Teyla is very proud of her hair: almost shoulder length, and shining in the sun like the teyl stones for which she was named. After the last culling back on Athos, only the most prosperous had been able to keep long hair properly cared for. She lives now in the city of the Ancestors, and to the Earthborn long hair is the style of a submissive, not of a top. Teyla does not care. She has lost her homeworld twice over, her path through life the long, hard road of the Ancestors’ first path, and she is going to grow her hair until it falls half-way down her back.
At night, there is a ritual. She sits on one of the Ancestors’ chairs, hard and uncomfortable as they are, and John brushes her hair. To him, it is an act of service, and his hands are gentle with brush and comb. Teyla doesn’t look in the mirror – unlike these Earthborn, too obsessed with gazing in at themselves to see beyond to something larger – but she knows that if she looked at John his expression would be very peaceful, absorbed in the quiet joy of serving his spouse.
When he has finished, and her hair is a shimmering cloud, she pulls him down for a kiss, and they exchange places. Neither Rodney nor Ronon feel any need to take part, though they are usually present and preparing for sleep themselves. Teyla is glad that this particular act of intimacy belongs to her and her submissive alone. They each have their own ways of sharing their dominance with John, just as he shares his submission with them. This way is hers.
John is not comfortable with the idea of sitting on a chair while she stands, but neither can he kneel for any extended length of time. He is thirty-four Lantean years old – forty of his Earth-years, or seventeen and a half circlings of Athos around its sun – and she would not cause him pain.
When he had at last come to them – hesitantly, defensively, like a fierce wild creature taking a wary step towards the taming hand – he had confessed he did not enjoy or desire either pain or discipline. Ronon and Rodney had nodded in thoughtful acceptance, but Teyla had simply stared, bewildered.
Rodney had explained that on Earth many subs enjoyed pain in a sexual context. This, Teyla is familiar with, although it was not discussed openly in the polite society of the easternmost peninsula of Athos, where she was raised. But she has known since she was but a yearling, long before she ever had a submissive of her own, when she had giggled over such things with other youthful tops, and thought no sub could be so fine as those in the lays Charin sang as she worked.
Rodney had said also that many Earthborn submissives desired their tops to inflict pain upon them to discipline them; to control and modify their behaviour. Teyla has seen such a thing on other worlds, although it was not common on Athos. She has encountered too many different ways of living to disapprove of what works for another culture. She likes to think she is less judgemental than the Earthborn, so quick to condemn any way of life that does not match their own.
But she shudders back from the memory of John’s tense, set face, and his expectation that she and Rodney and Ronon would choose to set themselves up as council and judge upon his conduct, whether it were against his desire or no. This, Teyla does not understand. John is her submissive, and as such hers to protect, just as John gifts both his protection and his service to her.
It reassures Teyla that he is now comfortable enough in her dominance to make her aware of his limits; to trust that he will never come to harm under her hands. She gestures to the pile of floor cushions beside the bed, and John grins at her and flops down; graceless as a newly-birthed kerris beast, and utterly unashamed. It warms her from head to toe that here John feels no need for the formal manners his culture has taught him to show to those in authority over him.
With careful hands she unfastens the silver clip which restrains his wild, dark hair. Once upon a time it had belonged to her sister, and their father had traded a month’s labour for it. After the last culling – as she still thinks of it, although it has not been the last for many years now – she had run through the city streets, her heart too sick with fear to take in the destruction of everything she knew. Across the steps of their own house had lain the body of an old woman, Nenyona’s hair-clip still shining bright as it clung to her white hair.
Teyla had never worn it herself. She’d slipped it into the pouch at her waist, the only part of her sister she’d carried away in the evacuation. She’d sworn a solemn oath on the Ancestors’ third path that she wouldn’t allow Nenyona to be forgotten; that one day her own submissive would wear the clip, and they would remember.
She’d presented it to John twelve nights before the four of them were to marry, as was traditional. He’d been shocked and humbled, and too incapable of expressing either feeling to do more than drop to his knees and press his face to her side. Ronon’s gift had been a knife for John to keep in his boot, symbolising the hope that John would always have the weapons at hand to defend both himself and their home. Rodney’s had been John’s marriage-cuffs, smooth and cool; made from an Ancestor metal Rodney said would turn a blade, and which he was already trying to shape into concealable armour.
John had been quite overwhelmed. Some submissives Teyla had known would have cried. John had instead rubbed the back of his neck and faltered out a few awkward, embarrassed, grateful words. Then he had tugged the three of them towards their bed, to express his gratitude far more eloquently than ever he could manage verbally.
Teyla smiles at the memory, and sets the clip down on the low table. She seats herself on the bed, and begins to draw the brush through John’s hair. This is not an act of service. To Teyla, it is an act of love. John is hers, and to care for him in this way pleases both of them. Perhaps it is not quite usual, in either her culture or his, for a top to take care of her submissive in such a way. But Teyla’s life has been turned upside down too many times for her to draw back from anything which brings joy, regardless of whether it might be misunderstood by others.
When she had first met John, his hair had not been long, though it was not nearly as short as that of Rodney and the other Earthborn tops. Once she’d realised he was a low-ranking member of their military, she’d assumed he was perhaps too poor to wear it styled more attractively.
Later she’d learned that when John had come to the city of the Ancestors, his hair had been less than a fingersbreadth longer than his military permitted for a sub, and worn in an unbecoming plait. By the time she’d met him as an individual, rather than one in a crowd of similarly-dressed strangers, the plait was gone; cut away by John’s own hand. Teyla could not regret its loss. Rodney had shown her pictures of the expedition taken back on their homeworld, and she’d wondered if John, a pretty sub who seemed to oscillate between wanting to look beautiful and wanting to look ugly, had deliberately chosen a style that suited him so poorly.
During that first year, with John placed so unexpectedly in a position of authority, his hair had remained at that uncertain length; neither one thing nor another. As they became friends, and began to learn of each other’s cultures, Teyla had asked why he didn’t wear it like Rodney and Elizabeth, and the city’s other leaders. John had only managed a few sentences of explanation, but she’d gathered that he was trying to downplay his submissiveness, while ensuring he could never be mistaken for a top.
After contact had been re-established with Earth, and Evan sent to take command of the military, Teyla had understood a little more. There had been an advance in status for Aidan, from Lieutenant Ford to Captain Ford, and also for many of the other military tops.
There had been nothing for John.
Teyla had been angry about that, as had Rodney. John had been a leader for over four hundred long Lantean days, and yet because of his dynamic his superiors would not acknowledge it. Evan had allowed John to continue to lead Teyla and Rodney offworld on their usual trading ventures, and both he and John had acted as though that were a very great concession indeed. The rest of John’s time had been taken from them, allocated instead to more and yet more of the Earthborn’s obsessive desire to record everything that they did in writing. He’d drawn back a little from Teyla and Rodney, as though afraid that his friendship with them would also be judged improper for him.
Teyla sighs softly, letting the past flow away from her with her breath. She and Rodney – and then Ronon also – had waited patiently for John, until at last he’d come to them, first in love and then in marriage. By the day he was wedded to them, with Teyla’s mark drawn on his neck, and Ronon and Rodney’s across his arms, his hair had once again brushed his shoulders.
In her heart, she would approve if he let it lengthen by another handsbreadth. If a top with long hair was a person of significance, how much more so the top who could keep her submissive’s hair so long and still lovely? And yet, it is not what John desires. Just as he was uncomfortable with his too-short hair during that first year, so also he dislikes having it longer than necessary for him to wear it swept elegantly up onto the back of his head for formal occasions.
Teyla runs her fingers through the dark strands, smiling to herself as she reaches for the loop of stretchy material that John uses to secure his hair overnight. Between him and Ronon and herself there is certainly a lot of hair in their bed, and Rodney complains unceasingly if it is unrestrained.
After the death of Nenyona – her birth-sister, her milk-sister, she who had shared even their mother’s womb with Teyla – there had been a long time during which she had believed she would never love so deeply again. It is not the same, of course. But then, neither is the love Teyla has for each of her three spouses identical.
She does not love one of them more than the others: her love seems to be boundless, limitless, so that when her heart feels too full to contain any more somehow it expands, so that too much becomes a perfect sufficiency. Teyla cannot imagine tending to Ronon’s hair, any more than she can picture Rodney tolerating anyone paying such attentions to his. She cannot conceive of the situation where either of them wished to perform such an act for her.
She has different ways of sharing her love with them, just as they do with each other, and with John. For now, she traces an affectionate finger along the line of John’s collar, before fastening the small loop of cloth. Rodney is already in bed, murmuring to himself as he taps away on a laptop with the air of someone who is supplying both sides of the conversation. Ronon is next door, and the rolling verses of a Satedan bathing song drift through amid clouds of scented steam.
Teyla sets the brush and comb down beside the silver clip, and helps John to his feet. Today was not an easy day for any of them: the neeva berries they had intended to trade had begun to spoil, leaving them with a much poorer amount to offer. And no sooner had they arrived at the Worlds’ Fair on Kamnanf than John’s all-too-identifiable uniform had attracted a group of Genii merchants, still outraged that the City of the Ancestors had been claimed by strangers from another galaxy.
It had taken all Teyla’s skill to prevent the argument from turning into a brawl. She is an expert negotiator, but she is not a diplomat, and the role she is sometimes forced to take on missions is not to her liking. She is a Trader, a shrewd and trustworthy dealer in goods and merchandise, not an arbitrator to haggle over lives and livelihoods. Though Teyla was raised to consider peace-bringing a sub’s role, it is Elizabeth’s work, and she has learned from her friend that there is no shame in a top striving to turn a situation to harmony.
But it is not Teyla’s work. And yet, neither Ronon nor Rodney can mouth the polite formulas of conciliation, let alone speak them with any sincerity. And although morale duty has given John much experience at soothing disagreements, Genii submissives are what he refers to as housesubs: their world confined to the sphere of hearth and home. The part he had been compelled to play in the disagreement had been to stand in silence, as frustrating to him as having to speak had been to Teyla.
Teyla cannot call the day a success. Yet no blood was spilled, and no one injured, and she refuses to call it a failure. Tomorrow they will take a sample of what unspoiled neeva berries remain to the Ancestors’ Ring Tavern on Cahymu, and see if they can find a different buyer.
Yet that is a task for the morning. Still holding John’s hand, Teyla leads him to the bed, although he resists a little. She can tell that his thoughts have turned back to the altercation, and that he feels that he is to blame, and does not deserve to be pampered.
Teyla knows better: it is precisely at times such as this that John needs their dominance; needs to know that their love for him does not stand or fall by the twistings in life’s road. Even if John deliberately antagonised the entire Worlds’ Fair, that would not stop his spouses loving him. It troubles Teyla that at times he still seems to forget that.
“Oh, hey,” says Rodney, blinking as Teyla pushes John down onto their bed. Teyla is well aware that he often becomes so absorbed in his mind-work as to be unaware of everything around him. And yet, when it matters, he devotes all of that fierce attention to the four of them, and their marriage. He pulls Teyla down for a quick kiss, and smiles at her like she’s a delightful surprise, and Teyla feels her heart once more settling to peace.
“John needs some attention,” she tells Rodney, putting a finger to John’s lips when he begins to object.
“Huh,” Rodney agrees, and after one last burst of typing puts his laptop aside. “C’mere, you.” He rearranges John to his satisfaction, until John is curled into him, his face tucked into the safe and comforting crook of Rodney’s neck. Then he begins to gently run his fingers over John’s stomach, ruffling the hair there and smoothing it down again. John’s protests die away in a single breath. He loves belly-rubs.
Teyla smiles in satisfaction, and begins to undress. She has taken care of her submissive’s needs, and now it is time to attend to her own. A romp in the bath with Ronon sounds most pleasant, and then to a warm bed with her three warm spouses.
The life-road the Ancestors have given Teyla to walk has not been an easy one. It has been steep and rocky, with stretches so arduous she did not think she would ever be able to pass beyond them. And yet, here she is. Living in the Ancestors’ own city, with a home and three spouses; with enough to eat, and wonders beyond comprehension at her fingertips; with hair that will soon fall half way down her back.
A hard road it has been, and yet Teyla knows that truly, the Ancestors have blessed her path.