Story Name: The Shape of Things to Come

Penname: bookjunkie1975

Rating: M

Genre: hurt/comfort/romance

Pairing: Esme/Carmen

Total Word Count: 2025

Summary: When Esme is diagnosed with breast cancer she turns to her oldest and dearest friend for support. This is femmeslash and deals with a topic that may be uncomfortable for some readers.

AN: Special thanks to CrumblingFool, superbeta!

You sit in the chair, back straight, eyes blinking rapidly and nod your head as the man in the white coat throws out words that pierce like daggers. You have always been a solid woman in body and in temperament. You are practical. You are steady. There is a weight to you that keeps you firmly attached to the here and now. But here, in this room, surrounded by too many diplomas and too much hospital green, you feel suddenly insubstantial. You feel small. You breathe in and out and blink your eyes and nod your head while words like biopsy, malignant and mastectomy float around you and white edges start to blur your vision. You nod your head and blink your eyes until a hand wraps around yours. Carmen is there like she is always there.

"Come home with me."

The move itself will be easy. Carmen's guest room is really your room. You are a frequent enough visitor to keep some clothes in the closet and some books on the shelf. Twenty-five years of friendship buys you that right. You will be sad but not surprised to find that the whole of Esme Evenson's (not Platt, never Platt) forty-three years of life fits neatly into a dozen boxes. Most go straight to the kitchen. You will add a quilt to the bed, some pictures to the nightstand and that will be that. In the kitchen you will open your day planner and Carmen will smile and call you "old-fashioned" as she pulls out her iphone. You will watch and you won't argue when she clears her schedule so that she can see you through the chemo. Then she will put on some Abba and pour some wine and the two of you will bump hips and sing in wildly off-key voices as you cook dinner.

You won't remember much about the operation. They tell you to count backwards from 100 and you're out at 96. You won't remember the first time you wake up, or the second, but when you open your eyes the third time Carmen is there, flipping through a glossy magazine and singing softly about blackbirds and broken wings. It's your favourite song. That, you will remember.

Chemotherapy will be rough. Your body won't like it. Your hair will fall out in clumps in the shower. Food will become your enemy. You will fall asleep everywhere. And you will cry. A lot. Carmen will begin to keep boxes of Kleenex in every room. She'll move a sofa into the kitchen because it has the best view and because you like the way the sun filters through the window in the early morning. Some days your skin will feel stretched thin over bones so brittle they could shatter into a million shards from the lightest touch. Those days Carmen will turn the lights down low and draw the shades and busy herself at the studio. You will be grateful for the still and the calm. Carmen will learn to make the soups you can stomach. She'll clean up when you're sick on the floor. She'll drive you to your appointments and rub your back and hold you when you cry. She'll listen. And when you're up and restless in the middle of the night, she will pull out old photo albums and you'll talk and smile and laugh.

One day you will stand naked in front of the bathroom mirror and really look. One breast will be there, familiar in its abundant weight and size, the way it's beginning to hang lower on your body a reminder that you're growing older. The other side of your chest is just gone. The sight leaves you feeling unbalanced. The angry red slash where your left breast used to be is not your only scar. You like to think that you honour the marks that tell your story - the thick pink line that runs along your knee, the ribbons that stretch up and across your belly, the unseen mound of scar tissue inside, just below your abdomen - all remnants of the explosive end of your marriage. And there are more. The faded line along the inside of your arm – you were eight and you fell out of a tree. The spider web of veins that bloom across your calf – a token from a career spent constantly on your feet. Dozens of small cuts and burns and calluses – the reality of a chefs hands. This is the history of you. The mark on your chest will be just one more layer of skin to build yourself on.

When you look up you will find Carmen standing at your side.

"I look like a Picasso."

"And I'm a Reubens. I guess that makes us two fine ass pieces of art." Carmen will grin and waggle her eyebrows until you smile. Before you know it you will find yourself on the couch in freshly warmed pajama's, watching Monty Python and laughing so hard you snort air through your nose as Carmen recites every line word for word. This will be the night you fall in love.

Because you are in love, you will begin to look at Carmen differently. You will watch the way her neck arches when she throws her head back to laugh. You'll find yourself mesmerized by the movement of her hands, always in constant motion when she talks. She laughs easily and often, drawing people to her with a genuine warmth and passion that has never diminished in all the years you've known her. She is a big woman, in every way. She calls herself voluptuous and you don't disagree. But now you will see her shape as more than simple breast and hip. You will start to wonder what it would feel like to run your hands over her curves, to feel the weight of her breast resting in your palms, to taste the hollow at the base of her throat. You will wonder how your curves will fit together. It will be surprising to find how quickly your body will pulse with desire. You've never thought of a woman this way and this is Carmen, your best friend. You won't be afraid of it – you know she has been with both men and women – but you will be afraid of what she may think of your feelings. Carmen has lovers, not relationships. And so you will keep quiet, not willing to risk your friendship.

Your chemo will end and your results will be good. Carmen will schedule bookings again and you'll go back to the restaurant part-time. But you won't move out. Somehow the topic will never come up and you'll be happy with that. You used to say that when you were two old, cranky ladies you would live together with a dozen cats so you're not completely surprised when Carmen brings one home.

"It may be a few decades early but I figured we should get started on the collection now," she jokes.

It will be the mangiest animal you've ever seen, a patchwork of dull brown and grey fur and missing an ear. Carmen will say he is shabby chic. You will spoil him terribly, feeding him table scraps when she's not looking. Life will move on and you'll move with it. Carmen will drag you out of the house. You'll go to movies and gallery showings. You'll watch sunsets and fireworks and parades. You'll dance with your arms in the air and your head thrown back and you'll feel like yourself again.

Carmen will ask you to pose. Naked. She will tell you that she has a special project in mind but she wants it to be a surprise so "please, please don't ask, just sit for me."

And so you will.

The studio is cold until the lights heat up so Carmen will wrap you in a warm robe and a soft blanket until she's ready. She will manipulate your body into poses, leaving a trail of heat where her fingers touch skin and your eyes will widen when you feel a jolt of electricity burn through a phantom nipple. You will wonder what it would feel like if Carmen were to press lips and tongue to your scar. Your whole body will flush and you'll pull your arms across your chest, suddenly embarrassed.

"Esme, no. You're beautiful. Don't hide. You're beautiful, meu coração." She'll talk to you softly, patiently, and in the end Carmen will take more pictures then she could possibly need. When you tell her that she'll laugh and call you silly.

The first time you kiss her will be over a cake shaped like a stack of gifts. It will be in the middle of a baby shower you will insist on throwing for your sous chef, Alice. Carmen will disappear into the kitchen to gather plates for the cake and you will watch her go, admiring the way she seems to move to her own rhythm, even as she walks through a crowd.

"How long have you been together?" the girl next to you will ask.

"Excuse me?"

"You and Carmen. How long have you been a couple?"

"Oh. They're not a couple," Alice will say. "Esme and Carmen are best friends. How long have you known each other?"

"It's 25 years now. Since college. We're ancient," you'll laugh.

"I'm sorry. I just thought…the way she looks at you…and then you were watching her…I'll just be quiet now."

"She looks at me?"

"Like you're a nice big piece of chocolate cake," Alice will grin.

You will walk into the kitchen. Carmen will be snapping photos of the cake and you will feel a rush of affection and longing and you will remember who you are – Esme the brave. Esme the survivor. And so you will pull the camera from her hands and place it on the counter. You will cup her cheek and watch her eyes widen, listen to her breath hitch. You will lean across the cake and place your lips very gently, very carefully, against hers. She will kiss you back.

When the last guest is gone and the last dish is cleared away you will find yourself in Carmen's bed. Hands and lips and tongues will blaze trails across her skin. You'll discover the weight of her nipple against your tongue, the press of her flesh to yours, the taste of her in your mouth. And when her body arches off the bed with your fingers pressed deep inside her and she calls your name like a benediction, you will wonder how you got to this place and you will bless every step of the path that brought you here.

Later you will ask her how long.

"Twenty-five years," she'll smile and press her lips to each of your scars until she's between your legs, turning your body to liquid mercury and you comeandcomeandcome. She'll wrap her arms around you and you'll sleep, safe and very sure that you are loved.

It will be summer before Carmen shows you your surprise. You will be asleep in the hammock in the corner of the backyard, the cat soft and purring in the crook of your arm. She'll come to you with a package wrapped in plain brown paper. When you pull the paper off you'll find a book with a glossy white dust jacket and the word 'beautiful' printed in bold.

"You inspire me," she'll say.

Inside will be a collection of photos of women from all over the world contributed by different photographers. There will be women of different shapes and sizes. Some women will be survivors of war, some of abuse. Some will be healthy and whole and carefree. They will be every age from newborn to 102. They will all be naked. Laid bare. Beautiful. The first picture will be you. Your head will be tilted back and you'll be laughing. Under the photo will be your name: Esme Evenson – Fighter. And on the inside cover will be the dedication:

To my Strength.

To my Hero.

To my Heart.

Forever, Carmen

You sit in the chair in the doctor's office back straight, eyes blinking rapidly, nodding your head and trying to breathe while your world narrows down to one sharp and terrifying pinpoint. You have cancer. A warm hand wraps around your cold one. Carmen is there like she is always there.

"Come home with me," she says. "Let me help you. We'll do this together."

"OK," you nod. And you can breathe.