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Candy From Strangers

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Title: Candy From Strangers, Pt. 25
Warning: Spoilers for MTMTE and RiD. Trying to explain an annoyingly stereotypical human design on Transformers.
Rating: PG-13
Continuity: G1, IDW
Characters: Nautica, Brainstorm, Rung, Megatron, Perceptor, Wheeljack, Skyfire.
Disclaimer: The theatre doesn’t own the script or actors.
Motivation (Prompt): Lipstick Challenge 2014 and a couple commissions.

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Lipstick challenge - Why?

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“No, I mean,” Nautica shrugged, “what part of me are you paying the most attention to when I talk? We knew when we left Caminus that our accent might make it difficult to understand us. We wanted people to pay attention to how our mouths moved to shape the words. It’s why our original party didn’t have anybody with face masks. I was almost disqualified because of this.” She plinked a finger against her optical screen. “They finally ruled it transparent enough to allow people to easily pick out my facial features.”

Most of Swerve’s bar had been drawn into the discussion by now, and faces were being made around the room. Not faces of disbelief or disgust; mechs were testing where their optics fell as they talked. It made so much sense Ratchet had his face in the palm of his hand, muttering to himself about age affecting his optics and brain module. He wasn’t alone in that. Everyone had noticed her accent. Nobody, it seemed, had made the connection between that and going out of her way to make sure they understood what she said.

Nautica went back to applying the cosmetic layer of paint around her mouth, sticking to the natural outline of her lips. She’d had to explain why the tubes of paint were called ‘lipstick.’ She’d had to explain everything, really. Most of it was blindingly obvious in retrospect.

“Doesn’t that layer get chipped off by even, y’know, just talking?” Swerve had asked when she was swilling back her third drink. He was polishing paint transfers off her second glass, slightly frustrated that it wasn’t coming off as easily as he’d expected. Paint transfers didn’t just wipe away. “Looks nice or whatever, but I don’t know how you keep up with the scuff marks.”

“Of course it chips off,” she’d said. “Makes it easy to tell which drink is mine.” A meaningful nod down the bar indicated those who couldn’t be so certain and Whirl, who was taking advantage of that fact to argue that the fuller glass was his. “But it’s not hard to fix. I just put on another layer real quick,” she popped out a mysterious tube and used the side of her glass to see her face as she smoothed on purple paint, rubbed her lips to spread it, and smiled, “and there we go. Done. And it looks fantastic, thanks for noticing.” She put down her glass and blinked. “What? Why’s everyone staring?”

Silence had fallen around the bar. Everyone had, indeed, been staring.

“…why do you do that?”

“Frag why. Do it again.”

“No, seriously, what’s up with the mouth paint?”

So she’d explained, and now the entire bar was trying to keep track of where their optics naturally fell during conversation. It wasn’t working well because they were too aware of what they were trying to do, but Nautica was enjoying their efforts. She even got a round of thoughtful nods when she successfully ordered a drink by silently mouthing the words instead of speaking aloud.

“I didn’t even know I could read lips.” Swerve was impressed despite himself. “Drink’s on me.”

Everyone at the bar immediately had to try it after that.

Half an hour into the Great Mouth-Watching Experiment, Skids plonked himself down in the seat beside her. “Okay, do me.”

Nautica swept a glance down him. “Not your best line, I hope.”

He coughed. “Ah, not really what I was trying for, but maybe later. Anyway, I meant,” he pointed at his lips. “Paint me.”

She turned her tube of lippaint over in her hand and frowned. “It’s not really your color.”

“Why would that matter?”

“There’s a tipping point between naturally drawing the optics during conversation and interrupting the conversation because you can’t look away.”

“Oh. Well, I have some touch-up paint. Would that work?”

Nautica took the little jar and shook it. “This’ll do. You got something to apply it with?”

“The smudge-tip won’t work?” She gave him a dry look and mimed pushing the smudge-tip on the jar over her mouth. “Right. No.” Not unless he wanted a flat streak of color smeared across his mouth instead of the contoured lips she’d drawn on her own face. “Hold on, I’ll go find a brush.”

[* * * * *]

Lipstick challenge - Other whys

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“I like it.”

Nautica raised an optic ridge at Brainstorm. “There’s science involved. Of course you like it. You know how much testing went into assembling our team? We had to have visible optics, mouths, and be able to speak at least two languages apiece besides having a field of specialty each.”

Brainstorm spun his glass around and pretended not to see Swerve glaring at him for ignoring the ‘No Briefcase’ sign. “Is that why Windblade’s face is painted that way?”

“Partially. Some of it’s just how her old paintjob was before we scored placement in the group.” Nautica dipped her head to see the scientist’s expression. “Why?”

He pretended not to care. “I liked the paint around her optics. The point must have been to make her expressions easier to read, I would guess. A pattern of lights transmitting mood would have been just as effective for longer ranged communication, but the interference with her sight could have made that more difficult to implement. Although there are ways to get around that,” he mused. “Some filters on the optics, like those on mechs with brighter headlights.”

She saw right through his attempt at casualness. “Brainstorm, do you want me to show you how to make up your optics?”

“Pfft, I don’t need help with that. It’s a simple reproduction of image captures using whatever paint I find complementary of my paintjob. Easy to the point of simplicity. Something more difficult would not only look better but provide a challenge!” He half-rose off his barstool, already excited. “Take that, Perceptor, and your blasted red lips!” Those pretty, pretty red lips that could mesmerize him even when talking about safety procedures he found totally unnecessary and redundant. But he’d show Perceptor. They’d just see if the stiff scientist could resist Brainstorm when his optics were painted attention-catching patterns and colors.

Nautica just watched him. She just had to see where this went. She’d paint his optics up for him once he calmed down enough to hint that an example to work from would be welcome, but in the meantime, she wanted to see where his mind took him. After listening to him plot for a while, she grinned and popped out her lipstick to put on a fresh, slick wet coat. “You can have lips, too.”

Brainstorm broke out of his inventor’s trance to blink at her. “How could I possibly -- “

Wet lips pressed to the side of his face mask, leaving a perfect purple print. “There.”

The bar went silent. One hand shot up to hover over the lipmarks, afraid to touch, but Brainstorm’s optics were painfully wide and bright as they stared at Nautica.

Awesome,” Whirl said into the silence. “We face-less mechs can join in the fun, too. Everybody kiss me.”

[* * * * *]

Lipstick challenge - Why not?

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“But why did it go out of style?”

Megatron wished now that he hadn’t commented on the lipstick fad going through the Lost Light, but it was too late to take back his words. It wasn’t an odd thing to comment on, since it’d become a rather obvious change to everyone’s paintjobs. It worked, for the most part, but then there were mechs like Swerve who just couldn’t seem to get the hang of how to paint on the lips instead of around them. Or at least how to stop talking long enough for the paint to dry between applications.

Everyone had been marveling at Rung’s perfect application technique, and Megatron had commented that it was probably because mouth-painting used to be a standard part of paintjobs.

Hey, there was poetry dedicated to the colors used by famous people back in older times. Of course Megatron knew about it.

And of course Rung knew about it. He gave Megatron a gently pained look across the bar that made the ex-Decepticon regret even stepping into the place, much less commenting on the current topic. The psychotherapist sighed and answered, “The Functionalist Party is mostly to blame. It began to set standards and popular fashion as it grew in power. That’s why many of the professions of the time are color-coded, still. Think of medics,” he pointed out when the people around him looked confused. “The only medics who break the color-coding for their profession even now are Decepticons.”

“Ambulon.” Ratchet looked extremely uncomfortable under everyone’s optics, but he’d already spoken. Too late to take it back. “I tried to tell Ambulon he didn’t have to paint over his natural colors, but apparently Pharma made red and white the Delphi Clinic standards. I’d like to think it’s so the miners knew who to flag down during emergencies, but.” He shrugged. Pharma’s mental snap could have started long before he knew.

“Yes,” Rung agreed. “Back when the standards were first being enforced, someone whose frametype didn’t belong to a profession involving public speaking or management could be put under scrutiny by the Functionalists for wearing lippaint.” He rested his fingertips against his own painted lips. “Nautica paints her lips to draw attention to how her mouth shapes words, for our benefit. She reminded me that the words we say, and how we say them, denote a power that has long been stripped away from many of us.”

Megatron could have slipped back out of the room now that attention had shifted to the slender orange mech, but he had to comment on that. “I can tell you why it never came back into fashion among the Decepticons,” he volunteered gruffly. Optics snapped toward him, and his smile was grim. “Overlord. Who in the Pit wanted to look like him?”

He knew about what had happened aboard this very ship. He rather thought they’d agree with his statement.

Hopefully, that would head off the fad before Rodimus painted himself up and started bothering him to create a matching look. He’d go back to his gladiator paint before painting himself up to match Rodimus.

Instead of alarm, however, a wave of consternation rippled across the bar. “You mean he did that on purpose?”

“Slag, mech. Now I want to know what he looked like without the lips painted on.”

“Aw, frag, I forgot. You know that Atomizer has been doing contour shading on his mask? I was going to try it to make my lips look fuller.”

“What? Why?”

“I just like the look, okay?”

“Huh.”

Megatron frowned and resigned himself to being pestered by his co-captain.

[* * * * *]

Scribe Protra Commission - Skyfire

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Dragging Perceptor’s attention off his work happened at infrequent intervals that usually required a Decepticon attack and three Autobots. That’s not to say he was oblivious, oh no. Perceptor simply possessed the ability to become completely absorbed in whatever project he applied himself to.

Lately, however, the sheen of light off pristine white plating and the subsonic thrum of interstellar flight engines sent his concentration skittering away to the corners of the laboratory, whereupon he couldn’t retrieve it no matter his best efforts. His useful, if single-minded, ability to block out everything but his work evaporated. His focus tugged away, constantly dividing his attention between work and more personal concerns, and absorption into scientific endeavors evaded his exasperated mental grasp. Concentration broke and slipped through his fingers, and his optics continually strayed toward the unusual fellow scientist sharing the laboratory.

The Ark had insufficient space and equipment to allow for multiple laboratories catering to each scientist among the crew. Wheeljack had wedged an engineering workstation among the detritus in the medbay’s machining room, but he shared the main laboratory with the others as well. The common work space between all of the scientists, engineers, and medical personnel did culture cooperation and a tolerance for interruptions, but Perceptor had increasing difficulty shutting out Skyfire’s mere presence. The shuttleformer stifled his natural friendliness and kept to himself when he saw others were occupied, yet Perceptor couldn’t ignore the towering Autobot.

Distraction became a more frequent occurrence the longer the microscope attempted to redirect his wandering mind. Repeated attempts not to think about what he was dwelling on intensified the need to think about it. What began with the occasional evaluating glance developed into lengthy studies that scanned from the floor upward in detailed analysis of thick radiation shielding, upswept wings, and the inherent difference of a scientist who had never endured the limitations war and survival required. The pure pursuit of knowledge still lit Skyfire’s face when he chanced upon some tidbit of information that inspired curiosity and a fresh excitement to chase that information wherever it led.

Perceptor prioritized war-applicable research. He had to. He’d learned the limitations of war the hard way. Death and destruction had chipped away at an initial resolution to preserve science for science’s sake inside himself, despite the war. As much as he prided himself in remaining a scientist whose most significant breakthroughs were for the sake of the greater good and expansion of the collective knowledge, he was entirely aware of the fact that his value to his chosen side of the war lay in what could be turned against the other side.

The less sophisticated Autobots who favored immediate physical results had no compunction about voicing their opinions on him. They saw no worth in his theoretical work or research. His fighting ability alone held his value to them, and while he took no satisfaction in harming anyone, the evidence for possessing basic combat skill was compelling. He’d reluctantly trained for war, and he recognized eons of warfare had changed him. It’d changed them all, warping how they moved and what they thought.

That was the differentiating factor that made Skyfire stand out from the rest of the Autobots but especially from the scientists he should have resembled the most.

Those scientists were more than half warrior, now. They resembled Skyfire far less than they wished.

Perceptor moved through a laboratory, but part of him existed in the alertness of a war-hardened veteran. He remained ready for the battlefield. Most of the time, he could pretend his purpose in the laboratory was the joy of discovery, but the reminders were small and not always subtle. On occasion, the light off a glass beaker made his target sights spin up through his vision. The click and flash of burners igniting tensed his knees in preparation for dodging the explosion. His trigger finger bent off of anything he picked up, automatically protecting it in case of accident. He stepped lightly, cautiously, and whipped around in a crouch at certain sounds.

Wheeljack was twice as reckless as the most foolhardy frontliner, but he moved through the laboratory like it was another battle to be won. Perceptor and he didn’t need to exchange a word in order to fall into a synchronized rhythm, standing back to back and trading equipment like they were passing ammunition under heavy fire as they operated with the cool-headed efficiency of mechs ruled by logic instead of emotion. They shared space the way veterans shared a foxhole, splicing their individual pieces of personal space together into a union of ability and movement that the other peripherally observed and responded to at a subconscious level trained into them by war.

Skyfire had none of that instinctive awareness. He was highly conscious of everyone around him, but because of his relative size, not because of combat awareness. He stepped aside and checked for clearance as a courtesy, not from defensive reflex clearing way for someone’s shot or looking for snipers. Manners had trained him in making a cautionary stop before entering a room; he was avoiding bowling over anyone emerging instead of taking that brief stop in order to scan the entryway for ambush. Someone coming up on his blindspot made him start and automatically excuse himself for getting in the way, not reach for a pistol or brace his feet.

Perceptor awkwardly started and stopped around him, unconsciously reaching to mesh with a fellow fighter and coming up against something he hadn’t encountered since the early stages of the war: a scientist. A gentle pacifist who’d taken up a weapon under duress but had the inner steel to refuse to surrender his morals even after the shock and loss of nine millions years frozen on Earth. Starscream could and had poured persuasion into the audios of dedicated Autobots and successfully converted them to the Decepticons. Skyfire had the wherewithal to staunchly refuse that seduction.

A former noncombatant had refused the Decepticon Air Commander, rejected one of the most deadly mechs on either side of the war, and survived. That was a wonder in and of itself, but perhaps most marvelous of all was Skyfire’s reaction to accessing and processing further information on the war he’d been thrust into. The shuttle had come to understand the war, understand what his former coworker and friend had become during the years he’d been gone, and yet he retained his hope. He approached his duties as an Autobot from the mindset that he worked toward a near future where the war would end without the extermination of Decepticon or Autobot. He firmly believed in co-existence of the factions.

He had viable plans for it. The upper ranks of the Autobots had uneasily received his suggestions and been dumbfounded by them. An outside perspective on the war was rare enough to leave everyone sputtering from the presumption and naiveté in one.

Perceptor had read the plans. There were plenty of arguments that could be made against Skyfire’s ideas, and just as many to be brought forward to support them. It was utterly disarming that someone had brought forth the suggestion in the first place. Fundamental differences between the factions made an equal solution impossible, and yet…

And yet. Skyfire had questioned facts the Autobots had long accepted as immutable. Perceptor’s first response to analyzing the plans died into thought that turned his assumptions in on themselves as they were revealed to be exactly that: assumptions. He didn’t seriously consider Skyfire’s plans viable, but the courage it took to hold onto unpopular beliefs against the Autobots’ oft-abusive responses to them made Perceptor think further on a subject no one else would dare raise.

Other Autobots considered Skyfire a fool for holding onto hope. Their initial impulse was to lash out against what they were no longer of capable of imagining, but as skeptical as Perceptor was, he could only admire the a spark that hadn’t been beaten down into pessimism by war. It glowed through Skyfire’s every motion, giving him a purity and innocence that then directly contradicted the shuttle’s dry wit and bitingly bitter sense of realism.

Skyfire seemed an idealist at first, but Perceptor knew better. The shuttleformer’s dearest desire was to resume working with Starscream as the Seeker was now. He didn’t nurture a dream to magically change the mech he’d once known. He only wanted to reach and work with the part of Starscream that had been there when he’d thawed out of that ice block.

It took a peculiar kind of mech to accept nine million years of changes and strive to rebuild anyway.

That was the trouble. Skyfire was a unique person. A brilliant scientific mind packaged neatly with an indomitable spark might have drawn Perceptor’s optics, but what made his gaze linger was the shell both inhabited.

To put it in laymech’s terms: Skyfire was gorgeous.

Attractive, yes, with glossy armor protecting powerful engines and a smile that could stop a mech’s fuel pump. His careful attention to detail translated into how he touched people, meticulously cautious in pressure applied to the more fragile plating and small joints. It didn’t take a great associative leap to imagine how those big hands might feel under other circumstances. Perceptor shivered whenever he passed his fellow scientist something, perpetually divided between drinking in the play of hands untainted by combat training or staring deep into crystal blue optics as if he could find and harvest the forgotten source of optimism hidden in Skyfire’s spark. Every time their arms touched, he spent the rest of the day replaying the accidental brush of plating.

White armor gleamed, sterilized and polished, and Perceptor had to yank his optics back to his work forty times in five minutes.

If Skyfire wasn’t so dead-set on waiting for the end of the war and whatever potential relationship he might someday resume with Starscream, he couldn’t have avoided noticing the way Perceptor mooned after him. As it was, it seemed impossible that he hadn’t noticed anything at all. Wheeljack was starting to make uncouth jokes about it. Perceptor could only conclude that Skyfire was politely ignoring his somewhat improper crush upon a someone technically under his command.

A command that would, of course, be terminated upon the end of the war, but then Skyfire would be dedicated to courting Starscream back into his laboratory and embrace, one and the same. There would be no consideration given to other relationship options.

Unless, of course, those relationship options included expansion and inclusion instead of exclusion.

There was plenty of Skyfire to go around, and Starscream was undeniably beautiful.

Perceptor began exploring something for his own sake, prioritizing discovery for his own purposes and applying the acquired knowledge on something other than the war. It was selfish, but wasn’t research for the sake of research a kind of selfishness in and of itself? The war had interfered with the urge to want something for himself, as opposed to for the Autobots. This was nothing that he would have embarked on if the war hadn’t happened, but he wouldn’t have questioned his freedom to do so.

He needed to start looking up ways to open communication, alternative interfacing techniques, and the logistics of entering into a relationship of more than two mechs. It would be difficult, a continual balancing act, but worth the effort if the experiment paid off in an actual relationship with the stunning scientist who’d thawed out and walked into his professional life to remind him there was a universe to explore outside of war.

With so much on his mind, no wonder Perceptor didn’t have a lot of attention left over to pay to his work these days.

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