When Lance woke up the next morning he felt different.  He didn't know what it was that was different until he climbed out of the shower and ran his hands through his dripping wet hair.  The towel around his waist was snug against his body as he leaned forward on the counter to rub away the steam on the mirror in front of him.  He squinted to see his reflection through the fog then reached down and touched his scar in the center of his chest, something he had made a point not to do over the last couple months.  It seemed to be lighter than before, though he knew it wasn't.

            Lance ran his damp forearm over his nose to wipe the stray drip away then caught his eye in the mirror.  He was smiling, that's what was different about that morning.  It'd been a while since he woke up feeling truly happy.  He usually woke up looking at his clock and timing out his pills for the day, then worrying about where his bag was and what time he had to be downstairs for the caravan to take them out for their appearances that day.  But that morning he wasn't worried about anything.

            He stood up straight and flexed into the small area of the mirror that was cleaned off, then laughed at the image.  The stubble on his chin tickled his chest as he looked down at the scar, to see it from a different perspective.  "Hrmm."  He furrowed his brow as he looked at his reflection again, running his fingers over his chin.  "Maybe I won't shave today."  He thought to himself as he eyed the electric razor poking out of his bathroom bag.  The pills in his pill holder were the only other reminder that he'd had a transplant, so he dropped them into his mouth and swallowed them as quickly as he could. 

            As soon as he could put a shirt on, there would be no sign that he was different than anyone else, and that’s what he wanted for the day.  He wanted to look and feel like just another normal guy who had met a wonderful girl and felt excited and nervous in a good way for the first time in a really long time.

            Lance took the second towel off of the rack and sang to himself,  "I feel good, da na na na na na na, I knew that I would…"  He ran the towel over his chest and hair to dry off, then went into the main room to get dressed and ready to head to the airport to catch his flight to Florida.  He chose his clothes carefully, knowing he'd be spending most of his time in an airplane or car or doctors office.  He dressed in his black nylon warm up pants and a loose fitting "In & Out Burger" t-shirt that was fading in places and made him miss LA in an unnatural way.  He tied his shoes and grabbed his bag before he placed his dark sunglasses on his face and left the hotel with a smile on his face.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

            Lance flew home to Florida to have his regular check up with Dr. Matson and she gave him a clean bill of health.  She was very impressed with how active he'd been on the tour and how well he'd been monitoring his medication.  He told her about the conference in Arizona and she seemed pleased that he was getting involved with the donation program.  They needed more celebrity spokespeople in order to make it an even bigger success.

            Dr. Matson told him to keep up the great work as he left, then he was off for the airport where he'd catch his flight back to the show.  It was going to be a long day, and his good mood was slowly fading.  He boarded the flight and got settled in first class, then took his mini Discman out to block out the sounds of everyone around him.

            "Lucy in the sky with diamonds" played in his ears as the plane taxied down the runway heading to Chicago.  Lance closed his eyes and leaned his seat back when they reached their target altitude.  If he could catch a short nap before the show he wouldn't have any problems keeping up.  That was one thing he'd learned over the last year, he needed more sleep than he usually got.

            When he landed in Chicago he was met by his security team and taken to the hotel so that he could check in before going to the venue nearby.  Lance threw his bags on the bed then ran to the bathroom to brush his teeth and rinse before they headed to the venue to meet up with the others.  He finished up, wiped his mouth then joined his security guards in the hall with fresh and minty breath,  "Ready?"

            "Lets go."  Lonnie smiled and nodded as they walked down to where the elevator was waiting.  The small group rode over in a van with tinted windows and a loud stereo system, then deposited Lance and Lonnie by the rear entrance.  As Lance exited the van, the crowd of girls waiting by the fence erupted in screams and shook the weak fence.

Lance waved and blew a few kisses before he ducked in the door and made his way through the to dressing room where the four other boys were hanging out before their sound check.  "Hey look who's back."  Justin tossed a package of peanut M&M's at Lance as he walked in.  "Mr. I-get-a-free-day-to-hang-out-while-my-buddies-work-their-asses-off."

            Lance leaned to look behind Justin and said,  "Nah, it's still there."  He laughed and fell onto the empty couch as he opened his candy.  "What'd I miss?"

            "About fifty photo shoots, two shows, three awards shows and a trip to the Playboy mansion."  Justin sat on the back of the couch.

            "Damn, I miss everything."  Lance rolled his eyes and popped an M&M in his mouth.

            "Seriously though?  You missed a crapload of bus time and a real shitty lobster dinner thing last night."  Joey made gagging sounds as he fought to open a bottle of Gatorade.

            "Cool, I hate lobster."  Lance nodded and leaned his head back on the couch,  "So what time is it?"

            "Four."  Joey checked his watch.

            "And what time do we have to be out there for our check?"

            "Four."  Chris snickered as he bent to tie his shoes.  "Or four thirty, I forget."

            "Four thirty."  JC shouted from the racks of clothes behind them.  "And it's ten after, it's not four."

            "Close enough."  Joey gave JC the finger though he couldn't see it.  "So how'd your thing go?  Did you talk?"

            "You think Lance could go two days without talking?"  Chris asked.

            "I mean at the thing, the conference."

            "Yeah, I did a little speech thing.  I mean, I didn't do a report or whatever."  Lance shrugged.  "I just told my story and stuff like that."

            "I got sick, I busted my toe, they gave me a heart and now I'm here."  Joey imitated lance standing at the podium with shaky hands.

            "Oh come on, I wasn't that bad."  Lance blushed.  "I felt like that, but I think I did okay.  No one laughed at me anyway."

            "Well I guess that’s a bonus."  Joey rolled his eyes as he and Justin laughed at Lance's expense.

            "Shut up."  Lance laughed and shook his head as JC came out from the racks buttoning his shirt with a stick of deodorant in one hand.

            "So how'd it go other than you feeling like hurling?"  JC asked.

            "It was good."  Lance chewed on the two yellow peanut M&M's he put in his mouth, then filled them in on the rest of the conference.  He told them everything, but left out the part about meeting Paige and having dinner with her afterward; for some reason he felt like keeping that to himself.  They went about their sound check as usual, each kidding each other about whatever little thing they were joking about that afternoon.  The overall mood was fun, but Lance knew that when they were on the stage they meant business.  As much as they were laughing and kidding with each other, they were also hard at work perfecting their performance to make it flawless, and fun.

            "You guys kick ass."  Their stage manager shouted as they finished up their final set.  "Good job.  Go get some grub, clean yourself up and get ready for the show."  He clapped his hands over his head and with that move, dismissed them.

            "What do we have to eat today?"  Chris asked as they walked down the wide concrete hall toward their dressing rooms.

            "Pizza!"  Joey shouted as he did the happy dance around in a circle.

            "Shit, again?"  Chris rolled his eyes and looked at JC.  "Quit letting Joey make the menu, I'm gonna turn into a fat Italian if I keep eating that garbage."

            "Would you rather we let lance pick it out?"  JC grinned as he fanned his shirt away from his body.

            "Hell no, all we'd get is healthy shit.  Let me choose the menu."

            "Why?  So we can fill up on peanut butter sandwiches and fritos?"  Lance laughed and shook his head.

            "And red licorice."  Justin added.

            "And jolt?"  Joey snickered.

            "Yeah that'd be better than pizza."  Lance rolled his eyes and kicked the bottom of Chris' shoes to make him trip.

            "Anything is better than pizza."  Chris seemed to ignore the foot kicking, then he stepped in front of Lance and stopped quickly causing Lance to run into his back.

            "Knock it off, punk."  Lance laughed and shoved Chris out of the way.

            "Watch it, hick."  Chris playfully shoved him back, sending Lance ricocheting into the wall.  "Oh hey, sorry."  Chris stopped and grabbed Lance's arm.

            "What?"  Lance laughed again then noticed that the others had stopped in the hall as well.  "Oh come on guys.  I'm fine.  You're worse than my mom."  He rolled his eyes and shoved Chris again, but instead of kidding back Chris just shook his head and smiled.  "Come on Chrissy, push me back."  Lance grinned and poked Chris' side.  "Wimp.  Loser.  Come on girly man, play along.  Stop treating me like I'm made out of glass."  He continued to smile, but he was only half kidding.  Suddenly all of the instances where the other's had stopped just shy of knocking him off balance came back and he was pissed.  They'd pretended that everything had gone back to normal, when in fact, nothing had changed at all.

            "Lance…"  JC said softly from the doorway.

            "Come on JC, you guys are always kidding around.  These two clowns wrestle all the time.  It's been more than a year and I just want you guys to treat me normal."  Lance's smile fell as he shoved Chris again, not nearly as playful as before.  "It's been more than a year, if I was going to break I'd have done it already."

            "Lance, stop."  JC spoke calmly.

            "No JC you stop.  I'm sick of this, no one touches me or shoves me around or anything like we used to and it sucks.  That's part of being in this group with you guys, we're like a family and families don't pull this shit.  Why can't you guys treat me the same?  I'm just the same as before."

            "No you're not."  Chris rubbed his arm where Lance had shoved him.

            "Yes I am Chris."  Lance sighed,  "I'm just the same as before and if you'd take two seconds to pay attention you'd see that."

            "Calm down Lance, we know you're the same but there's stuff we all have to be careful about now."  JC took a step forward and reached to touch Lance's shoulder.

            "I don't want to be this careful.  I mean look at this."  He waved his arms in Chris' direction.  "Chris won't even bump me down the hall, Joey quit shoving me off the couch and sitting on my legs when we play video games, that's not right."

            "We don't want anyone to get hurt."

            "No, you don't want me to get hurt.  No one thinks twice about body slamming Justin and practically giving him a concussion."  Lance nodded towards Justin who was standing perfectly still by the wall.

            "Yeah, well Justin wasn't practically cut in half and given a new heart either."  Chris narrowed his eyes at Lance.  "He's not on a gazillion meds to fend off infection, and he's not trying to keep his health in balance."

            "That's not my fault Chris."  Lance's face flashed red for a moment as his anger rose.

            "Dude, I'm not saying it's your fault, I'm saying that there are reasons we don't mind throwing Justin into a wall and we do mind throwing you."

            "Hey."  Justin frowned.

            "Shut up, you know what I mean."  Chris said over his shoulder.

            "I'm not breakable Chris."  Lance reached out and shoved Chris again, daring the older man to push him back.  "Come on, just push me back and I'll leave it alone."

            "Lance stop."  Joey said from the far doorway.

            "Come on man… just let it go."  JC touched Lance's elbow and tried to pull him back.

            Lance flung JC's arm off and kept his eyes on Chris,  "Push me back and I'll let it go Chris.  Just treat me like the others and I'll knock it off."  He brought his hand up and hit Chris alongside his head.

            "I'm serious Lance, chill out."  Chris glared at Lance and turned to walk away before things got out of hand.

            "Dammit Chris, just do it."  Lance raised his voice and shoved Chris from behind.  All he wanted was to be treated like one of the guys for a minute and Chris was the unlucky one who was going to be on the receiving end of his tantrum.

            Chris whirled around and pushed Lance as his lips curled back in a snarl,  "Chill the fuck out."  Lance hit the wall behind him with a solid thud as his head knocked against the doorframe.

            "Chris!  Stop!"   Joey moved to step between them as Lance lunged again and tried to tackle Chris.  The two boys ended up on the floor rolling around in what may have looked like a playful wrestling match if it weren't for the grunting and shouting coming from the tangle of limbs.

            "Get off him!"  Justin sprang into action and grabbed a hold of the back of Chris' shirt.

            "Chris get up."  JC shouted as he reached into the mess to grab anything he could.

            "You wanna be smacked around?"  Chris asked as his hand emerged and grazed Lance's mouth.

            "Knock it off!"  Joey grabbed Chris' foot and pulled as hard as he could.  "Are you nuts?  What the hell are you thinking?!"  He shouted as he managed to drag Chris off of Lance.

            Lance took the opportunity to lash out with his foot and kick Chris in the shoulder.  "Shit Lance, stop it."  Justin took Lance's shoulder and pulled him to his feet.

            "What the hell?"  JC panted as he stood between the others and looked from Lance to Chris.  "Get out of here.  Joey, take Chris to the play room.  Justin, get Lance into the dressing room.  I'm gonna go get Johnny."

            "Leave Johnny out of it."  Lance grumbled as he reached up to wipe his bloodied lip.

            "Yeah right."  He scoffed.  "You guys are gonna show up bruised and bloody and I'm not gonna give him warning?  Just take them."  He said to Joey and Justin.

            "Let go of me, I can walk."  Chris shook Joey's hand off as he stomped down the hall away from Lance and Justin.  He was more angry with himself than anything; he never should have let it get that far out of hand.  In the six years they'd been together as a group, none of them had ever intentionally hurt one of the others.  They'd come close and they'd even shoved each other around in more than just a playful way; but they'd never actually hit each other.

"You've got a smokin' left hook."  Joey tried to joke as they walked down the hall.

            "What the fuck happened to him?"  Chris gently prodded his tender chin.  "He went nuts on me because I won't wrestle with him?  He's lost his damn mind, that's what's wrong here.  Johnny needs to call in a shrink."

            "He just snapped because he doesn’t wanna be treated different."  Joey shrugged.  "I'm not saying he should've picked a fight with you, I'm just saying that I get where he's coming from."

"It's not like you body slam him either though.  What's he gonna do?  Take us all on?"  It was then that he noticed the drops of blood on his shirt, he ran his tongue over his teeth and asked, "Shit, do I have blood in my mouth?"  He stopped walking and turned to face Joey as he opened his mouth.

            "No, you're cool.  I think the only blood you've got on you is Lance's."  Joey shook his head.

            "Fuck, he's bleeding?"

            "It looks like his lip is split."

            "Dammit, I'm gonna catch hell for that.  Shit!  Why'd he go ape shit man?  He's like the fucking anti-lance."  Chris shook his head and threw the play room door open.  He stepped in then fell back on the couch and draped his arm over his eyes as he sighed,  "Shit."

 

            "What the hell got into you?"  Justin asked as he pulled Lance down the opposite hall.

            "What?"

            "What?  Hello?  You just jumped Chris because he didn't knock you down the hall."  Justin almost laughed.

            "So?"

            "Dude, Lance…"  Justin shook his head and held the dressing room door open.  "You totally over reacted, I mean… so he wouldn't bump you down the hall, so what?  I didn't either and I don't see you pounding my ass into the ground."

            "Yeah but he stopped when he thought he was hurting me and all he was doing was bumping my shoulder.  If he wants to play around that's cool, but why stop there?"

            "He stopped so he wouldn't give you a bloody lip, but you had to go push the issue and now you're gonna look lovely for the show."  Justin went into the little bathroom and came out with a wet paper towel,  "Here, clean yourself up before Johnny gets here."

            JC rushed into the room just then looking ready to hit someone himself,  "What the hell were you thinking?"  He asked Lance.

            "Shut it Jace."  Lance shook his head.  "Where's Johnny?"

            "He's back at the hotel, he wont be here till later.  You can thank your lucky stars for that one."  JC looked at the damp paper towel with blood on it.  "Are you okay?"

            "I'm fine."

            "What's bleeding?"

            "Just my lip."  Lance flinched away as he touched the towel to his lip again.

            "Wonderful."  JC sighed.

            "Stop it JC."  Lance scowled.

            "Lance."  Justin raised his voice and grabbed his shoulder.  "Dude, enough with the tough guy act.  JC, did you go see the tour doctor guy?  He might have that stuff that makes the bleeding stop."

            "That styptic thing?"

            "I don't know what it's called."

            "You can't use it in your mouth."  JC shook his head and looked at Lance.  "Is it on the inside or are you going to look like a boxer?"

            "It's just on the inside."  Lance turned his lip up to show JC.  "It's nothing."

            "Yeah, that's a small cut.  Suck on some ice and you'll be fine."  He checked his watch.  "We've got like an hour and a half until we take the stage, are you going to be cool?"

            "Yes."  Lance grumbled.

            "No more fighting?"

            "No."  Lance sighed. 

            "You're gonna need to smooth this over with Chris tonight."  JC said as he looked from Lance to Justin.  "He may act like this is cool, but… you know Chris.  You need to talk to him."

            "I know."  Lance nodded.  "I've got plenty to say."

            "Hey."

            "I'll talk to him."  Lance rolled his eyes and dabbed his lip again.

            "Okay."  JC stared at Lance for another minute before he went to find Chris and Joey.  He found them right where he told them to go,  "Hey."

            "How pissed is he?"  Chris asked as he gently prodded his shoulder where Lance's foot and delivered the final blow.

            "Lance?  He's pissed."

            "No, Johnny."

            "Johnny's at the hotel."  JC shook his head.  "He doesn't know yet."

            "Dammit, this is just beautiful."  Chris sighed and sunk deeper into the couch.  "Have you seen Lance?"

            "Yeah, he's got a cut lip."

            "Yeah."  Chris nodded and squeezed his eyes shut.  "Did he tell you what's wrong with him?  Like what the fuck got into his head?"

            "No."  JC shook his head.  "He's just… I don’t even know man, he just flipped."

            "Yeah, no shit."  Chris looked up at JC,  "What about the show?"

            "What do you mean, what about it?  You two are going to go out there like normal people and do the show, you can apologize after."

            "I'm not gonna apologize for him tackling me.  Hell no."

            "Chris, listen.  Does it even matter?  You'll both say you're sorry and move on."

            "Where is he?  I'll go tell him now."

            "Not now."  JC shook his head.  "Let him cool down for a little bit."  He sighed and sat on the far end of the couch,  "When Johnny gets here I'm just going to tell him Lance got hit by something falling out of the overhead on the bus or something.  Do you have anything visible?"

            "No."  Chris shook his head.  "Just my ass and my shoulder."

            "And your pride."  Joey offered with a small smile.

            "Shut up Joe."  Chris frowned and sulked deeper into the couch.  "What would you have done?"  Chris asked to neither guy in particular.  "You guys were there, what would you have done?"

            "I don't know."  JC sighed.

"I'd have body slammed you first, then ran like hell."  Joey shrugged.

            "I meant if you were me.  Shit Jace, how pissed would you be if I slapped the Pillsbury Joe Boy?"  Chris scowled.

            JC tried not to laugh as he shook his head,  "Come on, I think there's been enough hitting today."  He looked from Joey to Chris then to the clock on the wall above their heads,  "Let's head on back to the dressing room and get ready for the show tonight.  We're running behind already."  He sighed and opened the door out to the hall again.  "Come on."  He said again and Chris and Joey stood up and followed him.

 

            They all went to the dressing room and got dressed in cold silence.  As soon as Lance was done getting dressed, he stormed out of the room and went down to hair and make-up so they'd have time to try to cover his swollen and split lip.  The hackey they had before the show was done with only Joey and Justin goofing off, then they took the stage and played it off all night like everything was fine.  Lance and Chris did their skits together and played off each other for the whole show, an outsider would never know that they were at odds with each other.

 

            When the show was over Lance got in the first car headed back to the hotel, not even bothering to shower.  He rode back to the hotel then went up to his room and winced as he pulled his shirt over his head.  His whole body ached and the hot shower he had started was beckoning him.

            He stood under the water to relax his sore muscles and let the heat drain his energy left over from the show, without a hot shower he'd never fall asleep. The shampoo ran down his bare back and bubbled at his feet as he soaped himself up for the second time.  In hotels hot water almost never ran out, so he was able to stay in for more than thirty minutes before he dragged himself out and dried himself in the steam filled bathroom.

            Lance pulled his sweats on then fell onto his bed in the center of the room and stared at the ceiling as he took a breath.  "Shit."  He mumbled under his breath.  He'd tried to put it out of his mind all night, but there was no rationalizing it now. His chest hurt and it wasn't because he was singing and dancing, something was wrong and his body was trying to tell him so.

            He ran his fingers over his chest to see if he was tender anywhere, but found only one small bruise under his arm, most likely from his wrestling match with Chris that afternoon.  Other than that he wasn't tender to the touch anywhere, his chest just burned when he took a deep breath.

            "Dammit."  He pushed himself to a sitting position and picked up his phone to call his security's room.

            "Yeah?"  Lonnie answered.

            "Hey Lon, I uh… this is Lance."

            "I know who it is."  Lonnie laughed.  "What's up?"

            "Shit…"  Lance said under his breath.  "I need to go to the hospital I think.  I'm okay though, but I need to go."

            "You're okay but you need to go?"

            "Yeah, my chest hurts like someone sat on me.  But it's not like a heart attack or anything so don't freak out."

            "I'll grab Johnny and we'll leave in two minutes."  Lonnie said quickly.

            "No, you don't have to get - "  Lance began to protest.

            "I'll be at your room in two minutes."  Lonnie hung up the phone as Lance sighed.  He could tell that this was going to turn into a three-ring circus if everyone got involved.

 

            The van was parked out front and ready to go when Lance and Lonnie came out of the hotel together.  "Do you need to lay down?"  Lonnie asked.

            "No."  Lance sighed.

            "Shit, we should have called an ambulance."

            "Lonnie, no.  I'm fine, really.  It's not… I don't need an ambulance."  Lance shook his head and slid into the back seat of the van.  He buckled his seat belt and winced as the muscles in his shoulders protested the movement.

            "What's going on?"  Johnny asked as he climbed into the van beside Lance.

            "My chest hurts."  Lance said softly.  "It's nothing."

            "It's nothing?"  Johnny raised his eyebrow and leaned forward in the seat,  "Which hospital are we going to?"

            "Rush Medical Center."  The driver said over his shoulder.

            "Did you take your medication?"

            "Yes."  Lance nodded.

            "Did you bring it with you?"

            "Yeah."  Lance kicked at the duffel bag by his feet.

            "Did you take your temperature?"

            "No, but I don't have a fever.  I'm not sick or anything, I just… it feels like someone sat on me."  Lance shrugged and looked out the window.  He didn't want to own up to the fact that he'd been fighting with Chris earlier in the afternoon.  JC had managed to convince Johnny that Lance's swollen lip was due to a video falling out of one of the overhead cabinets on the bus.

 

            Lonnie and Johnny took Lance into the emergency room where they all knew the drill.  Lance went to the front desk to check in with Lonnie at his side while Johnny explained to the nurse in charge their unique situation.  The paperwork had barely been completed when the chief resident of the emergency room appeared to take lance back immediately.  She wasted no time in getting him hooked up to several heart monitors while she took his case history.

            Lance sat in silence as the monitors beeped beside him and the nurse drew blood to test.  He tried to explain that he felt fine except for his chest, but no one would listen.  "Chest pain in a heart transplant patient is a serious thing."  They kept repeating, as if Lance didn't know.  They didn't care that this wasn't the sort of chest pain that indicated heart trouble, Lance would know if it was.

            After more than two hours of testing and checking, they finally took him down to radiology to get x-rays.  He didn't have a fever, but they needed to check for pneumonia anyway because some of the medications he was on made him more susceptible.

            "Hey kid."  Johnny smiled as he walked into the room when Lance was brought back upstairs.  The sun was just peeking up from the edge of the horizon, but it didn't light the room well enough to really see.

            "Hey Johnny.  I'm sorry you had to hang out here all night."  Lance yawned and rested his head against the pillow.  It was barely four thirty in the morning, but Lance hadn't slept at all that night.

            "Nah, don't sweat it.  Your health comes first."

            "What am I missing this morning?"

            "Nothing yet.  You've got a phone interview with a radio station in Germany at nine, but I can have Joey cover that."  Johnny balanced himself on the edge of the bed.  "Did you call your mom?"

            "No, I figured you would.  I don't really think we need to though."

            "Lance…"

            "No, I know she'd be worried, but I don't even know what's wrong yet."

            "You need to call her."

            "It's like, four in the morning, I'm not calling her right now."

            "Knock knock."  The doctor interrupted from the doorway.  "Lance?"

            "Yeah."  Lance adjusted himself in the bed and rubbed his eyes.  "Did the x-rays come back?"

            "Yep, they're clear.  Your lungs look good; your heart looks good.  I've gone over all the tests and sent all of the results to your cardiologist in Florida, she is going to forward them to the transplant surgeon to review."

            "Okay, so what's going on then?"  Lance asked.

            The doctor looked at Johnny, then back at Lance.  "You have wires in your chest that were put in place during your transplant surgery to keep your ribcage together.  Under normal circumstances they stay there… well… indefinitely.  Unless you have to have another surgery that requires them cracking your chest again anyway."

            "Okay."  Lance's blood ran cold as he thought of the possibility of cracking his chest again.

            "Somehow one of the wires broke."  He paused and glanced at Johnny, not sure if this was something Lance would want to discuss in front of others.  "Were you involved in an accident… or a uh…"  He looked over at Johnny again.  "… A fight or anything?"

            Lance bit his lip and looked at Johnny,  "I was horsing around, yeah."

            "Roughly?"

            "Yeah, you could say that.  We were kind of wrestling."  Lance nodded.

            "Okay."  The doctor nodded.  "What I'd like to do is take you in for surgery this morning to remove the wire."

            "Remove it?"  Lance looked up quickly.  "You have to?"

            "We don't have to, no.  But here's the deal… the wire is broken.  Right now it's only about a sixteenth of an inch from the other side, it's simply broken, it didn't snap."

            "Okay."

            "If it moves, or if you injure yourself in some other way and your chest cavity is compromised, the end of that wire could move further away and possibly puncture or lacerate your lung, heart or muscles in that area.  I would recommend removing the wire tonight."

            "Will you have to crack my chest?"

            "No, no nothing like that.  In fact you should be able to leave tonight, tomorrow morning at the latest."

            "How long will I be out of commission?"  Lance asked.

            The doctor shook his head,  "Not long.  What the surgeon will do is make a small incision over where the wire is broken, and basically pull it out.  Both pieces."

            "That won't hurt anything else?"

            "Nope.  Picture your ribs like this - "  He put his fingers tips to tips.  "The wire goes around here like this - "  He demonstrated,  "Your surgery was long enough ago that this here has healed, so the wires are just there because… well because there's no reason to remove them, they aren't hurting anything."

            "Until I broke one."

            "Right."  The doctor nodded.

            "Shit."

            "Well…"  Johnny shrugged.  "I guess you won't be horsing around anymore, will you?"

            Lance didn't respond, he just looked at the doctor.  "Is this something I really need to worry about?  I'm a performer and we have a show tonight.  I know I won't be able to dance tonight, but I what about tomorrow.  Will I be okay for that?"

            "I don't see why not.  You've got some bruising around your ribs as well, which might actually just be from the wrestling; there's no other internal damage.  As long as you feel okay, just pace yourself."

            "I can dance with bruises."

            "You'll need to rest."  Johnny shook his head.

            "I'll be fine."  Lance argued.

            "We'll see when the time comes."  Johnny ended the argument before it even started.  "When are you going to do the surgery?"

            "We can have you prepped for surgery right now.  Its not really that urgent, but if we can get it done now you'll be able to leave in the afternoon instead of bumming around here all day."  He smiled.

            "So I can do it right now?"

            "Sure, just say the word and we'll have the surgical team in here within the hour getting you ready."  The doctor smiled and tapped the clipboard against the side of the bed.

            "Okay."  Lance nodded and tried not to look too concerned.  "Alright, let's just do it and get it over with."

            "It's not that bad of a procedure."  The doctor assured him.

            "I know."  Lance nodded, though he didn't really know.  "I just don't like hospitals.  No offense."

            "None taken."  The doctor smiled and headed for the door.  "I'll go alert the surgical team and let them know it's a go.  I'll see you a little later, okay?"

            "Okay.  Thanks."  Lance waved halfheartedly as the doctor left.

            When the door shut behind the doctor, Johnny yawned and fell into the chair in the corner,  "So you were horsing around, huh?"

            Lance frowned and bit his lip,  "Yeah kinda."  He wasn't about to own up to fighting with Chris while Johnny was sitting that close to him.  "It was stupid, I know."

            "Yeah it was."  Johnny agreed.  "But…"  He sighed deeply and stretched his arms over his head,  "What's done is done.  You're the one who has to have surgery, not me and not the guys."

            "Yeah."

            "I bet you'll think twice next time, huh?"

            "Heck yeah."  Lance yawned, knowing that Johnny was not nearly as calm as he tried to make himself come off as.  He'd been around long enough to know that when Johnny looked too mellow, that was when you were in trouble.

 

            The surgery team arrived as Lance wrapped up his conversation with his dad.  He'd called home to let his mom know what was going on but she'd taken off for a week at his grandmother's home in Kansas.  "I've gotta go dad, their here to get me ready."

            "Okay.  Call tomorrow, okay?  I'm going to call your mom right now."

            "No dad, you don't have to call her now.  That'll wake up everyone in the house for nothing.  I'll be fine."

            "You know how she is though, if she finds out tomorrow that you had surgery today, she'll be all upset."

            "I know, just tell her I told you not to call.  I don't need her freaking out here, I'm fine.  I promise.  I'll call you in the morning and I'll call over to grandma's too."  Lance switched his phone to the other ear as the nurse reached for his I.V.  "I've gotta go."

            "Okay."  His dad sighed.

            "I love you."  Lance said quickly.

            "I love you too."  His dad paused for a second then said,  "I'll talk to you tomorrow."

            "Okay, bye."  Lance clicked his phone off and handed it to Johnny.  "Are you gonna hang out here?"  He asked.

            "Yeah, they said this shouldn't take too long.  I'll just wait till you're out then I'll head on back to the hotel."

            "Okay."  Lance yawned as the nurses began to get him ready.

            "I'll see you in a little bit." Johnny waved quickly, then stepped out into the hall as another doctor walked into the room.

           

            Johnny sat in the waiting room with Lonnie as he made a few phone calls to adjust the schedule for the next day.  They waited for more than an hour until the doctor came back and said that Lance was out of surgery and would be in his room in another half hour or so.  By the time Johnny got to see Lance, it was almost six in the morning and the sun was beginning to turn the sky pink over the windy city.

            "Hey kid."  Johnny yawned as he walked into Lance's private room.

            "Huh."  Lance mumbled as he opened his eyes slowly.

            "You feel okay?"  He asked.  Lance moved his head forward in a short nod,  "Cool. Glad to hear it."  Johnny checked his watch, then looked up at the monitors hooked up to Lance's chest,  "Listen, I've gotta go get stuff taken care of for today, Lonnie's here if you need him."

            "M'kay."  Lance mumbled as his eyes slipped closed again.  "Can't dance."

            "I know you can't dance tonight buddy, don't worry about that."  Johnny shook his head.  "I'll have the guys cover the work this morning and put out a notice for the show tonight."

            "Yeah."

            "Alrighty kid, I'll see you a little later."  He patted Lance's hand and smiled as he ducked out the door.  He checked with Lonnie to make sure he was doing okay, then headed back to the hotel to start the day with the rest of the guys.

 

            He arrived just as the others were beginning to emerge from their rooms to head out to their appearances.  "Joe?"  Johnny called down the hall.

            "Yeah?"

            "You've got a phone interview with Germany right now."

            "I know, that's where I'm going."  Joey gave him a look.

            "Lance was supposed to join you but he's not going to be able to, can you handle it?"

            "Yeah, yeah that's cool."  Joey shrugged and scratched at his stubbly chin.  "Where's Lance?"

            "He uh, well he broke a wire in his chest yesterday so they took it out this morning.  He's still at the hospital but he should be back this evening."

            "Shit, is he okay?"  Adrenaline pumped through Joey's body for that instant of fear.  If horsing around with Chris the day before had hurt Lance, they'd all catch hell for it.

            "Yeah, he'll be alright.  He won't be at the show tonight, but he's okay."

            Joey glanced at his watch,  "You're sure?"

            "I'm sure, he's fine.  The doctor even said he didn't really have to have it taken out, but just in case…"

            "Okay."  Joey nodded, but still looked worried.  "He'll be back today?"

            "You bet."  Johnny nodded.  "You're late."

            "I know."  Joey nodded and continued walking toward the elevator.  "Thanks Johnny."

            "No problem kid, do you know where the other guys are?"

            Joey cringed inwardly; Johnny was going to rip Chris a new one.  "I don’t know about JC or Just, but I think Chris left already."

            "His assignment isn't until eight."  Johnny's brow furrowed.

            "Oh."  Joey shrugged,  "Then uh, maybe he didn't.  I'm late though, I'll see you later."  Joey waved quickly then trotted down the hall.  He said a silent apology to Chris as he hopped on the elevator with two security guards.

            Johnny continued down the hall in search of the other guys, hoping he'd remember which room was which.  He was just about to knock on the first door when Chris appeared at the end of the hall and called to him.  "Hey Johnny!  Do you know where Lance is?  He's supposed to be doing that phone thing at six thirty with Joe, but I haven't seen him and I've uh… I've gotta talk to him."  Chris said as he shoved his hands in his pockets.

            "He's at the hospital, he'll be back later today."  Johnny said distractedly as he knocked on the door in front of him.  He really wanted to get them all together to talk about the show that night and how it would be altered with Lance out of commission.

            "Time out wait."  Chris put his hand on Johnny's arm.  "He's where?"

            "He's in the hospital, we took him in last night, but he's fine."

            "You don't take 'fine' people to the hospital."

            "He was having pains in his chest, but it turns out he just broke a wire so they've done surgery to remove it.  He'll be back later today, tomorrow at the latest."

            "Wait, what happened?"  Chris asked as he pulled Johnny's sleeve.  "He did what?"

            "One of the wires in his chest broke."

            "He has wires in his chest?"  Chris winced as his breath caught in his throat.

            "Apparently."  Johnny nodded.  "I guess they were there to hold his ribcage closed after the surgery."

            "Shit, and one broke?"

            "Yeah, he said he was horsing around yesterday so that must have been when."  Johnny shrugged, "He's alright though.  They did a quick surgery to remove it and he'll be back tonight probably."

            "He wasn't horsing around he was wrestling with me."  Chris shook his head, obviously JC hadn't told him what he'd told Johnny.

            "You were wrestling with him?  Chris…"  Johnny took on the fatherly tone and gave Chris a disapproving look.  "Is that how he split his lip too?"

            "He fuckin' told me to."  Chris became suddenly defensive to hide his intense feeling of guilt.  "He was all bent because we didn't beat him up like we used to or whatever.  Johnny man, he brought it on himself."

            "You have to be more careful with him.  If this wire had punctured his lung or his heart he could have died."  Johnny said softly.  "We're just lucky it didn't move."

            "He doesn't want us to be careful."

            "Want it or not you have to."

            "How come we're just finding out about this now?  I mean, Lance goes to the hospital and no one tells us till the next morning?"

            "He's doing fine, he'll be back before you know it.  He didn't want everyone to worry about him for something so small."

            "So it's okay for you to do what Lance says but not us?"  Chris snapped.  Johnny just gave him a look that said exactly what was going through his mind.  "I'm sorry."  Chris sighed,  "It's just… he wants us to rough him up like the others and look what happens."

            "Goofing with the guys doesn't crack ribs."  Johnny shook his head.  "Now I don't know exactly what went on, but I don't want it to happen again.  If you want to play around like you do with Justin or whatever, then go for it.  But no more cracked lips, no more cracked anything."

            "He pushed me - "

            "I don't care who started it Chris."

            "I'm not saying he started it, I started it.  You know me better than that, of course I did.  But he wouldn't let it up until I practically threw him through the wall."

            "Well that's when you need to step up and tell him no.  I'm going to have a talk with everyone about this a little later, but as for now we'll be going on tonight without him."

            "Shit."  Chris sighed under his breath.  They'd managed to go more than a year without anyone missing a performance, and the last time was when Joey had food poisoning so bad he couldn’t sit up without throwing something up.  With all of Lance's issues, they'd just flat out canceled the show, but this time, for whatever reason, they were going on with one missing.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

            Lance was discharged shortly after five that evening.  He added another prescription for antibiotics to his daily regimen of medications then headed to the arena with instructions to get as much rest as he could to let his chest muscles heal after being cut into again.  He followed the doctor's orders and went directly to his bunk as soon as he got back.

            Lonnie waited until Lance was settled on the bus, then went into the venue to get the pre-show routine in motion.  People were everywhere backstage and it seemed much more crowded than usual.  The guard made it halfway to the dressing rooms before noticing that almost every person he passed had a MTV badge stuck to their clothes somewhere,  "Hey, what's going on here?"

            "MTV is here."  Joey laughed as he ran by and yanked Lonnie's shirttails.

            "Yeah I can see that."  Lonnie nodded,  "What for?"

            "I dunno, they like us or something."  Joey shrugged and leaned against the wall to catch his breath.  "Where've you been?"

            "I was hanging out at the hospital with Lance."

            "Wait, Lance is back?"  Chris asked as he walked up.

            "Yeah, he's out on the bus."  Lonnie nodded.

            "I thought they had to have surgery?"

            "Yeah, but then they sent him home."  Lonnie smiled,  "He's cool."

            "Can I go out there?"

            "To the bus?'

            "No, to Denver."  Chris rolled his eyes,  "Yeah to the bus."

            "Sure."  Lonnie shrugged and turned away.  "Oh, you mean you want me to take you?"  He looked at Chris who just gave him a look,  "You need me to hold your hand, make sure the boogey man doesn’t get you?"  Lonnie laughed then nodded for the door,  "Come on kid, let's go."

            "Thanks, asshole."  Chris muttered under his breath, just loud enough for Lonnie to hear, but not quite loud enough to really mean it.  They walked out to the bus followed by the screams of some fans that were already gathered around waiting for the show later that night.

            Chris bounced up the three short steps onto the bus and looked around for Lance.  He wasn't on the couches, but his backpack was, that was a good sign.  "Lance?"  Chris called toward the back by the bunks.

            "Hmm?"  Was the only sound that came from that area.

            "Are you sleeping?"

            "No."  Lance's voice was muffled, and Chris knew that he probably had been sleeping until he bounded onto the bus and shook it like an earthquake.

            Chris walked back to the bunks and pulled the curtain back on Lance's,  "Hey."  Chris nodded as a greeting.  "You okay?"  He leaned his forearms on Lance's bunk and looked him over quickly to see if anything was different.

            "Yeah."

            "You're sure?"

            "Yeah, I'm sure."  Lance sighed and removed his arm from across his eyes.

            "Good."  Chris said a split second before he reached out and punched Lance's shoulder playfully.  "Then I won't feel bad for knocking the shit outta you."  Chris smiled,  "Don't make me do that again, okay?"

            "Okay."  Lance smiled sheepishly and rolled onto his side.  "I'm sorry about that."

            "Me too."  Chris nodded.  "So you're really okay?  Johnny was saying you had surgery again?"

            "Yeah, but it was nothing really.  I'd hardly call it surgery."

            "What'd they do?"

            "They just made a little cut right here."  Lance touched his chest,  "And basically pulled it out.  The wire I mean.  It didn't take that long, I don't think I was out longer than a couple hours."

            "Ouch."  Chris winced.

            "Nah, not really."  Lance shook his head.  "The cut is only like, an inch and a half, if that.  They've got this tape stuff on it to hold it together so it can't be that bad."  Lance laughed and cringed,  "But it hurts to laugh or cough."

            "I bet."  Chris bit his lip.  "I'm really sorry though."

            "Don't be."  Lance shook his head as Chris sighed.  "Next time just knock me down the hall like you usually would and I won't have to stomp your ass on the floor."

            "Yeah, as if you stomped me."  Chris smiled.

            "I totally stomped you."

            "Who left bloody and went to the hospital?"  Chris raised his eyebrow.

            "Yeah, well…"

            Chris paused and licked his lips and he leaned away from Lance's bunk,  "I'm real sorry about your lip too.  I didn't mean to hit your face."

            "Yeah, it was my own fault for putting it where your hand was going."  Lance laughed.  He caught the flash of guilt in Chris' eyes, hiding behind the childish smile.  "Nah, don't worry about it Chris.  It's more my fault than yours."

            "Yeah, but I shouldn't have taken you on.  That wasn't fair.  You're sick you know."  Chris grinned and winked.

            "Yeah, yeah, yeah."  Lance rolled his eyes.  "Seriously, we're cool."

            "Okay."  Chris nodded and extended his hand for Lance to shake.

            Lance shook his hand and nodded,  "And I'm not sick."

            "I know."

            "Now leave me alone so I can sleep for a bit."  Lance met Chris' eye and smiled once again to reassure Chris that he was fine. 

            "Yeah, I know you need your beauty sleep."  Chris laughed and pulled Lance's curtain closed.  The kidding was all in good nature, and he was relieved that Lance was okay enough to play along.  He left the bus with Lonnie and went back into the venue to get something to eat before the show preparations got under way.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

            Johnny pulled them all aside that night after they ate and had a little meeting to cover the guys on what happened.  "As I'm sure all of you know, Lance had a little surgery last night and won't be performing tonight."  The boys nodded silently and prepared for the lecture that was sure to come.   "I've already talked to Lance and Chris about this and things are cool, but I want the rest of you to hear this too."  He paused and looked around at the five men sitting in his room.

            "No more beating the shit outta Lance?"  Joey asked.

            "Since when has it been okay to beat the shit outta anyone?"  Johnny asked sharply.  "This isn't specific to one or two people you all know that.  Since the beginning I've told you up front that whatever beef you have with someone is to be dealt with maturely, and if that includes shouting and swearing then so be it.  But never, under any circumstances, would I ever expect you to beat each other up.  Never."

            "We don't."  Justin shook his head.

            "You did."  Johnny raised his eyebrow.  "I'm not trying to sound like a dad here.  This is coming to you from your manager.  As a manager I don't want to see my group beating each other up.  If I was coming at you as a dad I'd ground you all for a week, no video games."  Johnny smiled.  "You're not kids, I know that.  You're grown men with grown up issues, and I expect you to behave that way."

            The guys nodded in agreement,  "We know."

            "Okay then.  That's pretty much all I have to say.  If any of you has a problem with anyone else… whether its you five or someone else… bring it to me if you can't handle it like an adult."

            "Got it."  JC nodded and stood up.

            "And the next time Lance has to spend the night in the hospital for something stupid, you all are going to tag along."

            "Can't we just wrap him in bubble wrap?"  Justin asked with a half smile.

            "Justin…"  Lance sighed, but a small smile tickled the side of his mouth.

            "I mean that way he won't get hurt and we can still beat him up every now and then."

            "As long as no one shows up for the concert bleeding, swollen, bruised or broken… I don't care what you do.  But if you guys send each other to the hospital for something like this, or if you make each other bleed or get bruised or break anything… heads will roll."  Johnny smiled, though they knew he was completely serious.

            "Okay."  They all smiled and nodded; they didn't have to be told twice.

            "Alrighty then."  Johnny placed his hands flat on the table and looked toward the door.  "Get on outta here, you've got a show to get ready for."

            Johnny watched them all leave and for the first time he was worried about how they were handling this as individuals.  "Nsync" had handled everything as a group from the start, and now each guy's own fears and concerns were showing through.  He closed his eyes and hoped for the best… praying there would be no more fights.

 

 

 

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Copyright 2002 Amy Lynn