Bracing [ficlet]

Santana Lopez sat in the waiting room and prayed that no one else would come in and see her there. It was already mortifying enough to be sitting in an orthodontist’s office. She didn’t need witnesses to make it worse, especially the pimply-faced runty kind of witness.

She sighed and slumped deeper into her seat and cursed Quinn for refusing to give her that Oxycontin prescription she’d only half-jokingly asked for after the pain had begun to drift past annoying into fucking annoying and she hadn’t gotten a decent night’s sleep in weeks. All those sleepless hours had given her plenty of quality time with her trial briefs, which made her an even bigger badass in court, but she’d give it up in a hot second if it meant being able to sleep longer than three hours at a stretch.

Damn you, Quinn. “Santana. I’m not giving you any Oxy. Go and see Brittany. If she doesn’t help you, then you can come back and see me.” In hindsight, it probably wasn’t a smart idea to have opened up that conversation with a Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman joke, but it was too late now.

"Brittany" was Dr. Brittany S. Pierce, DDS, MMSc, and judging by the assortment of magazines on the waiting room coffee table, Dr. Pierce had a thing for cats. And running. And Justin Bieber. Hopefully, some of those magazines were there just for the pimply-faced crowd. Santana picked up a random magazine and flipped through it. "Knock out an ultramarathon in only 16 weeks!" "Body fuel grudge match: bananas vs. sports drinks." "Kettlebells for cardio? Their effectiveness evaluated."

After fifteen minutes of uninteresting reading, an assistant called Santana’s name, guided her into the depths of the office, and parked her in an exam room with a cheery, “Dr. Pierce will be with you shortly.”

Santana passed the time by imagining what Dr. Pierce looked like. She was probably some crotchety old lady who hated the world after a lifetime of making children cry. She probably breathed fire. No, she definitely breathed fire. And she probably had burly man hands. All the better for wrenching metal and teeth into place.

The door opened and a young woman stepped into the room. Santana furrowed her brows. Another assistant? But then she caught sight of the nametag clipped to the woman’s lab coat and her mouth went dry and her brain migrated to warmer climes south of her belly.

Dr. Pierce was quite possibly the hottest thing Santana had ever seen, a tall drink of blonde hair blue eyed perfection wrapped in a white lab coat and a skirt that showed off a set of shapely calves and hinted at a tremendous pair of legs to match.

A different kind of fire breather entirely.

So of course the first thing Santana did was knock over the instrument tray next to the dental chair as she got up to shake her hand.

"I’m— I’m sorry, Dr. Pierce," she stammered, attempting to get up from the chair to retrieve the fallen tray, but the woman stopped her with an outstretched hand.

"It’s Brittany, and don’t worry about it." She knelt and scooped up the tray with the grace of a panther, and Santana watched, enraptured, until she realized she was staring.

"I really don’t want to be here," she said, trying to cover her sudden nervousness with a dash of surly attitude.

"Most people don’t. But I hope you give me a chance, because I’m pretty sure I can help you."

"I haven’t even told you what my problem is."

Brittany smiled the kind of smile that comes with being on the better side of an unequal distribution of knowledge. Santana knew that smile well; she smiled it all the time in court, usually a second or two before making the opposing party’s defense team cry into their non-fat mochas. Brittany rolled a chair closer and sat down, then turned on a large flatscreen monitor and navigated through a complicated looking software interface until an x-ray image of the lower half of a human skull appeared on screen. She scrutinized the image and tiny x-ray reflections shined brightly in her eyes. It didn’t take more than a few seconds before she spoke again. “Let me guess. Your neck and shoulders hurt all the time, and no amount of hundred dollar massages seems to help.”

"How did you—"

"Your lower jaw is about a millimeter and a half out of alignment." She pointed to the image on the screen. Santana had no idea what she was supposed to be seeing; it was all teeth to her. "And your neck muscles are stressing themselves out in order to compensate."

"I thought that was just my rage."

Brittany looked at her, surprised. “You have that much rage?”

Santana shrugged. “I’m a lawyer.”

Brittany actually seemed a little worried. Santana couldn’t tell if it was real or just for show. “You’re not going to Hulk out in here, are you? I just built this lab— I mean office.”

"Does that make you the Stark to my Banner?" It was out of her mouth faster than the speed of thought. What the hell, Lopez? She’s never gonna get that joke.

Brittany’s expression remained blank until Santana started to squirm. “Well, I’m not going to say no to being a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist,” she deadpanned. She looked terribly amused.

Santana’s inner self regarded Brittany with awe. Where did you come from? it marveled. And can I keep you? But her outer self, the one that always covered for her inner awkwardness, the one that always won, shoved all those thoughts aside and got right down to business. “So what are my options?”

It turned out she had quite a few options. Unfortunately, they ranged from awful to barely tolerable.

Brittany flipped through a stack of brochures. “You don’t want these — they’ll turn the inside of your mouth to hamburger.” Flip, flip, flip. “Ahh. Here.” She pulled one out of the stack. “I think these’ll work best for you. They’re self-ligating, which means no elastics or bands. And translucent ceramic. I’m not going to lie and say people won’t notice them, but they’re about as low-profile as I can do for you and still get the job done.”

Santana looked at the brochure and sighed. Twenty-eight years of living on this planet with perfect teeth — or so she thought — and she was going to end up with braces anyway. She sighed. “How long?”

"Eighteen months," Brittany said, adding, "It sucks, I know," when Santana winced. "But if everything goes well, it could be a lot sooner."

"And it’ll work? You’re sure?"

Brittany nodded. “I’m very good at what I do.”

"Then schedule me up."

Her first follow-up was a month after the braces went on, which wasn’t as much of an ordeal as she expected. Yeah, she was sore for a few weeks, and she was pretty sure she was done with milkshakes and smoothies for the rest of her life, and that lisp that slipped out occasionally was annoying, but she kept telling herself it would be worth it.

"How was court?"

"You remember?" Santana hardly remembered anything from their previous conversations except "eighteen months" and a dizzy sort of terror. "I don’t think anyone really cares, to be honest." Which was the second biggest surprise of this whole deal. Aside from a few curious questions, no one had said much about it at all.

"Feeling a little green and ragey?"

"No more than necessary," she said with a smirk. Brittany grinned, knowingly. And that was the biggest surprise of all: one Brittany S. Pierce in all her glory.

Santana was actually looking forward to her next appointment.

Santana showed up for her six month appointment just in time to see Brittany wrapped up in the arms of a young man.

An eight year old man.

"Bye, Dr. Pierce," he said, hugging her as hard as he could.

"Hey, how’re gonna brush?"

"Every day, three times a day," he said, solemnly.

Her smile went all the way to her eyes. “You got it, kiddo. See you next month.”

Then that smile was on Santana, and she could have sworn that it grew a little bit bigger. “Nice to see you, Santana. Come on back.”

Thirty minutes every other month. That’s how long their appointments ran. Santana tried to make the most of every minute, even if it meant revealing more of her embarrassing inner self than she would have liked, because that’s what always seemed to happen whenever she visited Brittany’s office.

Santana’s neck pain had gone away months ago, and the braces were making progress.

"They’re looking really good. Three months, maybe four."

It meant the braces were coming off soon.

It meant she wouldn’t have a reason to see Brittany for much longer.

The next time Santana saw Brittany it wasn’t even at the office. She was plodding her away down the path around Green Lake when a familiar voice called her name from behind her.

"Santana! I didn’t know you went running around here."

Calling the slow shuffle Santana was currently doing “running” was being charitable. Santana pasted on a grin and tried not to sound as winded as she felt. “I’m… uh… getting back into it. And I live right over there so it’s convenient.”

Brittany ran so smoothly that Santana felt like she was standing still in comparison. “I love running out here. I live over in Fremont, and I don’t come here as often as I’d like.”

Whatever Santana was about to say was interrupted by someone shouting “Stop!” and she glanced down just in time to see a flash of black fur and four legs before she was falling — face first into Brittany’s chest. Why did she have to suffer these indignities whenever Brittany was around?

Still, finding herself with a cheek pressed against Brittany’s chest wasn’t half bad, really. And Brittany wasn’t exactly pushing Santana away like a leper, either. Santana reluctantly extricated herself and stood, awkwardly, looking everywhere except Brittany. But then, before she even had a chance to think it through, her mouth was open and saying, “Hey, I was wondering—”

Brittany interrupted her. “Ask me after your braces come off.”

"But—"

"After. I won’t say yes until after," she said, and her face lit up with a smile. "I gotta go. See ya around." And then she was gone, sunlight and sleek muscle, gliding away with fluid grace.

Want to go to coffee with me? Want to go to dinner with me? Want to spend a lot more time with me than thirty minutes every two months? Which question was Brittany saying yes to?

She’d have to wait forty-five more days until she found out.

"All done."

"All done?"

Brittany smiled. “You’re a free woman.”

Santana didn’t want to be a free woman. “I wanted to say thank you.”

"You’re welcome."

She swallowed her pride and kept going. “And I also wanted to ask you—”

Brittany didn’t let her finish. “Yes.”

Santana whispered, “What was the question?”

"Yes."

"Coffee? Lunch? Dinner? Gas Works Park?"

"Yes."

The braces were off, but Santana knew that she’d be making her own reasons to see Brittany from here on out.