In Defence of Cross: An Essay
(Note: I originally wrote this for another forum - dgraydivinity - and copypasted, so there's a reference or two to that. Just thought some people here might want to read it, since I don't see any of you there~ Been a while since I wrote one of these threads, huh?)
Perhaps this is a bit late, but recent chapters (yes, that means spoilers - here's your warning!) have made me - and many others, I'm sure - reconsider how they view Cross Marian.
For fourteen volumes, we knew very little about the man, and most of that indicated he was not someone most of us wanted to know. Nearly everything we knew came from Allen's recollection, whether that be descriptions to others or memories of conversation. We learned that he was an alcohol-loving womanizer who abused and forced ridiculous amounts of debt upon Allen; there was nothing to indicate that he was a decent man at all. Why should we like him?
Then we were introduced to him and all those negative personality traits were (nearly) offset by the single factor that Cross was badass. Oh, and very, very handsome. Sure, his personality was still terrible, and we then learned he conspired with a Noah (against the Earl, true), but somehow, that could be forgiven. Let us not forget that he opposed Levellier right from the beginning, and if the "Least Favourite Characters" thread is any indication, that's second only to someone opposing Chaozii.
Yet we still had no good reason to like Cross. Until the truth about the 14th was revealed, that is.
Ironically, this is when Cross revealed one of the worst deeds he must have ever performed: that, at the very least, he was aware of what the 14th had done to Allen and still followed the 14th. To us, that seems pretty unforgivable, although when one considers that we are reading this story from Allen's point of view and at a time when he's matured into a kind person with good morals... At that time, Allen would have been the perfect option: a disfigured orphan cared for by no one, and a horrible brat! Besides, it seems very likely Cross had no role in it as he didn't know when it happened, and is that really any worse than the Exorcists working for the Order who also killed innocent children - and far more than just one nasty little street kid?
It is in these chapters that Cross shows a very different side that we ever expected to see in him, most undeniably with the hug he gives to Allen at the end of chapter 167. He also says something about how he can't laugh at Tiedoll... the General who cares for his students like family. From this scene alone we find that Cross really does care about Allen, despite what he may think, and has probably done so for a while. In chapter 168, he sentimentally reminisces about how Allen's changed since he came to the Order. We see a very different side of Cross than Allen had ever described, one where the General seems more like a caring father figure than an abusive temporary guardian and master. Why else would he bring up Tiedoll?
Admittedly, this isn't the first time we see a soft side of Cross; it's alluded to in chapter 134, at least, when he and Lenalee discuss Anita. With such a soft expression and his fond words about her, somewhat admiring, we get our first indication that he isn't the cold-hearted bastard Allen always made him out to be.
Cross has also been shown to respect Allen to some extent in previous chapters: saying that "the master and student stand victorious" when Allen saves the Ark (the Cross we would have guessed at should have taken credit for himself), and trusts Allen in chapter 144 during the Egg battle (which he even says straight out). Granted, that's hardly on the level of what is to come, but they're small indicators.
Okay, so I think we can agree by now that Cross is not the cold-hearted bastard Allen always made him out to be in the past. Does that mean we need to reconsider what we thought we knew about him to reflect this new knowledge of his personality? I propose that we do: that it is possible to see even Cross's problematic traits in a good light, or at least one that reflects a surprisingly good person.
We know he kept his promise to the 14th to watch over Mana, as shown by the flashback in chapter 167 (Timcanpy's on a tree watching Allen be carried away). That's likely how he found Allen so quickly after the akuma incident. After that, according to the fanbook, Allen was taken somewhere else (Mother's?) to recover for a year, presumably from whatever injury prevented him from using his hand for years. Awfully nice of Cross, isn't it, to wait so long?
...but that's really not important, just an accidental diversion. Where were we again? Ah yes - Cross is one of only two people that we know of to have known both the 14th and Allen quite well. Allen questions whether Mana saw him as 'Allen' and not the 14th; he does not say the same for Cross, who makes it undoubtably clear that Allen is Allen, not someone else despite the 14th's presence and memories. Of course, this makes sense even from what we would have known about Cross before this; would he really have mistreated the 14th in such a way? Unlikely.
However, it's also unlikely that Cross would have treated Allen in such a way too, since his caring hug and sadness over the situation (that he probably had no control over) indicate genuine affection of a somewhat parental nature. Yet we do know that he mistreated Allen over the years!
Leaving aside the occasional slap and affectionate insults (this seems to be normal behaviour for DGM males, if the antics of Allen and his other teenage guy buddies are anything to go by), I think there's another reason for this that would explain the strangeness of the situation, why Cross apparently has no trouble differentiating between Allen and the 14th, and, for that matter, how human Cross is. Could he possibly have mistreated Allen to distance himself from the boy? From the very beginning Cross would have known what Allen's destiny is, to lose himself and essentially die so that the 14th may be reborn. Unfortunately, by this time, Allen was an incredibly adorable and sweet ten-year-old who had, incidentally, just gone through a horrible life-altering tragedy and lost his only family member (who may not have even cared for him - Cross couldn't have known for sure, could he?). Being a decent person, of course Cross would have wanted to care for the orphaned-yet-again Allen, yet he also would have to deal with the problem of knowing this child will die in a few years after enduring plenty of suffering with no knowledge of the situation. Getting too attached to Allen only to lose him in the near future, and to be constantly aware of this, would have been terribly painful for Cross.
What would any normal, compassionate yet flawed person do in that situation? Distance themselves, of course.
That's exactly what Cross did. Abuse would be a great way of getting Allen to hate him, first of all, and perhaps he could even convince himself that he didn't like Allen, that he didn't care what happened to him, that he enjoyed this. It sounds like a terrible thought, and it obviously didn't work, but that's what people do. He did succeed in making Allen dislike him to some extent. Perhaps that was a good thing he did for Allen: in the end, Cross delivered that life-changing news to Allen and then died. The saying of "don't shoot the messenger" could easily apply here; it wasn't technically Cross's fault this happened, but naturally, Allen would feel angry at Cross for the situation because he's the one who delivered the news. On top of that, at Cross's death (and he seemed to know it was coming), it might have been that abuse and the subsequent negative emotions it built up in Allen that prevented him from being devastated at the death of yet another important person and father figure. Instead of letting Cross distance himself, it let Allen do so - and it was Cross who endured the suffering for him.
Another potential reason which could be related to the above is that Cross felt some sort of guilt for his role in what happened to Allen, and possibly other terrible deeds he has done or has some responsibility for (working with the Order despite its transgressions?). The mistreatment of someone he cared for - and it could have been from the moment Allen met Cross; the General watched him for three years, which is certainly enough for him to have developed an attachment - would have caused terrible pain to Cross. In fact, the chapters preceeding Cross's first real appearance are all about how the suffering of a loved one is so difficult for one to deal with, from Road with Tiki to Allen with Lenalee and vice versa, and Lenalee with her friends... many examples. It's Cross's penance for his misdeeds.
Supporting this theory is Cross's lifestyle itself. For many volumes we thought of him as a womanizer who constantly borrowed money from the many people he knew. However, was he ever close to these people? There is no indication. Relatively few people seem to know Cross well; we know of only Allen who has had sustained contact with him. Besides Anita (a special case), his disappearance seems to have gone relatively unnoticed, and it's likely that even his death would cause few to genuinely mourn because the one who died was Cross, not just someone they knew. Cross was constantly travelling, borrowing money from many who would then subsequently dislike him - but never beyond their means, it seems; it was just enough for people to grow angry at his habit without suffering themselves - and sleeping with many women who probably barely knew him at all. The exception is Anita, who he likewise cared about... and one would think that if he did, they could be together; instead, Cross left her (for her own safety) multiple times. He was probably a very lonely man; it should not come as a surprise that he would care for Allen, one of the only people who has stayed in his life for any prolonged period of time.
Speaking of women, Cross seems awfully rude for most of the time we see him! How on earth would he charm ladies in such a way? Considering how many women have fallen for Allen and his gentlemanly ways, it's doubtful it's through looks alone. Cross almost certainly shows his gentle side that Anita apparently knew of (and maybe he acts rudely in the morning to put them off, but he'd never get that many women into bed that way!). For that matter, we haven't seen any indication that he mistreats women at all; he does seem to like them very much. I don't think it's unreasonable to believe that Allen actually got his gentlemanly behaviour towards women from Cross, not Mana - how often would Mana have encountered women, for one, and there's also the little detail that Allen would have conveniently been going through that life stage known as puberty with Cross... If so, that probably won't ever change about him even if he speaks less formally.
Combined with his life-destroying addictions to alcohol and nicotine, is it really so difficult to believe that Cross is living a self-destructive lifestyle on purpose? We know he can be a kind and caring person with feelings of responsibility and guilt; that does not match with Allen's view of him as a terrible, uncaring jackass with no moral compass. This contradiction can be avoided by this theory... and with the sadness Cross expresses for Allen, it suddenly becomes easy to imagine him as the type of person who would do such a thing: isolate himself from the world to avoid attachment, to avoid the suffering of others because of him, and as a punishment for his misdeeds.
I'm pretty sure you can apply this to nearly all of Cross's known actions and come up with a sensible answer as to the reason he performed it. For example, we know that Allen cannot consume alcohol in any form because he once ate Cross's alcoholic chocolates and something bad happened. On one hand, it sounds like Cross being a jackass as usual. On the other hand, look at the result: Allen avoids alcohol for the rest of his life. Isn't that a good thing? Allen will never be driven to alcoholism, and considering how many bad things have happened in his life, he could very well have been at risk.
Likewise, the debts. They sound awful, but what effect have they had on Allen that could be considered positive? For one, they are something that only Allen experiences, a property of 'Allen' and not the 14th or Mana. In chapter 173, Cross mentions that Allen wears a 'mask of Mana'; by cultivating Allen's own violent (and most un-Mana-like) reactions, Cross encourages Allen to be himself. The real Allen, after all, has quite a temper! Another effect is encouraging the moral Allen to repay them at some point, therefore providing a reason for him to live on and become a contributing member of society. It sounds a bit silly for the debts to be a reason Allen wants to live, but that might serve to counter some of his somewhat-suicidal tendencies to accept death a little too easily.
I don't even feel I need to mention Cross's dying message, where that goal of getting Allen to be himself and not Mana, the 14th, or someone else is explicitly stated (please ignore the fact that I just did so!). What has become blatantly clear is that Cross has, and possibly always had, Allen's best interests at heart. He seems to indicate that Allen means more to him than the 14th and his goal. In the end, I suspect Cross's actions and message will be something that encourages this in Allen; if lacking, Allen might have given into the 14th for the sake of killing the Earl. Cross did have a direct role to play in Allen's statement about stopping the 14th, after all: would Allen have chosen to fight as hard if he didn't believe that the lives of important people to him were at stake?
In summary, I think it can be concluded that Cross was fundamentally a good person whose negative traits were not merely the result of human weakness and a lack of morals but intentionally imposed because of morals (if possibly misguided). No matter how much we may like him for his appearance and badassery, knowing that Cross may have been one of the most kind characters, one who has suffered a great deal and hidden it from everyone successfully for their sake, inspires a new kind of awe and appreciation.
I'm sure this won't come as news to most of you, but I hope that by outlining these arguments here I have made it easier for some of you to see this, or organise your own thoughts on the matter. I've probably missed a lot and I'd love to hear comments on this or additional facts for or against my argument. Thank you for reading!
(Oh, one last note: If Cross did impose a penance on himself because he felt he was personally responsible for some of the horrible tragedies that have occurred, does that make him even more moral than others like Allen - who has never, to our knowledge, considered the role he played in this? Hmm... something to think about!)