Fabia Sheen, Neathian princess and Haos Brawler, slumped onto the couch in her private suite, her head dropping against the back rest in exhaustion. After Jake's battle with Dan and and the brainwashed Subterra Brawler's subsequent escape, a Gundalian detachment had attacked the final shield, to prevent the Brawlers from attempting to rescue their kidnapped friend. Though the Castle Knights had won the battle, between the skirmish and Jake's betrayal, it had been a tiring day for the young woman. Aranaut was already asleep on the table beside her, and she was also hoping to take a nap, before the strategy meeting.
As she reached for her Bakumeter, there was a knock at her door, and she froze, her finger millimeters away from the button.
"Who is it?" she asked, unable to keep a hint of exasperation from her voice.
"Oh, sorry Fabia, it's Dan," his voice told her that he had understood her tone, "I just had something I wanted to talk to you about. I can come back later."
"No, that's okay," she stammered as her heart skipped a beat. Fabia scrambled over to the door, and tried to look graceful as she opened it.
"What can I do for you?" she asked, smiling openly.
"Like I said there was something I wanted to ask you about," he said weakly, "but I kinda thought it should be in private, ya know?"
"Alright," she faltered slightly, confused, "In that case, please, come in."
After he was inside, she closed the door, and turned to face him apprehensively.
"So, what did you want to talk about?" she prompted.
"Well, now that I'm here, it's kinda hard to say it... But I was wondering, do you trust us Fabia? I mean, me and the other Brawlers from Earth."
"Of course," she answered quickly, sounding hurt, "How can you even ask me that?"
"It's just that..." Dan paused, scratching the back of his head in uncertainty, "It's just, you've never shown us what you really look like. Unless you really do look like a Human, unlike the rest of the Neathians. In which case I might be touching a sore spot, and I should probably stop talking now."
"No," she admitted hesitantly. Then she took a calming breath and continued, "You're right, this isn't my true form."
"I mean, I get why Ren does it," Dan plowed ahead after her confirmation, "He said the Neathians will probably be more comfortable with him if he looks like a Human instead of a Gundalian. And the same thing with back in Interspace; looking like a Neathian would've attracted all kinds of attention. But now that we're in Neathia, why keep hiding?"
"I guess because..." Fabia was ashamed by what she was about to say, but felt she owed her friend the truth, "I worried the Brawlers would think I had been lying to them or misleading them, because I had been hiding my real appearance."
"Okay," he nodded, "But that can't be the only reason. I mean, I just said we know why you did it."
"The other reason is I was afraid you would reject me if you saw the real me," Fabia offered. Then, thinking about her words, she quickly clarified, "you guys would reject me. I thought that you might find my real appearance hideous and be frightened off. I suppose, to some degree I still do wonder about that."
"My best buddy is a plastic marble half the time, and a sixty-foot tall dragon monster the rest of the time," Dan chuckled, "Why would you think we would be frightened by your looks?"
"The Gundalians," she explained, "Even though our three peoples are so similar; two arms, two legs, ten fingers and toes, two eyes, and all the rest; the Gundalians consider Neathians to be repulsive. I was afraid Humans might feel the same way."
"What about you?" he asked curiously, "I mean, me and the other guys must look pretty strange to you."
"Not really," she shook her head, "Neathians don't judge appearances in quite the same way. For example, I don't think Linus's Human disguise is any more or less attractive than his real appearance. And I would say that either version of Ren is more attractive than either version of Linus."
"Oh really?" Dan needled her, "So you think Ren is pretty hot stuff, huh?"
"Well, not compared to you or Shun..." she trailed off, annoyed with Dan for dragging that admission from her, and with herself for making it. She turned away from him, blushing with both embarrassment and anger.
"Well, I guess I fall somewhere in between that," the Pyrus Brawler offered an olive branch by ignoring her statement and her mortification, "To me, the Gunadalians are pretty freaky looking, but I don't really think they're ugly or anything, just really different. And I don't think Neathians are any... how did you put it... 'more or less attractive' than Humans."
She smiled happily as she faced him again.
"Are those the only reasons you keep disguising yourself?" he queried.
"There are also the kids Kazarina brainwashed," she pointed out, "Some of them know my Human form, so when we free them, it was and will be easier to interact with them if they recognize me."
She sighed, and admitted, "And in the end, it has become something of a habit. The first thing I do after I get dressed in the morning is activate my disguise, and I usually don't turn it off until I get ready for bed."
Dan nodded broadly. Then he pursed his lip thoughtfully.
"Would you show me?" he requested, "Your real face?"
"Do you really want to see?" she asked timidly, all of her fears and worries having just been dragged back to the front of her mind.
"Yeah, I want to see the real you, Fabia," he answered somberly. Then he grinned and added glibly, "If only so I can recognize you if your Bakumeter ever gets damaged."
"Alright," she agreed, his casual flippancy putting her at ease. The Neathian Princess placed her right hand over the machine on her wrist, and disabled the device that masked her true appearance. There was a slight shimmering over her body, and then for the first time, Fabia Sheen stood before Dan Kuso as a Neathian.
Her Castle Knight uniform was unchanged, as was the shape and size of her body underneath the neck to toe armor. Only Fabia's face showed any difference. Her eyes were narrower and sharper, and instead of an iris, cornea, and sclera, her orbs were a single, undifferentiated field of green, reflecting the light like polished gemstones. Her nose was wider and more prominent between her eyes, yet came to a sharper point. Her hair did not change in shade, but was inexplicably longer and more elaborately styled. Her skin was a pale lavender, and her ears were pointed on top.
She stood there stiffly, watching him, waiting apprehensively for his judgment. After a few moments of studying her features, Dan suddenly dropped his head down and to the right, looking away.
"I expected as much," Fabia smiled sadly as she said that, reaching for her Bakumeter again, "But thank you for trying."
Dan's hand shot out and gently caught her wrist.
"You got this all wrong," he faced her again, his cheeks glowing bright red, "I just didn't want to stare at you too much. I mean, I knew you were cute as a Human, but I didn't expect you to be that beautiful as a Neathian."
Her eyes widened, and she could not stop herself from gawking at him.
"Oh snap, that totally came out wrong," he recanted quickly, releasing her as his blush deepened. At the same time, her cheeks and forehead turned a darker purple for a moment.
"It's okay," she said, a tear rolling down her cheek, "I know what you meant."
"Then why are you crying?" he asked, bewildered.
"I don't know," she said, wiping the tears on her right sleeve. Then very softly, she whispered, "No one has called me beautiful since Jin died."
For a moment, she hoped that her ally had not heard her. Then he took a step closer, and wrapped his arms around her. She went rigid in his grasp.
"Sorry, I guess I shouldn't have done that," he started to pull away, when she suddenly hugged him back.
"No, that's okay, too," she told him, "It's just no one has touched me since Jin died either. That's not counting handshakes and stuff like that. Just... nothing like this."
He placed his arms back around her, holding her loosely until she was ready to let go.
"Thank you," she said contentedly, drying her eyes again.
"Any time," he said openly. Then he started again, and added weakly, "Umm, you know what I mean."
"Yeah," her eyes narrowed as she considered him.
"I think I do," she concluded confidently. Then both of their Bakumeters beeped.
"I guess it's time to go meet the others," he said, confused by the regret he felt. She nodded, and collected Aranuat before triggering her disguise again.
"Why'd you do that?" he asked.
"I'm not ready for all the others to see the real me yet," she admitted. She smiled at him tentatively.
"Okay," he shrugged, "But whenever you are ready, I'll be there for you."
"I know," she said happily. Then she darted past him, shouting, "Come on, or we'll be late."
Laughing, he followed close behind her.