A/N: A short Bradtana drabble. Because these two are basically Bromancing it up all over my TV.
His olfactory senses tell him she's there before he sees her. She's pungent, and freshly so. A cloud of burnt tobacco laced with what smells like cherry and orange blossom precedes her into the choir room. Cuban, he believes, which he silently judges her for because he knows she's Puerto Rican and what would her family think. But he says nothing. Mostly because he never says anything, but also because she's muttering to herself in broken Spanish and glaring at the floor like it ran over her dog.
"Hijo de puta. Stupid, Santana, really fucking stupid. Mierda, mierda, mierda."
Santana doesn't notice him. Or if she does, she doesn't acknowledge his presence. He's used to it with these kids, so he doesn't take offense. Instead she paces against the wall with the whiteboard. He can still see the remnants of Schuester's Word-of-the-Week – "Rumours" – smeared across it, and once again, he judges silently from his piano bench. It's a familiar, comfortable position. He really fucking hates Will Schuester.
"Of all the idiotic… I said I wasn't going to do this, so why am I still fucking doing it?"
She's ranting, her voice grating low up the back of her throat. She probably accidentally inhaled some of the smoke from the cigar she's just finished. Her words sound like fine sandpaper. But maybe it's from the crying, because he can tell that she's been doing that, too. Not anymore, what with her current infectious state of rage, but he can see that her usually immaculate makeup is smearing, and her cheeks are puffy. It only encourages him to sit quietly even longer. He doesn't do well with crying females. Or females in general.
Let's just say he doesn't do well with people.
"She asks for a duet, I give her a duet. She asks me to talk about my feelings, I fucking sing about my feelings. She asks me to put on the shirt, and what do I fucking do?"
Despite the barrage of 'fucks' she's using, he can't help but feel sorry for her. He's been there for a lot of this, after all. Not that anyone would notice or remember if it was brought up. He usually prefers it that way. Being a piece of furniture makes it easier for someone like him – an observer – to blend in. But Santana is different. He likes her spunk, and the way she carries herself. Even when she's flat on her ass she's a fighter.
Even now, when she's in the middle of what will probably be the biggest crisis in her life, she's taking the blows and saying, "Please, ma'am, can I have another?"
"What do I do now?"
She's talking to him now, not herself, and he blinks twice before shrugging. Yeah, he might like her, but that doesn't mean she has to know it. He's got an image to protect, too. Anonymous is an image. It totally is.
"Great," she hisses. "Some fucking help you are." She tosses her razorblade hair over her shoulder and saunters around the room in one of the less-revealing dresses she owns. This one doesn't even have fur lining. He thinks maybe she's losing her edge in all this mess. He thinks that that's the worst part of all this.
She's on this mission to figure out who she is, and in the process he sees her fading.
He sighs and scoots over on the piano bench, beckoning her over with a silent hand. She eyes him warily before sitting on the edge farthest from him.
"Don't try anything funny, Roman Polanski," she quips, and he can't help but grin. He slides open the top, revealing well-worn, well-loved ivory keys. He might as well be a mute, because he doesn't speak. Instead he simply gestures to the upper register nearest to her. She stares dumbly at his hand, and then the keys; she doesn't know how to play.
"I can do Chopsticks on a good day." She plunks out a few notes, her fingers finding them slowly, but surely. He admires the control she has, how steady her hands are over the keys even though she's unpracticed. He puts his own out carefully, offering his aid and waiting until she nods to put his large paws on top her delicate knuckles. He guides the thumb, index and ring fingers on each hand to individual keys before he releases her. She waits, looking at him, then presses down.
The harmonies are prefect, and she recognizes them. She's been listening to the damn album enough this week to know the opening notes when she hears them.
"Songbird?" she asks, and for a second the look on her face is indiscernible. Like she didn't know where that word had come from, like she didn't know what he was trying to tell her. Or not really tell her, but you get the picture.
So he nods, giving her a little slack. She's had a rough couple of weeks. Her hands fall away from the keys and her cheeks redden. She turns her head toward the back of the classroom, away from him, and he picks up where she left off, tamping out the first few bars of the song to remind her what it's about.
"Yeah, I got it," she snaps. It would have been harsh if she didn't sound so damn sad.
He puts on a show of sighing heavily and rolling his eyes, mimicking the actions he'd seen her make on more than one occasion. She shifts uneasily on the bench next to him, avoiding eye contact by glancing out of her periphery.
"I think I'm kinda gay," she says after a moment, and he nearly laughs, but catches himself before he can offend her forever. Instead he lolls his head toward her, lips puckered and eyebrows raised in that, Did you really think you were fooling anyone? kind of way, and she pouts. But she knows that, if she's been cavalier about her struggle with anyone, it's him. Not that either of them really know why.
"You think it'll work?" She tries to find the notes he'd shown her a minute before, losing the frown and replacing it with careful optimism. "You think she'll like it? Songbird, I mean."
He wants to say something, but he's afraid he'll scare her. He's gone too long without speaking, and she's just getting comfortable enough to get in his sphere; to touch the piano without him prompting her. He'll ruin everything if he says what's on his mind now. So he simply shrugs, as usual, but this time adds a hopeful smirk and a nod.
Brad doesn't know Brittany very well, but he knows one thing: music. That song – Songbird – is perfect. In almost every way. The situation shouldn't matter in the end, if Santana can pull off the passion behind it. And he has an inkling that that won't be a problem, either. With the way she's struggling to hide a smile, he thinks that maybe she knows that, too.
"You'll play it for me, right?" She turns to him now, the question less a request and more a plea.
He shrugs. What else does he have to do?
The smile spreads, and when she bears her teeth, it's probably the first time she hasn't done it in anger in a while. She feels the pull at her cheeks, the ache of the unused muscles there, and claps her hand over her mouth in surprise. He hates that she's gotten so used to sadness that a smile is a shock. So he does something he never does.
He reaches out.
The hands on hers to find the keys were one thing. This is different. He's investing more than just his knowledge of the musical scale. He's putting himself behind this. He's reaching out, and putting a tentative hand on her shoulder, and she's not ducking away. They both sit like that, his hand on her arm and hers over her mouth, and they look at one another.
Until they both realize that neither of them know how to do this, so they shift and come to rest with fists in their laps. But they're smiling.
"Thanks, Brad." She gets up, smoothing the front of her dress and running a finger under each eye to collect the bleeding mascara. He nods in acknowledgment before she struts from the room, that confidence she carries propping her up, taking her back into the fray. When she's gone, he plays those opening measures again, thinking about how she's gonna have herself figured out in a year or two, and he'll still be sitting at this piano, hating Will Schuester.
"You're gonna be okay, kid," he says aloud.
It's so much easier to talk when you know what you're saying is true.