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

 

            Lance awoke in darkness with a strange feeling in his chest.  He knew to expect the slight burning from the incision, and maybe a bit of itching or pressure, but this was something else.  Like a zing, or an electrical current that wasn’t uncomfortable, just… strange.

            He tried to swallow but found his windpipe solidly open with an unforgiving tube.  His eyes darted from side to side as he looked through a drug-induced haze at the myriad of machines humming and beeping around his head.  By instinct his hands moved to reach for the obstruction in his mouth, but were stopped by the soft gauze straps holding his wrists to the side of the bed.  He began to feel the beginning tingles of panic set in when the nurse from before appeared at his side.

            "Hello there Mr. Bass, how are you?"  She asked, not expecting an answer.  "I'm Gloria, one of your nurses here today.  You're going to meet a lot of us."  She smiled and pressed some buttons on his machines.  "Do you know where you are?"

            Lance nodded slightly, then blinked his eyes to clear his vision and tried to lift his head.  "Whoops, no don't move too much around kiddo."  Gloria shook her head and rested her hand on his arm.  She was covered completely in pale yellow coverings but he saw her eyes crinkle at the corners as she smiled.  "We really weren't expecting you to wake up so soon, you've almost beat the record."  She glanced up at the wall above his head as she marked the time on his chart.  Her hands moved on autopilot as she suctioned out his ventilator.  "So how are you feeling, other than trapped?  Blink three times if you're feeling fabulous, twice if you're feeling alright and once if you're feeling terrible."

            Lance's eyes closed slowly two times and she waited for a second to see if there were going to be any more,  "Great, then you're feeling just like how you should be."  She smiled again.  "And you can nod your head, that's good.  Not too much though."

            Gloria grinned and turned to his blood pressure monitor.  "You're going to feel some pressure now."  The machined tightened itself around Lance's bicep and took its reading,  "Amazing, we'll just call you the bionic man.  You're right where you're supposed to be.  Good job."

            "I suppose you're wondering when you get that crappy vent out, huh?"  Lance tried his nod again to answer,  "Well, I'd say tomorrow sometime.  Or I guess that'd be today since it's a little after three in the morning."  She laughed lightly and went about checking the rest of his stats before she set his chart aside,  "It's too soon to have it out now, but if you can impress the doctors enough they may take it out in the afternoon, okay?"  Lance nodded again as he tried to remember not to try to swallow.  "Wonderful, if you're doing alright then I'll leave you alone so you can sleep."  Gloria patted his exposed hand and waited for him to nod slightly, letting her know he was okay.  He watched her leave the room then closed his eyes and tried to relax as much as he could, then fell back to sleep.

 

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

 

            Nine o'clock came sooner than any of them wanted, but they were all in Johnny's room with their stomach in knots.  The first thing Johnny did was update them on Lance's condition, "He woke up early this morning, but he's still on the ventilator.  When I talked to Diane she hadn't been able to see him, but the nurses say he's looking real good."

            "So can we see him?"  Chris asked.

            "We'll be going to the hospital this afternoon, yes."  Johnny nodded.  He hoped the guys would be able to see Lance, but he couldn't get a definite answer out of the hospital; it all depended on Lance's condition.

            "What are we doing this morning?"  Joey yawned.

            "The four of you are expected in Waterford Ballroom downstairs at eleven to tape an announcement for MTV and the other media sources.  I'd also like for at least one of you to call into TRL this afternoon and talk live."

            "I'll do that."  Justin volunteered.

            "Thanks."  Johnny nodded.  "I uh, I also have some paperwork that I'll need you guys to sign, it's been faxed to your lawyers and I should have a response by this afternoon.  Then of course there's your official business.  The website, fanclub and your own organizations.  They're all going to need some kind of comment directly from you."

            "Paperwork?"  JC asked with a confused look.

            "Yes."  Johnny cleared his throat and reached for a small packet of papers at his side.  "It's just a technicality really from Jive."

            "Wait, what kind of paperwork?"  JC raised his eyebrow and crossed his arms over his chest in one swift and defiant move.

            "An amendment to your current contract."

            "Why?"

            "Because we're canceling your tour and that goes against the contract.  All it says is that you acknowledge that the tour is a contracted event and that you understand that the tour will still be part of the contract that you've signed."

            "Meaning?"

            "Meaning that even though this tour is canceled, you still owe Jive a tour."

            "Right."  JC nodded.  "But not until Lance is back up and running."

            "Of course not."  Johnny shook his head.  "It's just an amendment to cover everyone's butts.  Jive doesn't want you coming back saying you don't owe them a tour because you did part of one and had to cancel it."

            "We know we have a tour to do."

            "You'll have two more.  You'll have to finish this one out, even if it's promoted as a second tour, and another one after that."

            "Right."  JC nodded.

            "So that's all this is going to say.  Your lawyers are going over it to make sure everything is worded right then you'll have your copies tonight."

            "What about Lance?  How is he going to sign it?"

            "He'll sign as soon as he's able to."  Johnny said softly.

            "So when it gets here we'll all sign it, then can we go see Lance?"  Chris asked.

            "We can go to the hospital as soon as we're done with the statements.  When the contract is delivered I'll have it brought to you guys wherever you are and get it sent back."

            "Okay."  JC frowned and leaned forward in his chair as he sighed,  "So what are we saying in our statement?"  His mind was humming with the events of the last couple days, and with everything happening so fast he just wanted someone to jump in and say, 'do this, do that' and not have to think about anything.

            "Basically all we're saying at this point was that Lance's heart condition has taken a turn for the worse and he required surgery."

            "He had a… transplant."  Chris choked the word out.

            "We're not mentioning specifics at this time."  Johnny shook his head.  "Whatever we have to say though, the fans will want to hear it from you."  He paused and frowned as he licked his lips nervously,  "They'll also want to hear from you about the tour being canceled.   Now that we've posted notice to the venues and sponsors they'll be hearing all about it."

            "So we won't get to the hospital until like, one?"  Justin asked.

            "We'll leave here as soon as you guys finish up with your announcements."  Johnny nodded.

            "Okay."

            "I will present the check to the Ronald McDonald house this afternoon so they will have that money.  I'll have to give them a photo op rain check though, so once this is all put together again we can go back and present them the check again with everyone there."

            "Okay."  Chris nodded and sighed.

            "Any questions?"  Johnny asked.

            "What… what are we going to do without a tour?"  Chris asked.  "I mean…"

            "It'll all depend on Lance."  Johnny cleared his throat;  "You're already scheduled to start recording in about seven months so as of now we're keeping on that schedule."  He flipped through his planner.  "As for the social events and things like that that are already scheduled you guys can split those up among yourselves, whichever you want to go to.  If Lance is feeling up to it he can go as well, but it's all up in the air right now."

            "So technically we've got like seven months off?"  JC looked up.

            "Technically."  Johnny nodded.

            "Okay."  They said softly.

            "Why don't you guys go on upstairs and get ready?  I'll meet you in the ballroom at eleven."  Johnny patted Chris' shoulder as they left the room in silence.  He wished there was something he could do for the guys but until Lance was back with them, walking beside them as they trekked back down the hall, he knew things wouldn't be the same.

 

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

 

            Just before three that afternoon the doctor came in to check on Lance.  They'd kept a close eye on him all day but he'd barely flinched an inch,  "How would you like to have the vent taken out today?"  The doctor smiled behind his mask and looked closely at Lance's latest blood oxygen results.  Lance was right on target for someone who had been in surgery just over 24 hours before, even better than expected.

            Lance nodded as his eyes opened wide;  "Okay then, let's do it.  Now when I say 'go' I want you to breathe in as deep as you can and then cough, okay?"

            Lance nodded again as he tried to remain calm.  "This will all be over in just a minute."  Another nurse said as she stood by the doctor's side.

            "Ready Lance?"  Dr. Porter asked.  Lance nodded, signaling that he was, then the doctor took hold of the tube and said,  "Okay deep breath…" he watched as Lance's chest rose,  "Now cough real hard."  Lance did as he was told and the doctor removed the ventilator tube in one swift move.

            Lance coughed several more times to clear his throat then gasped for air as he closed his eyes.  "There you go Lance, you're done there."  Dr. Porter nodded.  "Your throat is going to be raw and sore for a while, so talking is going to hurt.  I'm going to hit you with another really small dose of morphine right now also okay?"  He didn't wait for a response as he reached for one of the many IV tubes running into his arm.  "Now that you're breathing on your own there may be some discomfort in your chest as the muscles get back to work on their own."

            Lance nodded, wishing there were another way for him to respond.  The doctor smiled and patted Lance's shoulder as the nurse gently cut the gauze restraints off of his wrists.  "How about I got get your mom and bring her back here before you go to sleep?  I'm sure she's waiting anxiously down there in the waiting room."

            Lance nodded again and waited as the doctor and nurse left the room.  It was another ten minutes before his mom stepped into the room and he was beginning to feel the effects of the medication.  Her hair, clothing and shoes were hidden under sterile coverings.  She had a mask covering her face and gloves on her hands, but he'd never been happier to see her.

            “Hi angel.”  His mom whispered as she walked to the side of his bed.  She reached to touch him as she kept an eye on the machines at his side.

            “Mom?”  He knew it would hurt to talk, but he couldn't stop himself when he saw his mother.

            “Yeah baby, I’m here.”  She reached for his hand.

            “M’okay?”  He asked.

            “You’re doing magnificent.”  She smiled.

            “I need water.”  He winced with every syllable.

            “You can’t have water babe, but here…" She reached into the little plastic tub and removed a tiny sponge on a stick.  She wet it in the cup of water and gently drew it over his cracked lips, letting a few drops fall on his dry tongue.  The nurses had spent several hours that morning preparing her for what she would see when she finally got to see him, and what she could and couldn't do while she was in there.  He pursed his lips in response to the water and almost sighed in content.  “Is that better?”

            “Yeah.”  He blinked slowly and tried to lick his own lips.  “What day is it?”  The act of talking felt like millions of needles in his throat and the first thing he thought of was his voice.

            “Thursday.”  She smiled and rubbed his hand.  “You’re still in the hospital.”

            “Yeah.”  His eyes drifted closed, he had missed a whole day.  “Guys?”

            “JC and Joey are here.”  Diane nodded as her voice shook.  “They can’t come back while you're still in isolation.”

            “Get them.”  He said as forcefully as he could.

            “They can’t come back sweetie.”  His mom shook her head slowly as she wiped tears from her eyes. 

            Lance winced as he swallowed a few times, then asked the question he dreaded the answer to.  “My voice?”

            “I know you sound bad right now, but the doctor said you should be able to sing again in a few weeks.”

            “The same?”  He frowned at the sound of his own squeaky voice.

            “Yes, you should sound the same.”  She forced a smile as worry creased her forehead.  ‘Should’ wasn’t as optimistic as she’d like.

            “Guys.”  He said again.

            “Lance baby they can’t come back.”

            “Wanna see.”  He knew he sounded juvenile using incomplete sentences, but he couldn’t fathom the pain of attempting more than that.

            Diane turned around and saw a window leading to the nurse's desk a few feet from Lance’s bed,  “You want me to see if they can come to the window to see you?”  Lance nodded slightly and closed his eyes.  The energy it took to talk was almost too much, and he couldn’t imagine feeling this way much longer.  “Okay sweetie, I’ll be right back.”

            She stepped out of the room and talked with the nurses for a minute.  They had been made aware of his situation early on and were happy to accommodate their newest celebrities.  Diane left the special cardiac care unit and hurriedly found JC and Joey,  “Okay guys, come see him.”

            “We can go in there?”  Joey asked as he set his drink down.

            “No, but you guys can gown up and go to the nurses desk.  There’s a window looking right into Lance’s room, you can see him from there.”

            “Is he awake?”

            “He asked for you.”  Diane nodded as tears rose in her eyes.

            “He did?”  JC smiled and followed Diane up the hall.

            “And of course he asked about his voice.”  She nodded and walked faster; she didn’t want to miss a single moment of Lance’s awake time.

            “Always thinking about work.”  Joey shook his head.

            “I wish the other guys could be here.”  JC sighed as he and Joey pulled yellow gowns off of the pile and struggled to tie them on over their clothes.

            “How does he sound?”

            “He sounds horrible right now.”  She shook his head.  “They had him on a vent until early this morning, but the doctor said that should clear up in a week or so.  He should be good as new.”

            “And his… the heart?”

            Diane nodded and took a deep breath as she tied the mask on over her mouth and nose.  “It’s doing well.  So far things look good, according to the doctors.  He’ll be on medication for the rest of his life though, so that his body doesn’t reject it.”

            “That’s better than… than uh… not getting it.”  Joey stumbled over his words as they went to the nurse's station.

            “Yes, it certainly is.”  Diane’s eyes smiled over the mask.  “You guys can wait right here, I’ll have him look out the window.”

            “Okay.”  JC nodded as his stomach tied itself in knots.  He and Joey stood anxiously with their fingertips barely touching the glass.  “Man, he looks like crap.”  JC said under his breath.

            “Are you kidding?  He’s never looked better.”  Joey forced a smile and nudged JC’s shoulder as Diane walked to the far side of Lance’s bed.

 

            “Lance sweetie?  The guys are standing by the window, can you turn your head?”  Lance didn’t open his eyes and she thought he might have gone back to sleep.  “Wake up baby, just for a second.  The guys are here.  JC and Joey are here to see you.”

            “Where?”  Lance winced as the words hurt his throat.

            “Over here honey, look to your left, they’re at the window.”  Diane smiled and pointed toward the window.

            Lance slowly turned his head and squinted at the window where he could barely make out two fuzzy images on the other side.  “Who is it?”

            “It’s JC and Joey.”  Diane repeated.  “The other guys are at the hotel waiting to hear how you are.  They’ve been here in shifts.”

            “Call Just and Chris.”

            “No, you can’t call them.”

            “You can.”

            “Oh of course I’ll call them.  I’ve been calling them the whole time.”

            “Say hi for me.”  Lance closed his eyes and slowly raised his hand toward the window.  He tried his best to smile and look at them, but just keeping his eyes open was becoming difficult.

            “I’ll tell them you said hi.”  Diane nodded.

            “Love you.”  Lance winced as his throat burned.

            “We all love you too sweetheart.”  Diane blew him a kiss from behind the mask and looked up at Joey and JC standing in the window.  “I’ll go tell them now and call the others, you go back to sleep now, okay?”

            “Okay.”  Lance nodded and let his eyes drift closed, but lifted his hand towards the window again, making the “OK” sign to let the guys know he was doing good.

 

            Diane stepped out to the nurses station and lowered her mask,  “He said to tell you ‘hi’.”

            “Wow, he’s talking?”

            “Not really.  The ventilator has made his throat really raw.  But he got the point across.”  She smiled and nodded toward the exit.

            “How much longer will he be in there?”  Joey asked as he looked back at the window.

            “Only another day or two.  The doctor said once he got all the tubes out they'd be able to move him to a private room."

            “But they took that thing out of his mouth.”

            "Yes, but he still has two chest tubes in, as well as all of his monitors."  She sighed with exhaustion.  “He’ll be out of the hospital all together in about two weeks, so the healing process apparently goes pretty quick.”

            "Two weeks?"  Joey looked up suddenly.  "That's all?"

            "Yeah, they're pretty aggressive about the healing.  He'll start physical therapy tonight to learn how to breathe deep and things like that.  It's amazing really… how fast your body can heal itself."

            "Yeah."  JC nodded, in awe of how fast Lance was recovering already.  "He looks uh..."

            "Yeah, he looks pretty bad right now, I know."  Diane nodded and bit her lip,  "But really, he's doing so well.  He should be out of isolation here pretty soon and the doctor has already had him sitting up part way."

            "Sitting up?"

            "Yes.  Well, elevating the bed to a half sitting position.  Laying flat on his back hurts so that takes the pressure off of his spine."

            "Why uh... why does his back hurt?  I mean, you'd think his ribs would hurt or something."  Joey asked with a cautious glance toward the window again.

            "They do too."  Diane nodded.  "But when they spread his ribcage open for the surgery it compressed his spine.  Kind of like a hinge on a door."  She demonstrated with her hands as the two grown men in front of her turned white at the thought.

            "Christ."

            "Shit."

            "He's still on morphine for the pain but they've already cut their doses by more than half so he should be off of that when he moves out of isolation."

            "Damn."  JC shook his head.  "This is so crazy... I mean, really."

            "Yep."  Diane smiled again to hide her fear.  "I need to go call Justin and Chris to let them know he woke up a bit and said hi to them.  Are they back at the hotel?"

            "Yeah, it's their turn to sleep."  Joey nodded as he stifled a yawn.

            "You two should go back also."  She cast them a 'worried mother' look.

            "We're okay."  JC insisted.

            "JC, there's nothing you can do here.  You guys won't be able to see him until tomorrow at the earliest and I don't want to see you guys run yourselves down."

            "We're okay."

            "I'm serious you guys.  I really want you to go back to the hotel and get some sleep.  Go eat a decent meal, call your families, watch a movie… please go do something that isn't at the hospital."  She pleaded with them as she placed her hands on their shoulders.  "I'm going to my hotel as soon as I meet with the transplant nurse to find out how to get the house cleaned and disinfected for Lance to come home."

            "I just don't - "  JC started to argue.

            "Come on guys."  She turned them around and walked them back to the waiting room.  "I'm going to call Chris and Justin, and I want you two to go back to the hotel.  I know Johnny's got stuff for you to do and I'm going to call him too to keep him up to date."  She thought for a second.  "If you wear yourself out and get sick, you won't be able to come back and see lance.  They won't let anyone who even might be sick back there.  So if you want to see him you need to go get yourselves put together."

            "It just feels wrong mom."  Joey said as he lowered his head.  Over the last couple days the guys had taken to calling her 'mom' to substitute for Lance not being able to say it, and for them missing their own mothers.  They'd also grown closer during their time at the hospital and it just felt normal.  Joe continued,  "When we're there all we're thinking about is how Lance isn't there.  When we go to a conference, or make a phone call or tape an announcement or whatever it's like there's this hole."

            "We're like blind chickens running around the hotel.  It's like when we're there all we do is pace the floors and wish we were here and when we're here all we do is pace the floors but at least we're here."

            "That's not healthy."  Diane grimaced.

            "But it's all we can do."  JC shrugged.  "I mean, we can't fix it so… it's the best we can do."  The exhaustion showed in his face and his thought process was noticeably slower than normal.

            "The best you can do is keep yourselves healthy and do what you need to do.  Lance would do the same thing Jace, you know he would want you to cover the business end of the deal."

            "I know."

            "He's going to be upset if he knows you guys were wasting your time around here when there was work to be done."

            "Yeah."  Joey laughed softly.

            "So right now’s not the time to piss him off."  Diane smiled.  "I'll call you guys tonight and let you know if I hear anything.  I don't want to see you guys around here until tomorrow." 

            Joey nodded and bumped JC's shoulder,  "She's right."

            "I know."  JC dropped his chin to his chest.  She was right, but they didn't have to like it.  "See you tomorrow."  He caved as he gave her a strong hug, then headed toward the elevators with Joey.

 

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

            By the next afternoon the guys had made their comments to the press and done the obligatory shots on MTV, sent out messages to their individual organizations and eaten a full warm meal.  They congregated in the hospital waiting room and were huddled in a corner together, just wanting to keep each other in their sights.  Johnny watched from a distance as they talked in hushed, almost whispered tones.  Now that Lance was out of surgery and almost out of isolation, everything began to hit them all at once.  "I can't believe he has a new heart."  Joey shook his head.

            "I can't believe he didn't tell us."  JC added.

            "He didn't want us to freak."  Justin said with his thumbnail in his mouth.  He bit the nail then turned his head to the side to spit it out,  "He knew we would."

            "How weird is it to think that at some point on Wednesday, Lance didn't have a heart in his body.  At all."  Joey's eyebrows rose in the middle as he frowned deeply.  "That's just... that's bizarre."

            "This isn't the end though guys."  Chris leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees,  "I mean, from now on nothings going to be the same."

            "Of course not."  Justin scowled.

            "No I mean for anyone."  Chris sighed,  "Lance is going to have to be careful of everything and take all of his medicine and stuff.  We're going to have to watch him."

            "He's not nine, Chris."  JC frowned up at Chris from his seat on the ground by Justin's feet.  "He knows he has to take his medicine."

            "Yeah but…" 

            "I know what you mean."  Justin nodded.  "We've just got to be careful too."

            "I looked around on the web last night and found some stuff on this kind of surgery."  Joey added softly.  He couldn't quite bring himself to say 'transplant' when he was talking about his friend.  "It said that uh… that he could reject it any time, not just at the beginning.  So he's got to watch his temperature and wear a face mask in public."

            "That's only for the first month."  JC shook his head; he'd done some checking of his own that morning.  "His doctor said once he's been on the anti-rejection medication for a month he doesn't have to wear the mask, he just has to wash his hands a lot or use that gel stuff, you know?  That stuff you have."  He looked at Justin.

            They sat in silence for a minute,  "I know this is gonna sound stupid…"  Justin lowered his voice even more so that only the three sitting next to him could hear,  "But… we almost, I mean… we could have… if he'd have died, I mean…"  He sighed, it wasn't coming out right.  "What would we do?  I mean, any of us…"

            "I don't know."  JC dropped his eyes to the floor.

            "I don't know."  Chris ran his hand through his hair and gently tugged on it.

            Joey paused and looked around at the others, thinking that it could have been any of them,  "I don't know."

 

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

            The doctors and nurses worked through the evening to lower Lance's slight temperature and pinpointed the infection.  Due to the dry air in the room and the straight oxygen he'd been on, Lance's nose and sinuses had dried out and he was contracting a sinus infection.  Minor on many scales, but at that point in his healing it could be devastating.  They hit him hard with more medications and monitored his vitals closely over night.

            By seven the next morning his temperature had returned to normal and he had very little congestion in his nose or lungs.  Dr. Porter checked him out carefully before approving his move out of isolation and into cardiac recovery.

            Lance's chest tubes were removed and bandaged, then he was wheeled to his new private room where he would be able to have guests.  The first people on his list were the guys, since he'd had his mother visiting him from the start.  No one could decide who was going to go first so the doctor settled it for them, they could all go at once, but they had to keep the volume down and only stay for a short while.

            Hey took turns scrubbing their hands before going into Lance's room,  "Do we need to wear the masks or anything?"  JC asked the nurse as they reached his door.

            "Nope, not any more."  She smiled.  "You just need to scrub your hands before you go in and make sure that your clothes are clean."

            "Okay." JC frowned slightly, he wasn't sure about that.

            When they walked into the room Lance was sitting up halfway with his chest exposed.  A narrow white bandage ran from his neck to his belly button and there were electrodes and tubes running all over his chest.  "Hey man."  Joey smiled as he led the way in.

            "Hi."  Lance's face broke into a wide grin as he saw them walk into the room together,  "Wow, all of you?"

            "Yeah, we conned the nurses."  Justin laughed and tried not to stare at the machines or the bandage.  "How do you feel?"

            "I'm alright."  Lance nodded and winced as he swallowed.  "My back and my throat hurt, but other than that I'm cool."

            "You look like hell."  JC's lips turned up in a half smile,  "If TigerBeat could see you now…"

            Lance laughed lightly then grimaced,  "Ow, ow, ow don't make me laugh."  He shook his head and tried to stop from smiling.

            "I'm sorry."  JC said quickly as he blushed,  "I'm sorry, I shouldn't - "

            "Relax Jace."  Lance crossed one arm over his chest while the other sat at his side covered with IV's and tape.  "So what'd I miss?"

            "Like, two days worth of press."  Justin rolled his eyes.  "I'd say you got the better end of the deal."

            "Yeah right."  Lance licked his lips and looked around at his friends.  They were all smiling, but he knew them better than that.  Those fake plastic smiles fooled a lot of people, but they would never fool him.  "Did you guys call Carson?"

            "Yeah Justin did."  JC pointed at Justin who had found an extra chair and was sitting by the window.  "You should see all the cards and stuff that are being sent to MTV and the fanclub.  Seriously, it's only been like two days since this happened and you're already getting presents."

            "You guys didn't bring me anything."  Lance pretended to pout to keep the mood light.  He knew the guys must be putting up with a lot of stress right then, and he didn't want to add to it.

            "You get out of here we'll get you anything you want."  Joey nodded.

            "Man… you know what I want?  A milkshake.  A McDonalds chocolate milkshake."  Lance closed his eyes in ecstasy.  "Oh my God, that's all I want."

            "Can you have one?"

            "Probably not."  Lance shook his head.  "They want to fill me up with all of this vitamin enriched stuff that looks like barf."

            "Sounds fun."  JC smiled.

            "So okay guys…"  Lance said after a pause,  "There's no way you guys are this normal."  He spoke slower than usual as his eyes began to drift closed.  Out of nowhere he'd become tired, and that was hard to get used to.  "Tell me what's on your minds, honestly."

            The four men around his bed looked at each other then back at Lance,  "We're just glad you're okay."  Chris volunteered.  "That's all."

            "I'm glad too."

            "We've had our time to flip out in the waiting room… I think we got it out of our systems."  JC laughed bitterly and licked his lips.  "Be glad you were doped up for that."  He glanced over at Justin and raised his eyebrow.

            "I'll be out of here before you know it."  Lance said softly.  "We'll be back in the studio as soon as possible and back on stage next year.  Promise."

            "Don't worry about that man."  Joey sighed and shook his head; this was so like Lance.  "Just get better and everything, we'll go back to work when we're all ready."

            "Knock knock."  A doctor in a white coat tapped on Lance's door.  "I'm sorry to interrupt guys, but I need a moment alone with the patient please."

            "Hey Doc."  Lance smiled as he walked in and patted Lance's foot under the thin blanket.

            "How are you feeling Lance?"

            "I'm good."

            "Has Dr. Moskwis been in to go over your meds yet?"

            "Yeah, she was in this morning.  She's coming back tonight to start to quiz me."  Lance nodded.

            "Great, that'll be good for you.  You're not allowed to leave until you have them all memorized."  Dr. Porter smiled and tapped his temple.

            "Hey we'll just uh, we'll see you later, okay?"  JC asked uneasily as he slid toward the door.

            "Yeah, hey can you guys do me a favor?  Can you go tell my mom to go to her hotel?  I know she's been in the waiting room since she got here a couple days ago."

            "Yeah, we'll tell her."  Chris followed JC out of the room.

            "Thanks.  You too though, go back to the hotel and get some sleep."

            "We will."  They agreed as they headed out,  "We'll see you later."

            "Bye guys."  Lance gave a half wave then looked at his doctor,  "What do I get to do now?"  He yawned.

            "You get to get up and walk, how does that sound?"

            "Like not a lot of fun."

            "I think you're ready."  Dr. Porter quickly glanced at the monitors.  "To the bathroom and back, that's all I'm asking for."

            Lance looked across the tiny room to where the bathroom door was no more than five steps from the bed.  "Okay.  That's it?"

            "Well… there and back, yeah."

            "Okay."  Lance used the remote control for his bed and moved himself to an upright position.  He stood up slowly and took his first tentative step toward recovery.

 

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

 

            Lance was able to dress in his own sweats the fourth day after the surgery, which helped him feel a lot more comfortable.  He also got his catheter taken out so he could go to the bathroom on his own which finally allowed him to feel human.  The nurses had him up and walking to his door and back several times a day, and twice already he'd stepped out into the hall to wave at the nurse’s desk.

            The guys spent as much time as they were allowed visiting with him or on the phone, but Lance was still tired a lot and the others had work to do.  For ten days Lance met with his transplant team and had his first heart biopsy done to begin monitoring for rejection.  The doctors reiterated his biopsy schedule that he'd have to follow.  Once a week for the first four weeks, then every other week for eight weeks, once a month for three months then every other month for six months.  After that he would only need it done twice a year… for the rest of his life.

            Diane went through the process of having Lance's house cleaned and disinfected to have it ready for when he got home, then contacted friends and family in the area to let them know that he'd be returning to Florida soon and that they could stop by and visit after a while, provided they were not sick with any kind of cold or flu.

            Lance spent several days with a physical therapist going over the exercise he would need to do daily, as well as spending hours with his pharmacist to talk about which medications he'd be taking, what they looked like and when he had to take them.  He was fitted with a medical alert bracelet that included emergency numbers to call if anything happened to him.  A plump dietician came around on his last day to go over his new dietary needs and provided several custom menus for him to keep track of his fat and sugar intake.

            Dr. Porter came by in the morning of his thirteenth day to help celebrate the fact that Lance was going home only twelve days after his surgery.  He gave Lance some last minute pointers and his new heart binder that had all of the information Lance could possibly need regarding restrictions, infection, diet and exercise.  "I'm really glad to see that you're up and about so well Lance."

            "Thanks."  Lance smiled as he sat up in bed, it was hard to believe that only two weeks ago he'd had a completely different heart.

            "Have a safe trip home, and remember… you can call any time for whatever reason.  There's at least two doctors in our Cardiac Care center at all times."

            "Thanks Dr. Porter, for everything."  Lance nodded and lowered his head.  The top of his incision was just visible over the neckline of his baggy shirt.

            "You're welcome."  Dr. Porter smiled.  "Now.  Since you're technically not my patient any more now that I've signed your discharge papers… would you mind giving me an autograph?"

            Lance smiled broadly, this was the first time since he stepped into the hospital that someone made a normal request of him.  He'd signed countless waivers and disclaimers for the surgery and after care, but this was the first autograph he was signing with his new heart and it felt good.

            "Hell yeah."  He laughed lightly, feeling the dull pain in his side still when he laughed.  "I'll sign anything you want."

            "Thank you.   I have something for you too… if you want it."

            "What is it?"

            "It's a picture of your heart."  Dr. Porter reached into his pant pocket.  "Your new one I mean."

            "A picture?"

            "Yeah, it's my quirk.  I take photos of all of the transplant hearts I get to give people, then if they want a copy I give one to them too."  The doctor blushed slightly,  "So if you want it."

            "Y-yeah… yeah."  Lance held out his hand and gingerly took the glossy photo from the doctor’s hand.  He stared at it for a long minute, almost forgetting to breathe.  "That's the one I have now?"  Lance asked without looking up.

            "That's the one that's beating right now."  Dr. Porter nodded.

            "Wow."  Lance brought the picture closer and studied it with interest.  Not many people got to actually see their heart, but there was his.  His heart was sitting in somebody’s hands like a treasure, hovering over a bright blue surgical cloth with a shiny metal instrument in the corner of the photo.  "I can keep this?"

            "It's yours."  The doctor nodded.  "Would you mind signing my copy?"

            "Not at all… will you sign mine?"  He smiled up at the doctor and handed the photo back as Dr. Porter took a pen out of his breast pocket. 

            "I'd be honored."  He scrawled his barely legible signature across the back and added '#499' to the bottom.

            "499?"

            "You're my 499th transplant.  One away from the big winner."  The doctor laughed and handed Lance the pen and the other photo.

            "Aww man, I couldn't hold out one more week huh?"  He smiled and signed the back of the photo and added a small message of his own,  'Thanks for keeping my beats Nsync.'  He chuckled as he handed it back to the doctor.  "A little band humor there."

            "Thanks."  They smiled at each other then shook hands.  "Just think, by this time tomorrow you'll be at home in your own bed."

            "I hope so."  Lance sighed.  "Our flight leaves at ten tomorrow."

            "So where are you staying tonight?"

            "At the hotel."  Lance nodded.

            Dr. Porter cringed,  "I was under the impression you were leaving today.  You're going to be mad…"

            "What?"

            "I'd like you to stay tonight."

            "Here?"

            "Yes."

            "Oh come on…"  Lance began to whine.

            "Hotel rooms and linens are crawling with bacteria.  I'd be lots happier if you stayed here tonight and left for the airport straight from here."

            "I can't argue my way out of this, can I?"

            "No."  Dr. Porter shook his head with a smile.

            "Do I have to be hooked up?"

            "Just to the finger monitor.  No needles."

            "Can I have my own dinner?"

            "Yeah."  He smiled.  "You can have your mom bring you in some real food.  No junk food though.  No double cheese burgers or anything like that."

            "I want a chicken quesadilla."

            "That's fine."

            "This sucks."

            "Yeah but it'd suck a lot more if you spiked a fever in the morning and had to come back for another week because you got something funky from the hotel."

            "Yeah."  Lance sighed.  "Damn, so close and yet so far."

            "Thanks Lance."  Dr. Porter patted his knee.  "One of these days you'll thank me for it."

            "I already do."  Lance nodded and looked down at the picture again.  "Thanks." 

 

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

            Diane went home to Florida with Lance and stayed for the first three weeks to take care of Lance.  She fell into the position of 'doting mother' very easily as she fussed around him making his bed and preparing his meals.  By the end of the third week his was taking care of himself better than anyone could have hoped.  He was able to shower and dress by himself, and he'd even started walking around the block twice a day, once with his mom and once with his physical therapist.  He didn't want to send his mom away when it was so apparent that she was worried about him, but at the same time he wanted to get his life back on track.

            He'd been maintaining his medications himself and had kept up with all of his doctor's appointments and the physical therapy that he needed.  Five weeks after the surgery and three weeks after being sent home, Lance finally sat down with his mother over breakfast.  "Hey um, I was thinking…"

            "Did you take your pills this morning and weigh yourself?"

            "Yeah, 147 and I took my meds."  Lance nodded and looked at the three pills by his plate,  "Except these ones that I can't take until I eat."  He mumbled.  "Mom, sit down and eat.  You’ve been here for like three weeks and I’ve never seen you actually sit down.”  Lance watched as his mother sighed and sat in the chair across from Lance,  “Listen mom, I was - "

            "How does your incision feel?"

            "It's fine."  Lance ran his hand through his hair, feeling the slight tug across his chest as he stretched his muscles.  "But mom, I was thinking… um, I know you've got your work and stuff back home in Mis - "

            "Nonsense Lance, I'm going to be here for as long as you need me."  She smiled and placed several pieces of fresh cut fruit on his plate.

            "Yeah, but…"  He didn't want to have to say it out loud.

            Diane sighed and placed her fork beside her plate,  "You don't need me anymore."  She stated simply.

            "It's not that mom."  Lance explained quickly,  "I just… of course I need you but right now I think I need to do this by myself."

            "You still have three more doctors visits next week."

            "I know."

            "You can't drive yourself."

            "I know."

            "Lance how are you going to take care of yourself?"

            "I've been doing it for a couple years now mom."  He dropped his eyes to his plate, hurting his mom was never anything he wanted to do.  "I love you so much mom, but this is something I'm going to have to deal with for the rest of my life.  Eventually I'm going to have to take care of it by myself and I'm ready."

            "Angel, you just had surgery."

            "I had surgery five weeks ago."  He took a deep breath,  "All of my doctors have said I'm in great shape and that everything looks good.  My biopsies have all come back normal; my blood work is good… I'll be able to drive in another two or three weeks.  My physical therapy is going well, Morgan is here every afternoon to work with me, and she keeps an eye on everything while she's here.  Dr. Matson is only a phone call away, Justin and JC both live within like two miles…"

            "I know, but - "

            "I'm going to be okay mom."

            "I know you are babe, I know you are.  But…"  She sighed; he could never understand what she felt, as a mother, to see him that way.

            "It's not that I want you to leave, I just… I need to do this.  If I'm ever going to get back in the studio or back on stage or any of that, I've got to take control of my life as soon as possible."

            Diane held her breath for a moment, she knew he was right but that didn’t make it any easier.  “Okay.”  She nodded and exhaled,  “I’ll call today and see about getting a flight home this weekend.”

            “Mom, please don’t be mad.”

            “I’m not mad.”

            “Mom…”  Lance knew her tone well enough.

            “I’m not mad, angel.  I’m not.”  She gave him a tight smile and blinked rapidly.  “I know you have to do this.”

            “I really do.”  Lance whispered as he pushed his plate aside.

            “Just… just be careful, okay?”

            “I will.”  He smiled as a tingle of excitement spread through his stomach.

            “And call me everyday.”

            “I always do.”  He nodded.

            “Eat up honey.  I want you to get in the habit of eating well before I go.”  She shook her fork toward Lance’s half eaten plate.  “Finish that, take your medicine… then we’ll start making arrangements for me to go home.”

            Lance nodded but kept his eyes on his mom and she began to eat her breakfast.  “Thanks mom.”

            “You’re welcome.”

            “I couldn’t have done this without you.”  He added with a small smile.  “I’m still going to need you.”

            Diane nodded and smiled up at Lance,  “I’m still going to need you too.”

 

 

 

 next...

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2001, Amy Lynn