.
"Yes... Thank you for saying so Dream," Nightmare pats Dream on the head, and while the smaller skeleton smiles obliviously, Cross watches with concern. Nightmare is not saying everything, which is obvious, but what really concerns Cross is that children were supposed to be some of the guardians of the multiverse.
It suddenly clicks in Cross's mind why Nightmare was so intent on keeping them away from the delicate balance of the multiverse for so long. He must've been forced to shoulder this burden since he was a child.
It explains quite a lot on how Nightmare didn't ever really understand how Cross and the rest of the gang saw him as a father; he must never have had one.
Cross swallows down his dread from his sudden realization and nods, smiling at the smaller skeleton, pushing back his previous thought for later,
"I bet Nightmare is strong, maybe even stronger than you remember! He's a lot older now after all." Cross smiles as he speaks reassuringly. Nightmare rolls his eyes before Dream giggles softly,
"Nighty, are you old?" He asks innocently, which causes Nightmare to huff and reply,
"Yes, yes, I'm old now Dream! but that only means I'm the older brother now!" He smiles lightly and scoops Dream up into his arms, causing the other to laugh happily. Cross smiles, watching Dream stick his tongue out at Nightmare in rebellion as the other chuckles at Dreams' actions.
Nightmare lets his laugh die down a bit before his smile falls sadly, nervousness clear on his face.
"But... I suppose both of you still want to know about how exactly I got... as Dream so kindly put it, 'slimey'" he scoffs lightly with a displeased expression that always made Cross just a little nervous. Yet Dream seems unfazed, nodding with his cheerful face knit into a tight pout.
"Yes! What happened...? Why was I asleep? Where's the village? And the tree?" Dream questions, only stopping when he watches Nightmare flinch visibly, the darker contemplating the question with his eye glancing to the side, his hand moving back to his socket.
"Well… the villagers were very angry with me for not giving any apples to them… and so they decided they were going to take them by force," Nightmare pauses for a breath, but before he can continue, Dream interrupts,
"But! They can't do that! The apples aren't supposed to be taken!" Dream cries out, Nightmare nodding sadly and looking up at the ceiling as he continues,
"But they did, these villagers were not worried about the balance of the people around them Dream. They were selfish, and ready to hurt others for their own gain." Nightmare says, his expression grim before looking at Dreams trembling lip, his expression softening as he takes Dreams hand, and says softly, "Not everyone is like that though. These were just a few mean people who found other mean people-"
"I know not everyone is mean Nighty! B-but… Did they… did they hurt you?" Dream asks, Nightmare looking surprised by the sudden question. It takes him a moment to think before nodding slowly. Dream tears up again but wipes them away with a gloved hand and asks in a trembling voice, "Wh-why did they… why did they do that?" He blinks up at Nightmare for answers, but he looks over at Cross when he gets none. Cross is shaken by how afraid the child is as if he's never experienced an act of malice in his life.
Cross gets a feeling he might not have.
"I don't know little guy… sometimes people want to hurt other people…" he tries to explain, unprepared for the complex task of explaining cruelty to a child, "Sometimes hurt people hurt others,"
Dream opens his mouth to say something, but Nightmare stops him, saying for himself,
"These villagers thought that we were holding the keys to endless happiness on the branches of that tree, and I'm sure they thought that since they were fruit they would simply regrow, Dream. Unfortunately, they didn't seem to understand that that's not how it worked," Nightmare tries explaining with a schooled expression on his face, "But they… they couldn't get the apples… I was trying my best to defend the tree and so they couldn't climb up it to pick them… so…" He pauses, taking a deep, shaky breath and bringing Dream into a shaky hug before murmuring,
"They cut down the tree, Dream… I-I'm so sorry…." Nightmare's voice is shaky, and Cross blinks, realizing that tears were beginning to fall down Nightmare's face. He is shocked into silence as he watches Dream silently tighten his grip onto Nightmare and begin to cry gently again.
Cross watches the two cry for a few awkward minutes, shifting in his chair slightly, unsure if he should say something, before hearing the child's voice,
"Th-They cut mom down?" Dream's voice is wobbly as he clings to Nightmare, his face hidden from Crosses view.
But Cross can see Nightmare's face as he cries harder; he never saw Nightmare cry before. Honestly, Cross wasn't even sure if Nightmare could cry until now. Cross watches uneasily, unsure of what he should do as Nightmare gently holds Dream, who surprisingly stops crying first after a few minutes.
Cross watches with awe as the smaller skeleton pulls away slightly and wipes away Nightmare's tears in a similar fashion to how Nightmare wiped away his earlier. The older skeleton watches Dream in confusion as Dream softly says,
"I-its okay Nighty... You d-did your best to protect the tree- I know you did!"
"Dream..." Nightmare says, tears still falling as he takes a deep breath, "I did something horrible Dream. After the villagers cut down the tree..." he takes a shaky breath,
"I ate the apples, Dream." He sobs softly, "I ate almost all of the apples, Dream... I threw the balance off for years..." Nightmare goes quiet, looking down,
"Nighty! You... you ate the apples…?" Dream asks, his voice quiet. Cross can only watch as Nightmare nods, Dream stumbling over his words, "N-nighty… n-no one was supposed to eat the apples… not even us-"
"I KNOW!" Nightmare snaps, his eye wide with a mix of fear and anger. Cross recognizes from when he gets stressed, but he quickly calms himself. Dream looks surprised at Nightmare's outburst but not scared. From the way Nightmare looks away quickly, though, Cross can guess the other must feel anxious about possibly scaring the small child in his arms. Cross can't blame him since even he gets scared of Nightmare at times.
Nightmare takes a deep breath before sighing,
"I know, we weren't supposed to eat the apple's Dream. I'm sorry," Nightmare mumbles. Cross can only watch as Dream reaches up and grabs his brothers face, squishing it playfully,
"Nighty- it-its gonna be okay! I forgive you! We're both okay right?" the smaller skeleton asks shakily, only continuing once Nightmare nodded in response, "You w-were trying to protect the tree... b-but... what about my apples? Are they...?" The child trails off, clearly nervous about upsetting the other.
"I ate a lot of the apples Dream..." Nightmare paused, smiling softly as he pokes his brother on the nasal with a finger, "But, you saved one of your apples," he finishes, smiling gently as the others tearful eyes got bigger in awe,
"I-I did?" Dream asked, pointing at himself as if Nightmare must be mistaken, "B-but how!?"
Nightmare chuckles, the fondness in his expression clear as day, "You were gone in the village when they came and cut down the tree, but as soon as you saw trouble you came back to the tree to help, but..." Nightmare looks to the side for a moment before a strained smile appears on his face, "You managed to save an apple before... before a villager tried to put a sleeping spell on me," Nightmare can't make eye contact with his younger brother, something Cross takes note of.
"You saved both me, and the apple, but then when I saw you weren't moving... I feared the worst..." Nightmare trailed off, his expression unreadable as he looked at the smaller skeleton.
Cross always thought Nightmare couldn't understand how he and the others felt since they lost their families. But sitting here, during this conversation, Cross realizes Nightmare lost just as much as them.
It suddenly makes a lot more sense to him why Nightmare intended to care for them- as friends- family rather than just minions. Cross realized Nightmare must have experienced the same pain the others felt when they lost their lives, their families. Nightmare, a near god, must have experienced just as much pain as all of them.
In one moment, Cross felt like he understood the other even more than ever through the few years of working with him.
"But I didn't dust! Why did you think I was dead?" Dream asks his words taking Cross out of his thoughts as the smaller looks up at his brother worriedly, tiny hands grabbing his face, forcing the other to look at him.
"Dream, we aren't normal monsters. We're closer to nature spirits, you know how some of the forest spirits used bark and flowers to make a body?" Nightmare asks, Cross unable to completely understand where Nightmare is going with this, but Dream nods,
"Well, after some research I found out that since we are guardian spirits, it's likely our bodies aren't really all that important to what makes us- well, us." Nightmare pauses, "I don't know if we would be able to die, or what would happen to us. I thought I lost you for all these years..." Nightmare trails off. Cross can see how he's fighting tears again,
"Yet here you are. There's so much I want to tell you, so much I want to do, but you need to recover first." He states, Cross recognizing the tone from when Killer or Dust got too reckless on a mission and ended up with a broken limb or two, "Maybe after some food and sleep we can talk more about what happened, but things haven't been all bad since that day," Nightmare says, smiling softly as Dream watches him hopefully
"It wasn't?" Dreams question is just as full of hope as his face, Nightmares smile grows even softer,
"It was rough for a while, but after some time, I began to try to make a life for myself. The tree was gone, but since I ate the fruit- in some ways, I am the tree now, and you are too Dream," Nightmare taps Dream on the nasal with the last few words, Dream smiling and giggling slightly as his hands go to shield where Nightmare tapped him,
"I started to explore, and I made friends too," Nightmare says, gesturing towards Cross, who can't help but color a little in embarrassment. It was nice to hear how much Nightmare cared for them. (even though it wasn't very professional.)
Cross could live with the lack of formalities, though, and smiles still.
"Explore? You mean like the other worlds mother told us about?" Dreams eyes are sparkling as he watches Nightmare as if he hung the sun and moon in the sky,
"Yes, since we are essentially the tree that needs protecting now, we can go all over the multiverse and travel to all sorts of places and worlds-"
"Can you take me to the other worlds Nighty!? Please!" Dream's smile is so big Cross is worried it might fall off his face. He watches, in awe, as Nightmare laughs such a light, carefree laugh that Cross thinks Dream must infect everyone around him with happiness.
"Of course Dream, but for now we need you to stay in the castle while you recover-"
"You live in a CASTLE?! Like from fairy tales? That's splendid Nighty!" Dream giggles and smiles, "Are you a king?"
Cross tenses as Nightmares smile falls slightly, he gives Cross a look that tells Cross to keep quiet before gently patting Dream on the head, "I suppose I am Dream, but now that your here, perhaps you could be a prince," Nightmare smiles as Dream continues to talk and talk, far more excitable than Nightmare whom watches with fondness.
Cross can't help but get lost in his thoughts again. Nightmare has been spreading his influence and negativity throughout the multiverse, so he could feed easier and grow stronger. But... with his brother back, Cross has a feeling that things are going to change. Not just here in his family but across the entire multiverse.
But for once, Cross finds himself not scared of the change in his life.
Cross is looking forward to seeing Nightmare smile more.