Fic: Painted Ladies (SGA, gen)

Author’s Note: This was the result of downloading several large promo images of Teyla and noticing a subtle but distinct difference between the earlier and later ones. And yes, I have Teyla and Elizabeth acting a little girly, what of it? I happen to be a girly girl and proud of it, so why shouldn’t they be sometimes? *grin*

It was something that she had noticed almost immediately, but it had taken her some time to find the courage to broach the subject. She did not know why–perhaps it was a reluctance to show her ignorance, but that did not seem likely since she was ignorant of many things that the Atlanteans took for granted. Just as they too were ignorant of many things about this place; of the two, her ignorance seemed by far the less important.

Still, she was eager to learn and her new friends had never yet been reluctant to teach her. But this…this seemed different, somehow: as though she were inquiring into some deeply personal ritual too sacred to speak of, as no one ever did.

It was for that reason that, even though she noticed it immediately, it took Teyla some time to approach Dr. Weir with her question, and why she stood outside the Atlantean leader’s door even now, hesitant to announce her presence.

Before she could decide, the door suddenly whooshed open and Dr. Weir stood before her. “Teyla,” the older woman exclaimed, sounding…well, not displeased. “This is a surprise.”

“If there is somewhere you need to be–” the Athosian stated hurriedly, uncomfortably eager for an excuse to forget her strange errand.

Weir shook her head firmly. “Not at all–I was just heading down to the mess hall to grab a cup of coffee.”

“Then I will return at a later time,” Teyla offered in a rush. The last thing she wished was to broach her inquiry in public and unwittingly violate whatever code of silence surrounded this peculiar custom. “I had hoped to speak with you privately.”

Elizabeth laid a hand on her arm and smiled. “It can wait. I’ve had my first cup of the day already–withdrawal shouldn’t set in for another few hours.”

That was something else Teyla did not understand–the Atlanteans’ dependence on the bitter brown drink, and the self-deprecating humor with which they regarded the habit. Major Sheppard had insisted that she would if she only finished her cup, but she much preferred the taste of her own people’s tea, at least for the moment.

Dr. Weir stepped aside. “Please, come in.”

Robbed of excuses, Teyla set aside the coffee question, did as she was bidden and entered the room, her eyes taking in its decorations as she did so. The Atlantean leader’s room was very different from her own–decorated sparsely and with an eye to order rather than beauty–but it possessed the same methodical grace as its inhabitant and was pleasing in its own way.

The Athosian perched herself gingerly in a chair and waited apprehensively. Dr. Weir took a seat opposite her and folded patient hands, regarding her with diplomatic eyes. “What can I do for you, Teyla?”

“There is a…custom…that I wish to inquire about…” The words came out halting, much to Teyla’s chagrin, but now that she was here it would be shameful to back down from the challenge. “…yet I do not wish to seem disrespectful of your people or their ways, or pry into anything that is…too private.”

The other woman frowned, but more in concentration than disapproval. “I’m pleased that you trusted me enough to come to me about this. I hope you know I would never be offended by anything you need to ask me, no matter how personal. We don’t expect you to know all of our customs on such a short acquaintance.”

Even though that had been her hope, the Athosian woman still felt a deep swell of relief. “I have observed that the women of your culture…paint themselves each day, with different colors.” At the odd look that crossed Dr. Weir’s face, Teyla rushed on, her stomach growing heavy. “I realize it is something you do not speak of, but I do not understand this ritual. Does it have some sort of religious significance?”

For a moment, the Earth woman just stared at her, then much to her surprise and a bit to her affront, she began to laugh.

“Have I said something wrong?” Teyla asked, bewildered and growing angry.

Weir quickly got herself under control. “No. I’m sorry, Teyla, I truly didn’t mean to embarrass you.” She laid a reassuring hand on the younger woman’s arm. “It’s just…the reason we don’t talk about it isn’t because it holds some deep, spiritual significance. It’s because…well…for us, this is something so commonplace, so ordinary, that it just didn’t occur to us. I wasn’t laughing at you–I was laughing at myself for not realizing that it was something you might not have experience with. And I should have–God knows I’ve been to enough countries on my own world where women could hardly afford to buy or use expensive cosmetics.”

The sincerity in her voice made Teyla’s anger subside, but not her confusion. “These…’cosmetics’…”

Patting her arm once, Weir smiled and rose from her seat to disappear for a moment into her small toilet chamber. She returned with a transparent pouch of some material Teyla had never seen before, packed with tubes and flat, shiny cases of all shapes, sizes and colors.

“This,” the doctor explained, “is what we call ‘make-up,’ or as I said before, ‘cosmetics.’ Its purpose…well, I suppose you could say it’s designed to accentuate your own natural features. For example, eyeliner–” She drew a slender stick with a darker, sharpened core from the bag and held it up to the light. “–draws attention to the eyes and makes them seem larger. Depending on what color you choose to wear, it can also make the color of your eyes appear brighter or more prominent.” She pulled out another tube, then another. “Mascara darkens and appears to lengthen your eyelashes and lipstick makes your lips look darker or fuller, or both, while foundation hides blemishes and problematic variations in your skin. Everything else in that bag serves a similar purpose.”

Teyla frowned, still trying to understand the purpose of all this. “And the men in your culture do not wish also to enhance their natural features?” She had seen none of them decorating their faces in this manner.

Weir’s face turned upwards once again in an expression of merriment, but it was sympathetic not mocking. “On Earth, many cultures draw distinctions between what is proper behavior for men and women. Some of these distinctions are fading, but it’s still difficult for a man to wear makeup even if he wants to. Other men–and some women–will question his masculinity.”

Now Teyla smiled too–she was quite familiar with the value many men placed upon their gender, and upon not being perceived in any way as feminine. It was nice to know that there were some things that did not change no matter what world you were born on.

“Then this…’make up’ does not have a purpose, except to help distinguish male from female?”

“Well…I guess you could say its purpose varies.” Weir explained with another smile, this one slightly secretive. “Some women wear makeup because they believe it makes them more attractive to men. Some of us, on the other hand, do it just to please ourselves, because we like how we look with it better than without it.”

Intrigued, Teyla picked up a tube of what the older woman had called ‘lip stick’ and turned it over in her hands. “And you are among the latter group?”

Weir laughed. “Well, I like to think so anyway.” She tilted her head to one side and studied the Athosian. “You know…you’re very pretty already, Teyla, but you might look nice with a little lipstick and blush…would you be willing to let me try?”

Teyla’s head shot up, her eyes wary. A refusal was on her lips, but then she glanced back down to the pale coral color of the tube in her hands. A very nice color, she had to admit. And what could it hurt, after all, to try it once? Perhaps it would help her to understand her new friends a little better. She nodded dubiously.

After some haggling over what colors to use–Dr. Weir was adamant that it must be something complimentary to Teyla’s natural coloring, lest she look like “some trashy televangelist’s wife,” whatever that was–the application process began. The Athosian was surprised and rather appalled by how interminable it seemed, and only the Atlantean woman’s insistence that it wouldn’t always take this long kept her from abandoning the process before it was completed. Also, only an unshakeable trust in Dr. Weir that had yet to be disproved kept her from flinching when the “eyeliner” was brought into the picture.

While she painted, Dr. Weir kept Teyla occupied with a string of brief anecdotes of her own introduction to ‘make up’–from stealing her mother’s ‘lip stick’ as a child and smearing it all over her face (which it was not meant for, she vowed) to parties where she and her girlhood friends would stay awake late into the night experimenting with their faces and their hair.

The stories were both personal enough and dusty enough in the telling that Teyla suspected they were not something the older woman shared often, and enjoyed a feeling of quiet privilege that meant far more than the ‘make up’ itself, that she had been trusted with them.

Finally, Dr. Weir finished and sat back, satisfied. “There. Let me get you a mirror.”

She disappeared and returned a moment later with a small hand mirror, which Teyla brought up before her face still with a lingering apprehension.

She blinked several times, startled, at the reflection. It was her own face, but there was a subtle, pleasing difference. Her eyes did indeed seem larger and more compelling, her lashes fuller. And the hint of color on her cheeks and lips gave the impression of having just returned from a brisk morning run, or an invigorating workout.

“Well?” Weir asked in a tone of expectant amusement.

“I see,” Teyla said simply. And she did. She saw quite clearly why the Earth women chose to continue this tradition even though Dr. Weir had hinted that it was designed to set them apart from their male counterparts, and not necessarily in a positive manner. For, as the other woman had said, she liked what she saw regardless of whether or not any other person did.

She set down the mirror and turned to the other woman. “I believe I should like to learn more about this ‘make up.'”


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