Cross rubbed his arms, glaring at his reflection, muttering angrily. Most of it was nonsense, of course, but every bit of it boiled down to one thing.
He knew he wasn’t the best at communicating, that he was horrible with emotions. With setting and upholding boundaries.
He was rather good at respecting boundaries, at listening, at helping, though. Ironic.
He scratched his ribs, flinching as his fingertips caught on a nick. He felt dumb.
Cross ran his hand over his skull, turning away from the mirror and draping a cloth over it. A clock on his bedside table read 4:16 in a harsh red.
For a moment, he stood at the foot of his bed, his mind empty of all thoughts. Nightmare always complained about Cross’s sleeping patterns, claiming them to be ‘abhorrent’ and 'unhealthy.’ The clock ticked to 4:17.
Cross tried to argue against it, but, like always, his opinions and thoughts were caged and locked away. He’ll sleep more, he promised. He lied, though. It was at night when he felt at his best. Where he could zone out without consequences. Staring at the wall for four hours raised no harm, brought no anxiety or looming panic.
The clock ticked. Cross blinked. Odd, how he sometimes stopped breathing without realizing. He sucked in a breath, letting it out shakily. Sleepless nights were what kept him from breaking. There was no one to impress. He didn’t need to speak. He didn’t have to hear those overlapping voices of his teammates.
The cold was finally getting to him, biting slowly into his bones with a frigid burn. He had to make himself breathe again. He had around four hours before the rest of the castle started to get up. Four hours of freedom left.
He rubbed his arms again, and turned to where he’d set out his clothes. He forced himself to remain present as he got dressed. To think along with every movement. His jacket came on last. He tucked his locket into his shirt and was still for a moment. If he asked one of the guys what they thought, what would they tell him?
He tugged on his sleeve, staring at his door with unease. Would they disagree? He took a step. His door. His fucking door. It was the worst and best thing he had. It was a barrier. A saving grace, a floodgate, a safety net. But right now, it looked like the gateway to hell.
Cross sighed heavily, scratching his neck. It was time.
The door creaked when he opened it, a wall of ice slapping him and bringing a chilled flush to his cheeks. He adjusted quickly, used to the cold now. Three years was enough time to get used to it. He skipped the kitchen, the living room, and tip-toed past the open door to Nightmare’s lit study.
Nightmare was a bit of a hypocrite. He demanded Cross sleep every night, but the king himself never slept. Cross jogged the rest of the way, crossing the castle in record time. The forest path was lined with frosted grass. Cross puffed out a laugh in a cloud of white. And to think it was summertime.
His shoes crunched in the gravel, the sound keeping him rooted in reality. His internal clock was starting to chime with warning. Killer got up around this time. Cross picked up the pace, huffing a relieved sigh as the training building finally came into sight. His fingers were numb as he fumbled with the key, his marrow feeling entirely frozen.
The padlock clinked against the chains it held together, tremors running up and down Cross’s spine at the almost painful chill of the metal. The lock clanked open, and he quickly undid the chains, opening the doors and slipping into the darkly lit room. The door slammed shut behind him.
Cross sucked in a breath, ice in his throat and metaphorical lungs. He blew hot air into his hands, rubbing them together before looking around the room. A wink of magic was all it took to light up the room, magically fueled torches lighting up one by one. It only took a second for it to end.
Cross peeled off some layers, and went to take off his shirt as well, going to grab his collar. But he stopped. He’d made that mistake before. It led to a lecture about modesty. He sighed, dropping his arm. This’ll have to do.
Time ticked by quickly as he lost himself in his training. Nightmare insisted that he didn’t have to train every single morning, but Cross knew that. It was just a hobby of his.
It helped him forget.
That warning in his gut was starting to grow louder and louder until he was counting down the seconds. It was only a matter of time. Only a…
His hand slipped, and suddenly, there was a gash in his arm. His knives clattered to the floor, a hissed curse pushing through his teeth. “Fuck-!” Touching it made it hurt more, moving made it hurt more, breathing made it hurt more. He slumped to his knees, gritting his teeth against the burn in his eyes. He wouldn’t cry over a tiny scratch. It wasn’t that big of a deal. But god it hurt so much.
He focused on his turbulent breathing, each controlled breath easier than the last. And then he was fine. Sure, there was an alarming amout of blood, and sure, it still hurt like hell, but now he could think. He grimaced as he stumbled to his feet, his mind spinning. His mind failed to record the trip to and from the first aid room, instead skipping like a broken tape. He came back to himself standing at the edge of his mess, arm wrapped and mind still woozy.
He sighed quietly, and then Killer’s voice was filling up the silence with an unwelcome cheer. “Morning, criss cross!” Cross winced as the door slam echoed through the room. It made his arm throb, he absently noted. Another skip of that broken tape, and Killer was standing in front of him, frowning. “Hey, what happened?”
His fingers twitched, curling into tight fists. He hated talking. For a reason he never understood, his voice was higher than the others. More pitched.
More feminine. Maybe it was because he felt like he needed to remain secretive. Maybe it was because he was wrong about everything. Still, Killer would only get more worried ridiculously so the longer he was silent. So Cross sucked it up.
“..was an accident. ’s nothin, jus.. just tryna figure out how to clean up.” He wanted to scream. Killer’s frown tightened. What did he know that Cross didn’t? Did he know Cross was lying to them? Did he even suspect it? “It’s not that hard, Crossy. Just? Mop it up?” Cross swayed. His arms were heavy. Weightless. Disconnected.
And then he was floating. He barely felt himself be moved away from the mess, hardly even flinched when Killer shouted for Horror to clean the mess. Like a puppet without strings. Killer guided him into sitting, gingerly taking Cross’s arm. The bandages were soaked through. For a moment, Cross wondered if he’d even cleaned the wound before wrapping it. It burned as the air hit it once more.
Killer paused, his voice uncharacteristically soft. “Oh..” No. He didn’t want to hear that tone. That pitying tone, that worried tone. It wasn’t right.
It wasn’t right.
“Cross? You with me?” He wished he weren’t. “Fuck- Dust, go get boss,
she’s gonna pass out.” It helped him forget. It wasn’t right. Ignore it. More feminine. Ignore it. Cross’s vision fluttered. Guess he’d lost more blood than he realized, huh? He welcomed the shadows eagerly.
Crisp white bandages wrapped around his arm. Cross picked at the tight bindings, his mouth twisted in a frown. At least it didn’t hurt anymore. The pressure was uncomfortable.
Killer cackled beside him, deep in conversation, cracking jokes and making Dust snicker. His knee kept knocking against Cross’s aggressively and his elbow was halfway into Cross’s personal space. A hard enough jerk and he’d knock over Cross’s plate. Some more laughter. More jokes. More loudness.
Cross tuned it out, his fist creaking around his fork. “Cross.” He dropped his fork, startled at the poke to his arm. Killer wasn’t talking anymore, eyeing Cross silently. Horror and Dust were whispering to each other.
What are they saying? Oh shut it, not everything is about you. Cross twitched. “Cross.” He quickly turned to Nightmare, “..Yeah?..”
“Are you alright?” Oh.
Is that all? Cross picked up his fork, stabbing at some steamed broccoli. “..’m ok.” He popped it into his mouth, chewing slowly. He didn’t want to talk anymore. Nightmare’s eye narrowed. “Truthfully, Cross.” A shrug. Maybe if he says it enough times, it won’t be a lie anymore.
Nightmare didn’t believe him. Of course he didn’t. But he let it go. Partially. “…We’ll talk about this later. For now, finish eating.” The conversations that had been put on pause were never picked back up. Lunch went by in silence.
Killer caught him on the way out, that constant insufferable grin on his face. “Ey, criss-cross, can we talk for a sec?” Cross flexed his fingers. Surely, Killer wasn’t expecting him to actually speak? Killer tugged on him. He followed the knife-happy skeleton back to his room.
The door clicked shut behind them.
Trapped. Killer hopped onto his bed, neutral grin on his face. “Alright, spill. Whatcha caught up on?” Cross took a step back. Not this again. He shook his head, but Killer plowed on. “I’m serious, Cross. Promise I won’t tell.” Liar. Cross grit his teeth. Killer was quiet. He’s waiting for him to speak.
Cross took another step back. Killer tried again, a bit of distress leaking into his tone. “Hey, look, if it’s one of those problems that only girls have-”
Shut up, shut up, SHUT UP Please stop talking, don’t address him like that, don’t call it that, don’t call him that-
Cross fled the room. The door slammed against the wall, tiny metal pieces clattering to the floor. He broke the hinges, the handle left a hole in the wall, and Killer stared after him.
The dummy exploded into wood and cotton. Chest heaving, Cross kicked at the mess. There were tears in his eyes. He wasn’t sad. He was angry. Not at Killer. No, he was just trying to help. Cross was furious with himself. He was sure that he overreacted. There was no reason he should’ve gotten that upset. Had he even been upset?
He slashed at the next dummy, teeth grit hard enough to ache. Again and again, he struck at the same spot until the wooden spine was cleaved into two. He struck again. A tear slipped free. Cross threw down his knives, flinching at the noise they made. He swallowed. With a growl, he rubbed at his face. He was fine.
“Cros-” Cross spun around, knives up in an instant. He froze the instant he saw it was Nightmare. His knives vanished. Nightmare was unfazed, continuing as if Cross hadn’t almost stabbed him. “We have to talk.” Cross shook his head, stepping away and turning back to his dummies. There wasn’t anything to talk about.
“I’m afraid you don’t have a choice.” Nightmare took Cross’s hand, teleporting them back to his office. Cross pulled away quickly, backing up. He didn’t want to do this. “Cross, sit down.” Tears were building up too quickly for Cross to stifle them. He shook his head. Nightmare gave no room for protest, his tone firm and commanding. “Sit, Cross.”
He sat down. Nightmare nodded, “Good
girl. Now-” He stopped, no doubt sensing the volcanic eruption that was Cross’s emotions. “Did I say something wrong?” Cross denied it immediately. Nightmare did nothing wrong. He did. He didn’t. He doesn’t know. It’s not his fault.
“Cross, I don’t like seeing you this way. Tell me what’s wrong.”
It’s nothing, there’s nothing wrong, he’s fine, he’s overreacting, that’s what girls do. He sobbed, a wretched sound, an ugly sound. It betrayed him. It told Nightmare things he didn’t need to know, didn’t need to worry about. He covered his mouth, biting back each and every sound. But it was too late.
Nightmare was by his side, his features soft with worry and concern. “Cross…” He was shaking. Cross knew he was, and he knew if he tried to play this off, he wouldn’t be able to. He knew that. And yet, he jerked his head back and forth, denying. “No, no, I’m f-fine, everything is fine, I don’t-”
“Cross, please. I..” A cool hand was on his cheek, Cross simultaneously leaning into it and away from it. “I’m worried about you.”
You shouldn’t be. The cool touch to his other cheek was his breaking point. He held up shaking hands, gripping onto Nightmare with a disgusting desperation, and let everything come pouring out.
Nightmare knows. A few hours after his breakdown, now sitting at the dinner table, Cross anxiously fiddled with his hands. Nightmare knew, and his reaction…
Visibly faltering, surprised, upset, worried, “There is nothing wrong with you, don’t you ever say that there is.” Cross refused to make eye contact with anyone.
Killer’s normally loud conversations were hushed.
Nightmare told them, he lied, he broke his promise, they know, oh god, they know They weren’t talking about him. Cross knew they weren’t. Hushed, but not silent. “So, you’re telling me that there’s a snake outside.”
Cross’s silverware clinked against his bowl as he scooped up a spoonful of fluffy mashed potatoes. Horror snickered at something Killer had mumbled. Cross twitched. They weren’t talking about him, he reminded himself. They were talking about the snake.
His hopes were dashed as Dust turned to him, radiating mischief. “Crossy, guess what Killer just said?”
Don’t say it, shut up, don’t tell him, stop stop stop Cross almost didn’t answer. He didn’t want to. But he chewed his food and chased it down with water, setting his glass down to answer, “What?”
Killer started aggressively kicking under the table, his face tinted red, “Dust, don’t you fucking dare!”
Listen to Killer, please don’t repeat it, he was better off not knowing Dust was cackling, “Killer thinks you’re the prettiest girl he’s ever seen-” They don’t know they don’t know they don’t know
“Dust,” Nightmare interrupted. Cross trembled ever so slightly, his chest aching.
How quickly would Killer’s feelings change into disgust? “Cross, perhaps it would be best to tell them sooner rather than later.” He didn’t want to. He didn’t want to lose what he’d been given. He wanted Killer to keep liking him, even if it meant holding onto this facade. “Tell who what, boss? What’s wrong with her?” Nightmare held a hand up, “Nothing is wrong with he- Cross. There’s just something you need to know.”
The attention shifted to him. It felt like he’d been put underwater, tight pressure crushing him and squeezing his soul. His mouth went dry, his eyelights fizzling and shrinking, he couldn’t breathe,
No no he can’t the words won’t come he can’t speak oh god say something SAY SOMETHING “Cross?” He shook his head, turning pleading eyes on Nightmare. “Let me know if you can’t speak, okay? I’ll handle it for you.”
His spoon was bending, the weak metal giving out under his increasingly tight grip. “Breathe, Cross.” That firm, yet gentle command loosened his throat, Cross gasping quietly. Nightmare’s smile was comforting. “I’ll handle it.”
“Boss? I’m a little lost here.” Killer’s comment went unanswered, Nightmare watching Cross. The guard swallowed dryly.
Get it over with. He nodded. Nightmare pulled the others’ attention away, “Killer, I heard you wanted to date Cross.” Magic rushed to Cross’s cheeks, coloring them a dark purple. Killer coughed, his own cheeks a faint red. “Um, Boss, what’s that have to do with this?”
“I’m getting to it. Answer me this, what do you think of Cross?” Nightmare asked, as if Cross wasn’t turning into a purple candle. Killer tapped his fingers on the table, a slow grin spreading across his face. “You wanna know what I think of criss-cross?” Nightmare flashed a smile, “Absolutely. Come. Tell me.” Killer glanced at Cross, who was hiding into his jacket, the glow of his blush giving away his embarrassment.
Killer rubbed his hands together, “Well, I think she’s great. Amazing fighter, a pretty good cook.” Cross was struck with lightheadedness, his mind spinning. “She’s really tough. Strong, and super chill. A solid twelve outta ten. And yeah, I’d like her to be my girlfriend.” Killer shifted, his face flushed a bright cherry red as he finished his little speech. Horror and Dust snickered to themselves, Killer kicking them under the table.
Nightmare nodded, his expression an odd mixture of amusement and seriousness. Cross wanted to simply vanish, his soul pounding in his chest. “I have another question. Are you opposed to dating a male?” Killer blinked, his blush brightening. Cross was only mortified, staring at the floor through his fingers with wide eyes. Killer chuckled nervously, “Are you proposing something, boss? I got plenty of room for ya, if that’s where you’re headed.”
“No, I’m not asking for that reason, and you are well aware that I’m with Error.” Killer cackled, “Alright, alright. But yeah, no, I don’t mind a boyfriend.” Cross nearly let out a yelp as Nightmare turned to him. Oh no, was he going to ask him something? Cross balked as Nightmare asked him, “Cross, would you be opposed to dating Killer?” Cross stared at him owlishly, his blush burning brighter. Oh stars.
With a stuttering breath, Cross shook his head. Nightmare grinned. Cross was frozen, unable to look at Killer or the others. At the very edge of his vision, though, Cross could see a red glow. Oh, stars. Nightmare hummed, “Well, then, Killer, I hope you don’t mind, but it seems Cross is your boyfriend now. But, if you prefer, you could ask him on a date yourself.”
Cross stared at his lap, his eyes wide. It was so casual. Was it really that easy?? “And, if you somehow failed to understand: Killer, Cross is trans, like you.” Cross choked, his magic short-circuiting and warping him to his bedroom. He hardly noticed when his chair was replaced by his bed, too wrapped up in his panicking. Oh god oh fuck oh god oh f u c k
Cross flopped onto his back, hands on his face. What happens now??? Is Killer going to hunt him down??
Cross shot up from his bed, striding towards the door, his eyes wide. Killer, like Cross?? No way, he needed to see what the fuck was happening in the dining room. Cross teleported half-way there, jogging the rest of the way. He could hear overlapping voices, louder the closer he got. The first voice he could actually make out was Killer’s. It was also the loudest.
“Cross is a dude?!? A guy?!? Bromigo?!?!”
“Why didn’t he say anything!!”
“All of you, calm down-”
“I need to find him-!”
“Killer, sit down!”
Him, he, a dude, a guy, what the fuck is a bromigo, oh my god, they immediately switched to calling him the right things and it felt like being pelted with stones. “Dude, you can find your boyfriend later-” There was no disgust, no- Hold on, did he say boyfriend?
Cross kicked the door open, embarrassment overriding his usual behaviors. “Dust, you better shut the fuck up!” Killer toppled out of his seat, Cross freezing. “…DAMN CROSS, WHERE’D YOU GET THAT VOICE,” Killer practically moaned, and Cross flinched back in surprise, his face lighting up with bright purple. His voice had changed. It was deeper. His magic must’ve adjusted once the news got out.
“…Whatever, my voice doesn’t matter, Dust, you say anything else and I’m throwing Cyanide out in Icetale.” Dust gasped, “No!” Killer loudly, and obnoxiously moaned again, “Cross, you’re killing me with that voice.” Cross started to take off his shoe, Killer scrambling up from the floor with a yelp, “OKAY, OKAY, I’LL STOP-!”
Cross nodded sternly, putting his foot back down. A short silence fell, quickly broken as Horror asked, “When’re ya… gonna kiss?” Cross teleported away again, this time on purpose.