"You've changed."

Her soft words echoed loudly against the almost empty walls of the bedroom. Lance dropped his hands to his sides. They fell away from where he'd been fumbling with the metallic and jean material jigsaw puzzle known as a button-fly and rested on his hips as a barely audible swear word escaped his lips in an exhaled breath.

The alarm hadn't gone off that night and he'd hoped that she would sleep through his departure. Lance rarely sat and anticipated the sound of the dreaded beep that would announce his exit from her bedroom. He normally would have snuggled into the covers for another five minutes or until the sleep button again reminded him of the time. That night to his dismay he hadn't been able to sleep. His head had been fairly clear until she'd fallen asleep.

When she had drifted off during an earlier conversation that night his mind had raced with the upcoming events of the week. They ran in circles in his mind. There would be the flight out to LA to film a new video for This I Promise You which included three days of filming work. From there he'd take a midnight flight back to Viacom Studios in New York to do work with FreeLance Entertainment's Talent Search. They'd been working all summer on finding talent and he'd be there to help host the final judging. A redeye flight back to Los Angeles would max out his frequent flyer miles for the week. He had to do it though. He was going to meet up with the band to fulfill a fan's request for a private performance. The schedule normally was that hectic, but for some reason the stress of the upcoming week ran through his mind until he had to climb out of bed.

With this action his brain had protested leaving him feeling sluggish, the same kind of sluggishness that came along with jet lag or hang-overs. He'd found that when he'd tried to pull himself together enough to leave the apartment that his hands weren't cooperating with him. It was as if they were siding with his heart, which definitely was trying to think of ways to stall the inevitable separation that faced them.

It had been a tricky situation--trying to slip out of bed unnoticed--but one that had been practiced so many times that it was becoming a little to familiar to him--a fact that he hated. Leaving itself was becoming routine, but that night it was harder than he'd thought, so he'd opted not to wake her as he slid out of her bed and out of her life for the next few months. Although he would have loved to wake up with her in his arms he knew that it was impossible, there was too much riding on the upcoming tour and the current album status to chance having a picture of them together to end up in the newspaper.

"How have I changed? You know I can't stay over Janelle."

Lance walked back over to the edge of the bed to where Janelle lay against the pillows watching him. He leaned down and kissed her lips softly, then sat on the edge of the bed and collected up his socks and shoes from where they'd been thrown hastily onto the floor earlier.

Her hand swept over his naked lower back as he stretched to put on his socks. The action of slight fingernails gliding over his skin reminded him of their time together. When he'd arrived home three days earlier after being gone for almost two months, he hadn't planned on spending every night with her in bed, but the time apart had lead them to the bedroom more than once during his short visit back to Orlando. It had been perfect, almost too perfect, and the realization that it was over made him shiver.

"I know." There was no mistaking the disappointment in her voice. He'd heard it a million times before, but it still got to him.

When he glanced over his shoulder at her she was sitting up in bed with the sheet pulled to her chest for modesty's sake. He would have teased her about it, since he'd seen all of her on more than one occasion, but decided not to. He wanted to leave on a good note and the frown that she projected at him wasn't a good sign of that happening even without the teasing. Her blue eyes looked half asleep still, but it was evident that she was clearly aware of what was going on.

"At least you used to say good-bye to me."

At the sound of her words, he let go of the sock he was pulling on. Lance leaned so that his back was against her lap and looked up at her with a frown. "'Nell, don't be like that."

She ran her hand across his forehead moving his matted hair from his brow, an action which made his eyes close. "Be like what?"

"You know that I don't WANT to leave." He opened his eyes and saw her staring down at him sadly. Reaching up he cupped her chin with his hand. "I HAVE to leave."

"You don't HAVE to do anything," she stated bitterly then her expression changed when she saw his sour reaction to her comment. "BUT" She kissed her finger then pressed it against his lips. "I DO know that the music IS what you love AND that you HATE the business end of things."

Only she would be able to understand how he felt about his job. She was on the other side of endless conversations about how he wished he could be with her and that the business wouldn't take him away from Orlando for so long. Out of an average year, Lance spent at least six months, if not more, on tour or recording overseas.

Janelle had been with him on and off since he'd relocated his whole life from Mississippi at age sixteen to join the group in Orlando. He loved all the support she gave him and he tried to give it back to her in his own ways, but it was hard with his lifestyle being what it was.

The one thing that he still couldn't get over was that when she'd decided to go to college that she'd picked UCF to go to. He'd wanted her to go to Harvard or Yale or Stanford. She'd been accepted all those places. She'd refused all of the placements and had chosen UCF so that she'd be able to spend time with him on his days off. She said that the West Coast had too many earthquakes and fires and that New England was too cold, Central Florida was the place to be, or at least that's what she kept saying.

"I love you, you know that, right?" he asked.

"Of course I know that," she said with a smile.

"And you know that it's always hard for me to leave?" he asked.

"Yes," she said.

"Just checking," he said then sat up.

"What time do you leave tomorrow?" she asked.

As he leaned over again to pull on his socks she moved to grab her shirt and underwear from the floor. He moved and pulled her blonde hair out of the way before dropping a kiss on her cheek. He was going to miss doing that to her. "We leave after lunch."

"So what are you doing between now and then?"

"I have to pack up, which should take me--"

"About two seconds," she supplied for him knowing how adept he'd become at getting out of town at the drop of a hat.

He shoved his feet into his socks then wiggled his toes into his shoes and paused for a moment. "We leave at noon which means that Michael and the guys are going to be over at the house around ten thirty, so if I can get time enough I should be able to stop by and take you to breakfast if you don't have anything else to do."

"I think I can pencil you in," she said with a laugh. She reached again at the floor and found her jeans and pulled them onto the bed. He paused and watched her pull them on.

"I thought you had to leave," she said when she noticed him watching her.

"I do," he said, "Are you kicking me out?"

"You know I wouldn't do that." She ran her hands through her hair, making sure that it fell against her back and not around onto the front of her shirt. She slid off the side of the bed and stood up. "Come on, get your shoes on. I'll make sure you didn't leave anything around."

He loved the way she always tried to busy herself when he had to leave town as if her multitasking would keep her mind off of him. She never admitted it aloud, but he knew that when he left town her heart broke and when he returned to town it was put back together again, although he suspected that it never fit quite back together in the same way each time.

Lance finished getting his shoes on as she left the bedroom and made her way out to the kitchen, turning on the lights as she went. He could hear her in the living room. She stubbed her toe on the coffee table and swore at it then heard her move into the kitchen where she opened the cabinet that held the cups then got a drink from the bottled water container in the corner of the room.

She had the cup to her lips when he joined her on the linoleum tile carrying his jacket and t-shirt. She held the cup out to him automatically. "I didn't find anything around."

Lance took the cup and took a drink then handed it back.

"So where are you going to be again?" Janelle asked.

"Three days in LA, then a few in New York, then back to LA."

"Want me to fly up to New York?" she asked.

"I thought school started next week."

"It does, but I could talk to my professors. I know most of them already."

"You don't have to," he said.

"So you don't want me there?"

Lance frowned and stared at her fore a moment. "You know I love when you come to visit, but school is important to you ant I don't want to mess that up for you, by asking you to skip out and fly out to wherever I am."

"Honey I really don't mind flying to see you."

"I'm just thinking about the New York schedule. I'm going to be really busy and I don't want you to take a trip up there just to wait around for my butt."

"I don't waiting around," she said, "You know that I always pull out a book or something."

"I just don't think it's a good idea," he said, "The press is going to be all over the place because of the talent search finals. It's probably not the best time to be up there. You wouldn't be able to see me for long."


"It's not that I don't want you there. It's just better if you spend your weekend doing something more interesting."

"Why do you always assume that I'm bored by hanging out with you?" she asked. "Is that how you feel about me?"
Lance stepped back from her. He slid on his shirt and struggled into his jean jacket. She watched him struggle for a moment then came close to him to fix his collar, setting the cup down on the counter so that she could pull the collar out from where it had gotten stuck at the back of his neck.

"I'm not trying to push you away. I love you and I want to be with you, but I want it to be normal, like we are when we're in town. When I see you anywhere else I feel like." He scratched his head. "I just feel like too many people are watching us or something."

She nodded silently and he prayed that she wouldn't be too upset about his discouraging news about not really thinking it a good idea to have her be in New York.

"So you want to have breakfast with me?" he asked as he slid his arms around her waist.

"Of course." She pulled him close by the lapels of the jacket and kissed him.

"At home or out?" he asked.

"Whatever," she said.

"Home it is then," he said, "I'll call you around nine, ok?"

She nodded and hugged him close, pressing her body close to his.

[New York City--Four Days Later]

"Mom?" Lance adjusted his backpack as he exited the gate and found his mother waiting for him. He'd arrived from Los Angeles a moment before, just after four in the morning, and his mother was the last person in the world he thought he'd see waiting for him.

"I know, I should have waited until you got to the hotel to come and find you, but we've been here since last night and I thought it would be a nice surprise since we haven't seen you in almost two months."

Lance took a breath and felt for an instant that he was going to cry. She stepped forward and hugged him then asked softly, "Honey, what's wrong?" She used that motherly tone--the one that spoke so much without using so many words. She seemed to understand him instantly, even though he hadn't uttered at word yet.

"I just missed you," he croaked out.

In reality it wasn't really that he'd missed his mother THAT much. In his wildest dreams he'd never expected to be away from her for so long. When he was little he'd planned that he would live close enough to her and his father and Stacey so that he'd be able to see them whenever he wanted. Now though, at twenty-one, he was a slave to his schedule. He felt more like a child now than he had his entire life.

"Well we missed you too," she said. She kissed his cheek and kept an arm around him. "Come on honey and walk me out to the limo. Your sister is back at the hotel and I'm sure is going crazy. She hates the fact that we have security guards with us again."

"They're for your own good," Lance said. He'd hired the security team for his sister and his mother for when they made trips to see him. He didn't expect for anything to happen to them, but with their popularity because of his fame, he wanted to be prepared if something ever did come up.

"Well it's still hard to get used to."

"They're nice to you and all?" Lance asked as he saw Loni, his assigned guard out of the corner of his eye talking to, Heath Daws, his mother's escort. It was too early in the morning for any fans to be out and about so the men seemed relaxed as they followed mother and son to the exit. Mostly the airport crowd consisted of business suits and families with small children.

"Of course they are," she said.  


They made it to the curb with no trouble and the four passengers began making their way into the car. "So how was your time with Janelle?" His mother asked.

Lance nodded and found his way into the limo as the driver held the door open for him. Loni and Heath sat at the far end of the U shaped seat and he and his mother sat next to each other facing forward as the car pulled away from the curb.

When they settled into their seats he smiled at his mom. "It was good."

"Hard to leave again?" she asked. He'd called her on a few occasions in the last few months telling her about how much he missed being with Janelle. She'd always lent a sympathetic ear and tried to counsel him although there was no real solution to his troubles.

"I hate it more than anything," he said, "I always try and think that it's not that big of a deal, but I'm beginning to think that Janelle isn't liking that I have to be away so much."

"Why do you say that?" she asked, "Did you two fight?"

"No, not really. It's just that every time I go see her all we do is sit in the house. It's such a hassle to go out and go anywhere that it seems like we're in seclusion or something when we see each other."

"Has she said that she'd upset?"

"No, but I just feel like I'm cheating her out of a lot of things because of the job."

"Like what honey?"

"It's stupid," Lance said. He sighed. "All the guys are with people right now, but it seems like I have the least time with Janelle compared to them and the others."

"Well honey you are trying to do a lot right now. The management company is yours, but you have to put your priorities in order. I can't tell you how that list should go, but you should put them in order so that when you look back you don't regret anything you did or said. I've always told you that. You have to be able to live with yourself after all this is over."

"I know mom, but what if my priorities can't be put in order." Lance used a whiny voice. He wished that she could make the decision for him. He didn't want there to be a decision between his love life and his business life, but it seemed as if that was the choice that was going to have to be made sooner or later if he was going to keep his sanity and his heart in tack.

"What?" she asked.

"Never mind." He slid out of his jacket then reached into the mini refrigerator for something to drink. He found bottled water and opened one and down half of it before turning his gaze out the window. It was his fifteenth trip to New York that year, but he never got tired of looking at the huge buildings. There was nothing like that back in Mississippi. "How are the finalists doing?"

"They're all nervous, but they're excited. We met them last night for dinner when we came in."

"So who do you think really has a chance?" His mother had been part of the selection committee and he trusted her opinion. Although the fans were going to be voting on the finalists, he still wanted to know her opinion since he'd only briefly seen their press kits a few weeks before.

Lance leaned his head back and watched his mother with a smile. It was good to be with family again. He really missed her.

"Ryan looks like a good bet," she said, "He's going to perform with his guitar on the show and I really think that it will win him the contest since everyone will be singing to back up tapes."

Lance nodded and let his eyes drift shut. He heard his mother's voice drift off and found himself alone, dreaming the rest of his ride into the city away.


"Honey, we're here."

"Huh?" Lance woke up to the sound of the voice, but didn't open his eyes.

Lately he'd been doing that, holding onto the peace and quiet of a nap or a nights' sleep longer than normal. He didn't remember ever being that attached to sleep before, but in the past few weeks of tension that went along with the new album release, sleep was his haven away from everything.

"Honey." A hand shook him. "Get up Lance so you can go back to bed." He didn't recognize the voice at first and wanted to make sure he really needed to get up before he let his eyes open.

"Five minutes honey then you can go back to sleep."

Lance smiled as he recognized the voice as his eyes adjusted to the early morning light. His mother had her purse in her hand and was scooting out of the car. He could hear people outside and when he looked he saw that there were about twenty girls standing on the sidewalk straining their necks to see who was in the limo. He still was surprised every time a fan would stand outside all night to get a glimpse of him or the others. He knew he would have done that for a few famous people, but the fact that they were waiting FOR HIM was almost too much to handle.

Grabbing up his backpack, Lance scooted out of the car after his mother. He ran his hands through his hair and over his face to wake up then smiled and waved at the girls on the curb, who began to giggle and call out his name while the flashes from their cameras went off.

Seeing that there were so few of them he made eye contact with Loni and stopped and signed autographs for a moment. He was tired, and wanted to head right to bed, but knew that his two seconds of time would have a huge impact on his fans.

Most of the girls seemed to be high school aged. He posed with them and answered questions and told them to come out to MTV to watch the FreeLance concert. Most laughed at him saying they were already going to be there.
Loni finally tapped his watch. They weren't really on a schedule, but the action of Loni pulling him away from the fans was still used. Lance knew that the girls would keep him out on the curb all day if he let them, which he wouldn't have minded, but he did have work to do that trip and hanging out with the fans like that wasn't in the tentative schedule.

Following his mother and the security crew into the hotel Lance stumbled across lobby and to the front desk. All the hotels that he and the other guys stayed in seemed to be the same. They all seemed to be fancy. Most had pianos and chairs that didn't look like you should sit on them and plants that looked almost too perfect to be real. He would have liked to sit down in one of the couches, but knew that the exposure of sitting there would be too much to handle, especially in New York City.

Throwing his backpack onto the counter with a grunt Lance smiled at the girl who was stationed there as he reached patted his back pocket for his wallet. Normally he wouldn't have noticed the person at the counter. Most of the people who worked at hotels were older, but this girl looked to be about his age. He had never seen her before, but he could guess from the look in her eyes when he approached her that she'd traded schedules with someone so that she could wait on him.

Looking at her made him think of Janelle. He should have called her on the way over from the hotel, but sleep had been more important. He figured that after he checked in he'd call and leave her a message then call her back later to actually talk. He'd had to promise to tell her when he arrived in New York. She'd insisted. He was glad, when they'd last spoken, that she asked him to call like that. Somehow it took a little of the edge off of the tension he felt concerning them. He always hated being away from her and it was nice to know that she was going to be waiting for a call from him. He didn't expect that she was sitting by the phone or anything, but at least she'd leave her cell phone on so he could get in touch with her.

The girl at the counter reached out and stopped him from getting out his wallet. "I've got the paperwork right here for you."

The room had already been paid for, but usually the procedure was to hand the person the business card of the booking agent and the room or rooms that were reserved for the group would be taken care of, without giving away his nickname or alias to the public. This time however, the woman, without a word to him, produced the needed paperwork for him to sign then handed him his key card and a key card for Loni with a smile.

Lance looked over and saw that his mother, Heath, and Loni were waiting for him near the gift shop across the lobby. It felt strange to have the security guys "hanging out" with his mother. The security crew and the group were as close as any of his family members were to him, but still in the back of his mind he knew that the guys were employees. It usually didn't get in the way of their every day lives, but it was just one of the many things that made his life extremely different from everyone else he knew.

"Have a nice stay with us Mr. Bass," she said sweetly with a smile, "If you have any special requests for your stay don't hesistate to call."

He nodded and smiled, threw his backpack onto his shoulder and fished for his cell phone in the huge pocket of the bag. He turned to leave the counter then turned back to the girl. "Do you happen to have a list of where the other people in my group are staying?" He hated to use his status to get things, but in this case it didn't seem as if he'd be inconviencing her by asking.

"Ah yes," she said. She seemed shocked to have him say more than hello to her. She side-stepped so that she was in front of a computer terminal then typed for a moment before grabbing a sheet of hotel stationary to write out the room numbers of the finalists. She handed him the paper, "Just dial the room number if you need to call them."

"Thanks," Lance said wanting to laugh at how nervous she seemed. He still couldn't understand how someone could be nervous meeting him. He was usually more nervous to meet other people than he thought they'd be to meet him. All the pressure was on him to be the perfect gentleman since most fans seemed to have some sort of personal relationship with whatever person they saw on television and in magazines.

Janelle had once told him that she had to try really hard to ignore the press that was released about him. Sometimes she wondered which version of Lance was the truth. Was it what he told her or what was released to the press?

Lance wondered about that himself. He tried to be as honest with his fans as possible, but sometimes even he had trouble separating himself from the Lance Bass that was in the magazines.

"No trouble," she said then paused for a moment. "You know where you're going don't you?"

Lance looked over at the elevators for a moment. They'd stayed there a few weeks ago and figured it wouldn't be hard to find his room. "That elevator, right?"

"Yep," she said then straightened her shirt a little as her cheeks turned bright pink. "I mean yes." She smiled.

"Don't worry about it," he said noticing how she'd slipped up from using the formal tone that everyone else on the staff would use with them. He made a mental note to see if he could get her tickets to a show or something. He didn't usually throw around tickets at people, but she'd been so nice and hadn't attacked him with questions or requests. He thought he should promote that reaction to him.

"Have a good stay," she replied.

Lance nodded and smiled again. He turned away from her and let the smile fade. It was too early in the morning to get sick of smiling so he decided to save the teethy grins for later in the day.

"You ready to go up?" his mother asked as he approached her.

"Yeah," he sighed.

"Honey are you ok?"

Lance slid an arm around his mother and hugged her to him. He knew that she worried too much about him and if he even hinted that something was on his mind his mother would drill him about it until he gave her a good enough explaination. "I just need some sleep."

"Well why don't you go on up? We don't have to meet up with the others until later."

"Thanks mom," he said.

"I'll give you a call to wake you up." She leaned and kissed his cheek then started to walk over to Heath.

"Where are you going?" he asked looking at his watch.

"I, young man," she said with a smile, "Have an interview with someone."

"Interview?" he asked.

"Honey, you aren't the only famous one in this family any more. Since your father, sister, and I started working for FreeLance, we too have become a bit famous, if you hadn't noticed."

Lance smiled, "Well have fun, ok? And don't go around showing my baby pictures again. Ok?"

"I won't," she said with a smile and continued over to where Heath was waiting for her.

Lance pressed the button on the elevator and waited as his mother and Heath walked away before he turned to Loni, who'd joined him on their way up to the room. " Is she asking about me again?"

Loni nodded, "Can't blame her Lance. You haven't slept a full night in a week and no offense, but you look beat up man."

Lance rubbed his forehead. He was way too tired to be dealing with anyone. "I'm fine. I've got a lot on my mind. Dealing with NSA and now the whole FreeLance thing is a lot harder than I thought it was going to be."

"Yeah well take care. I do know CPR, but I don't want to have to use it on you again."

Lance gritted his teeth remembering the incident a few months before when he'd been on the way to a concert and had collapsed. It had been due to exhaustion and he'd recovered quickly, but for a while there everyone had been extremely worried about him. Janelle had told him later that if he did that to her again that she was going to die.
It was yet another time that Lance felt that he was cheating her out of a normal life. She had been in Orlando and he'd been in Los Angeles. He couldn't even get a hold of her when she left him a message. He should have been able to do that, but with all the activity that surrounded the incident, she'd seen the press conference about his collapse before he could talk to her.

The elevator opened and the two men stepped in. Lance pressed the right button and they headed towards the rooms.

"I'm fine," Lance said, "I just need about three hours of sleep."

The elevator doors slid closed and they were on their way upstairs.

[ Four Hours Later... ]
"Lance, Lance, Lance," Carson Daily said with a smile as Lance entered the room marked Make-up on the twenty-ninth floor of the Viacom Studios Building. Reaching out with the hand that was coffee cup free, Carson took Lance's hand and pulled him into a half hug, that kind of masculine hug that isn't really considered a hug, but showed that the two guys knew each other on more than a business level. "How the ladies treatin' you?"

With a laugh Lance tipped his head, "I take it you've been here for a while?"

"Why's that?"

"There's a million girls out on the curb," Lance said, "I think they think all the guys are here."

"Yeah right."

"What about you?" Lance asked, "How's the woman?"

"She's good," Carson said with a smile, "She's off filming a movie, but hey what'cha gonna do?"

"Sounds like me and the guys. We're off to Japan after this."

"Where are those guys anyway? They don't love me anymore?" Carson asked.

"Nah, they just heard that Dave was going to host and decided not to come along," Lance joked.

"Bass I heard that!" Dave Holmes laughed from his make-up chair and threw them both the finger. He was in the middle of getting a haircut.

"David, don't you move or I'll cut off your ear!" the hairstylist yelled.

Lance and Carson both laughed as Dave was being scolded.

"So what are you doing after the taping?" Carson asked.

"I gotta get in touch with Janelle, but other than that I think I just have a photo shoot with all the contestants then a meeting with the FreeLance crew."

"Your mom and sister are in town?"

"Yeah," Lance said, "They're with the contestants."

Someone called for Carson so Lance took a seat next to Dave. They'd be taping TRL that afternoon then the contestants and Lance would be doing a photo shoot so he had a few minutes. He pulled out his phone and dialed Janelle's number.

Her phone rang three times then he heard the machine kick in. With a groan, he listened to the message again. "Hi this is Janelle and I'm not here right now. You know the dealleave me a message and I'll get back to ya." He winced at the sound of the beep.

"Hi honey," he said cheerfully then mellowed out when Dave looked at his strangely. With a sad sigh he began his message to her hoping that he didn't sound too depressed, but that she'd be able to tell that he missed her. "I'm at MTV studios taping the show. I just wanted to call and check in with you, but I guess you're out somewhere or at work or something. Anyway--" he sighed again, "--I just wanted to say that I miss you and I hope we can talk soon."
Hanging up Lance looked over at Dave. The guy was wiping away fake tears. "That was touching."

"Whatever Holmes," Lance said with a sigh and pushed off the chair he was in.

"Hey Bass," Dave called after him. "I didn't mean anything by it."


"Loni, you seen my mom?" Lance asked. He hadn't seen her since they'd parted ways before his nap and he was missing her. He didn't know what exactly had gotten in to him that day, but the homesickness he felt was unusually strong that day.

"Nope guy," Loni said turning from where he was joking around with a few of the MTV staff members. "I think they should be up here in a little while.

Lance turned to go escape into the privacy of the green room before they let in the crowd, but turned around when he heard a voice call out to him, "They should be here in about ten minutes." It was a young blonde-haired intern with a headset that continued to explain, "They got caught in traffic and are on their way."

"Uh," Lance said, "Thanks." He looked around once more then made his way into the green room. He wished that the guys were there with him. He felt completely alone, or at least lonely, something that he thought was ridiculous considering that there were over five hundred people just on the twenty-ninth floor.

Lance sighed at the thought of spending one more afternoon in a secluded room, but just as he was marveling at how they'd had the curtains pulled closed to the outside street a make-up and hair crew came in and attacked him. He refused the hair advice, only stopping to reapply some gel to his blonde spikes just to appease the fuming hair stylist, then sat patiently as a make-up artist powered his face so, as the artists said, "So that the shiny parts won't show."

He felt silly and a little embarrassed about all the attention until his mother arrived. Somehow, some way, she set him at ease yet again.

"Hi honey," she came over and stood in front of him so that he could see her until the make-up person left.

"Hi mom," Lance stood up and stared in the mirror for a moment. "Jacket or no jacket mom?"

She eyed him for a moment, then pulled a flap of his jacket back and smiled, "No jacket honey. You know your fans don't want to see you drowning in that jacket."

"I don't care what the fans want. What do you like?" He spoke forcefully, the way he always did when he was mad. His mother understood those times. They'd had conversations in the past about the way that their family was going to treat Lance. He was going to be as normal as possible and they were going to try to keep him in line, but the thing was, sometimes he had to keep them in line too and not let them get over zealous about his fame either.

She watched him in the mirror while he took of his jacket, revealing the off-white long-sleeve sweater that went along with his blue jeans and boots. She held out her arm and took his jacket from him.

"What'cha staring at mom?" Lance asked.

"Honey you look tired."

"I am." He sighed. He caught her eyes washing over him and looked away, to avoid what might become a stressful situation. "I hate jetlag."

"James Lance Bass look at me."

Lance turned and looked at his mom.

"Honey, I know you don't like me to get on your case, but are you really ok?"

Lance nodded yes to his mother. He was feeling horrible that he couldn't tell her what he was feeling. He'd begun to worry, after leaving that message for Janelle that something was wrong between them. Usually they got in touch with each other more often. "I'm fine."

"Good, now do you want to go and meet the contestants?" She pointed to the group of people standing on the far side of the room. "I know you met them before, but they'd love to chat with you."

Lance followed his mother over.

"Stace!" Lance said fairly loudly as his sister launched herself at him. They hugged tightly and she whispered into his ear to relax. He kissed her cheek before pulling away.

He loved the way that his sister could talk to him. It seemed like these days, only a few people in his life really knew him and if he could pick one person to knock his head out of the clouds it was his sister. She still was the one to tell him that he wasn't that cute and that his voice really wasn't that great, in a joking way of course. "So who is who?"
When the contestants stared at him with wide mouths he laughed and for a moment forgot about Janelle. "Just kidding, I know who y'all are." He was reintroduced to the two solo female singers, the solo male singer, who he had to admit he was hoping to sign, and an R&B group of four guys.

"Are the judges here yet?" Lance asked after the introductions were finished. He wanted to be friendly and nice to all the contestants, but as the show's taping neared he was now forgetting about his personal nervousness and concentrating on his professional nervousness which mostly consisted of getting the contest done without a hitch.

"I'll go check honey," his mother said, "Where'd you leave your backpack? So I can put this down."

"Give me that back," he said and reached for the jacket.  

His mother refused to give it to him.

"I'll take it," Stacey replied and took the jacket, sliding it on over her sweater.

The next twenty minutes rolled by. He met up with the celebrity judges, which included PINK, Brian McKnight and Robin Wiley, one of the songwriters the group had worked with for a long time. It was an easy and fun chat session with all of them since he already knew them fairly well.

The taping started and when Lance was first introduced to the studio audience he felt a little strange, but relaxed a little when Dave Holmes made some jokes about it. He tried to focus on his face and not the crowd then watched the monitors when the contestants were introduced.

Lance squirmed a little again as they went to their first "commercial break". They were taping the first part of the show for a later airing, but the commercial break was treated like a real one so that the crew could set up some new shots of the crowd.

Usually he had the guys up there with him. Having them there gave him a little bit of a license to slack off a little. At previous MTV tapings he usually would look out the window to wave to fans or would watch the behind the scenes sorts of stuff going on, but that afternoon he was alone, which in itself was strange but having fans yelling just for him was overwhelming.

Making eye contact with his sister over the heads of the people in the crowd he frowned. She somehow seemed to know that he needed someone up there with him and she joined him a moment later offering him a bottled water.
He took it from her and opened it as she paused to wave to PINK who was one of the celebrity judges.

"How ya holding up?" Stacey asked in a hushed voice facing away from the studio audience.

"Good," he said after taking a gulp of water.

"Nervous?" she asked.

"A little," he said, "I've been up in front of more people during my part of the concert, but this time I can see all their faces. It's kinda freaky."

"It's cool though," she said, "Just picture them all naked."

"Stacey!" Lance blushed instantly and he tried to fight the embarrassed smile that had formed on his face.

The producer of the show announced that they were going to be coming back from commercial. Stacey leaned over, "Just picture them naked. It'll keep your mind of everything else."

Two hours later, after they'd finished the taping and had picked the finalist, Lance piled into the limousine bus that would take them down to Planet Hollywood with Loni, his mother, and the rest of the contestants. He picked to sit next to Ryan Tedder and his girlfriend as Ryan got immediately on the phone with his parents to tell them the good news.

While Ryan excitedly explained everything to his parents Lance talked to Ryan's girlfriend.

"So he picked you over his parents to come with him?" Lance asked.

"Yep," she said with a smile patting Ryan's knee, "It's just me and him. Always has been, always will be."

Lance found himself wanting to laugh at the girl's innocent expression. He wondered if she really knew what she was getting herself into? He knew what it took to keep things together with a significant other and wondered if Ryan and she had what it took. He wondered if he should offer them a little advice.

Maybe later, he thought watching the happiness they shared when Ryan got off the phone and celebrated some more with her, relaying his parent's reaction to her.

"When we get there," Loni interupted, "Ryan, you and Lance will get out first and the rest of the group will go second. Don't worry, you'll all have time to speak to the press. Just because Ryan won doesn't mean that you'll be forgotten tonight, but the press is going to be focused on Ryan and Lance."

Everyone nodded. Ryan's girlfriend looked a little uneasy, but smiled at Lance when Lance explained, "You'll get used to all this. Just remember that you and Ryan can hang out the whole night after the entrance and press conference."
Lance's phone rang just as they were stepping out at Planet Hollywood and as much as he would have liked to have answered it, there would have been no way that he could have spoken to the person so he didn't even look at the caller ID. He knew that if he saw that it was Janelle calling that it would just depress him more since he wouldn't be able to speak to her while he went down the red carpet and spoke to reporters during the press conference that had been planned for before the party.

"Want me to get it?" Stacey asked patting him on the back as he smiled with Ryan for the first barage of photo flashes.

"Nah," he said, "I'll call them back, whoever it was."


Stacey dissolved back into the background as Lance guided Ryan along through the chaos known as his life. They made it into the restaurant and got settled at a table in front of some rows of chairs and a waitress took orders for drinks before the reporters were let in.

Lance ordered a coke, and took a moment to look at his phone.

He sighed loudly when he saw that it had been Janelle that had called. He didn't dare click on the phone. He knew that it would be too much.

"Stacey!" Lance called out to his sister as people started to file into the room.

Stacey ran over and leaned to hear him as the conversations in the group of reporters bounced off the walls. "What'd ya need?"

"Will you do me a huge favor?"

"Sure what?" she asked.

"Call up Janelle and tell her I'll call her back as soon as I get out of here."

"Sure," she said.

"You have her cell phone number don't you?"

"Yep." Stacey reached for her cell phone and began dialing.

Lance watched his sister until she was on the phone with Janelle. Stacey had a smile on her face the whole time and could tell it was a genuine smile that broke into a laugh and a surprised look while they spoke. She gave Lance the thumbs up sign and mouthed the words, "She says she loves you."

With the weight of the world off his shoulder Lance refocused on the issue of the day, his newest artist and the project that they were going to be embarking on.


"Flight 976 to LAX is now boarding at gate twenty three."

Lance winced at the metallic sounding voice then tuned out the rest of the information. He'd heard the announcement a million times before. All his attention drifted away from the noise after his flight number and the gate number. He knew that even if he'd missed that part Loni wouldn't let him get onto the wrong plane or be at the wrong gate.

He checked his watch and wondered for a moment if he should try calling Janelle again. He'd tried to call her earlier, but hadn't gotten a chance.

Seeing the line forming he stepped into it with the other tired-looking passengers then readjusted his bag and tugged on the hood over his head before shoving his hands deeper into his pockets. He shuffled towards the gate where he'd be boarding, as Loni seemed to scan the crowd in his normal nervous manner.

He and Loni had both changed into comfortable clothes on the way over from the after-party to the airport. It was an action that he was getting used to. Changing on the run, eating on the run, hell, everything in life seemed to be on the run. The only running that Lance wanted to do at the moment was to find a flight home.

He'd changed into the FuManSkeeto hooded sweatshirt, T-shirt, jeans and running shoes in anticipation that he would sleep on the flight West. He'd almost wanted to change into pajamas, or at least a pair of sweats, but he'd decided that he didn't want to see his PJ clad body on the next issue of whatever tabloid magazine that would most likely have a camera waiting at the gate to take his picture.

He'd zoned out a little on the ride out to the airport, but he'd had to leave the plush limo seat he'd snuggled into to walk to the gate, something he was also getting used to. Power-naps were his life now. It amazed him how easily he could fall asleep in the most unlikely places, like sleeping for the half-hour before the show, while listening to the opening acts and the screams of 40,000 fans.

Normally he wouldn't have minded leaving the car, since usually leaving a car meant that he would be moving into a hotel room or some place more comfortable to sleep. That night though the short walk to the VIP lounge then to the gate caused him to wake up more than he would have liked. Luckily there hadn't been anyone at the airport to hound him, although Loni had mentioned that he'd seen a cameraman when they'd walked in, but the person, whoever they were, hadn't surfaced since Loni had seen him.

"Come on man," Loni said with an alarmingly annoying smile, "A week or so and you'll be back in SUNNY Orlando."
"Are you drunk or something?" Lance snapped. He breathed in the stale airport air and gave Loni an embarrassed look. He knew that he shouldn't snap at the guy, but he couldn't help it. He was leaving the East Coast again and in a few hours he would be three thousand miles away from where he wanted to be and who he wanted to be with.
Expecting to hear some kind of a lecture from Loni, Lance closed his eyes and braced himself for the worst, but hoped that Loni would be easy on him and save the lecture for the morning. Neither of them was in the type of mood to deal with each other, let alone anyone else and blowing up at each other that night wasn't going to be the way to start off the next leg of their trip.

"What's up your ass?" The sarcastic voice came from someone in line behind them.

"Excuse me?" Lance pushed his hood off of his head in one swift motion not remembering that he'd been trying to hide a little from the public. He turned his head to the sound of the unexpected voice wondering who had dared to speak in that manner. There were some things that even a normal person would have been offended to hear from some stranger and that was definitely one of them.

He blinked twice before opening his mouth to speak, not sure himself if the person who he saw in front of him really was there. He watched the woman standing there drowning in jeans and a sweatshirt and took her in. His mind reeled with the information. There was no doubt in his mind that in his mood he might imagine that she was there beside him. He coughed twice before asking, "Janelle?"

She nodded with a smile on her face as he rudely pushed through the few people between them. Not pausing to stop to apologize, Lance dropped his bag onto the floor to free himself to slide his arms around her. Automatically his hands found her skin underneath the back hem of her shirt and he stroked it sensually. He leaned into her, burying his face desperately into her neck and almost collapsed in her arms when she hugged him to her.

"Wow," she joked as she pulled her arms from where his arms had trapped them. "What a welcome!"

He smiled and kissed her skin, touching his tongue to her, just to test to see if she was really there and was glad to feel her press her neck towards her shoulder, a sign that he'd found that showed her ticklish nature. He still could remember when she'd told him, in a flirtatious voice, that she was ticklish somewhere and he'd have to find it, but couldn't use his hands. It had been a wild night that had ended in a make out session that had lasted until Lance had found the spot, which had taken a while because she'd pressed her cheek to her shoulder so that he couldn't find the spot for a while.

"God," he sighed out, "It's really you."

"LB?" she said with a worried voice. She pushed him back so she could see his face and looked into his eyes. "Honey, what's wrong?"

When she placed her palm against his cheek he leaned into her hand and after watching her eyes he moved to kiss her. He hadn't meant to get that carried away, but he found himself pressing against her lips with an unexpected force. He slid an arm from around her and ran his hand into her hair sliding his hand so that he could press her against him. He couldn't get enough of her. He found himself forcing her lips open with his tongue, which only allowed him to get farther carried away by seeing her again.

She kissed him for a few moments then pushed back. "Lance--?"

His forceful movement cut off her words before she could finish her sentence.

"Lance?" she tried again

He smothered her again. He didn't know what had come over him, but felt as if he needed to kiss her like that to show her that he'd missed her and that he was glad to see her.

Finally she reached around and put her hands on his chest. "Lance stop it."

He stepped back from her and held his hands up while trying to calm his breathing. He could see that she was upset with him. Her mouth wasn't exactly frowning, but he could tell that his action had embarrassed her. "I'm sorry."

"What's gotten into you?" she asked.

"Nothing," he mumbled while trying to keep his frustration in check. He wanted to be alone with her; right then, but knew that he wouldn't be able to be alone with her until the next morning and knowing his schedule that probably wouldn't be possible either. To keep himself at least half satisfied he slid an arm around her and pulled her back into a hug, taking a moment to take in the feel of her body next to his. "I just missed you."

"Hi Janelle." Loni's voice broke into their little conversation causing the both of them to be fully thrown back into reality.

"Hi Loni," she said softly.

Lance stepped away from Janelle. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm on my way to LA," she said with a smile.

His eyes widened causing his eyebrows to raise. "You're coming with us?"

"I talked to my professors and I'm not going to miss anything the first week so I'm taking a vacation." She held up her arms and with a shrug said softly, "Surprise?"

"Guys, I think we should head onto the plane," Loni said nervously.

Lance had become very adept at judging Loni's voice and immediately knew that something wasn't right. Usually it would be that a group of people had noticed him and they needed to get out of the open. When he looked over and saw that a photographer had appeared and was now snapping pictures of them, he knew that it was time to get on the plane. Having his picture taken wasn't anything new, but having Janelle there with him made the moment a media event instead of just three people getting onto a plane.

"Ah...yeah," Lance glanced at the reporter for a moment then turned his head away from the camera to pick up his bag and reached for Janelle's before walking towards the plane. It seemed now that the other passengers had recognized him, or had at least recognized that he was a celebrity, and he felt a hundred pairs of eyes on him as he made his way to his seat, with Janelle following closely behind him along with Loni. It disgusted him to have his life so on display, but he knew that it was part of the program.

[ Six hours later... ]

"Mr. Bass would you or Miss Corcoran like something to drink to take with you when we land?" the flight attendant asked.

Lance carefully flipped the paper he was reading closed and looked up at the woman then over at Janelle who was asleep curled against his arm with he head on his shoulder. "No thanks."

"We're going to be landing in the next few minutes, you might want to wake her up," the flight attendant suggested.
Janelle took a huge breath opened her eyes and with a smile let them drift closed again, "I'm awake."

Lance pressed a kiss to her forehead. "We're going to land soon. Do you want a drink?"

Janelle nodded no then opened her eyes. "We're almost there?"

"It should be a few minutes," the flight attendant said, "If you think of something you might need, just press the call button."

"Thanks," Lance said and returned his attention to Janelle who was hugging herself to his arm while wiping her face on his shoulder trying to wake up.


"Hmm?" he answered.

"What's going on this week?" she asked.

"We have a concert for a contest winner and we're going to be meeting with the movie people about the script. Oh and Meredith is going to fly out and I'm going to get into the studio with her for a few hours."

"Sounds busy," she said with a yawn.

"I told you it would be." He leaned his head against hers and knew that the few hours that they'd spoken before she'd fallen asleep would be the only hours he'd be able to spend with her while on their trip. He might be able to squeeze in dinner with her, but their free time that week was limited. "I hope you brought a good book to read."

"Lance stop it," she said, "Ill be fine. I knew what I was getting myself into when I booked my flight."

"If you say so," he said.

She sat up and looked at him. "If you're going to be all depressing like this the whole time I'm going to be here then I'm going to get a flight home."

Lance bit his lip then heard the dinging noise of the plane telling them that they should buckle up for their landing. He reached over and nudged Loni, who'd fallen asleep with his headphones on.

Loni's eyes flew open and he ripped off the headphones. "What's up?"

"Nothing," Lance said, "We're going to land soon."

"Cool," Loni said and stretched, "You guys get packed up."

Lance nodded and collected up his things. He'd been listening to his CD player so he found that and repacked his laptop into his bag before shoving his feet back into his running shoes and tying them up.

"Is my shoe down there?" Janelle asked.

Lance reached under the seat in front of them and grabbed her shoe for her so that she could get herself together. The plan, as always, was that they would exit the plane and would step off to the side so that Loni could call Dre or the head of security, Micheal to check to see if the airport was crowded or not.

Normally exiting the airport wouldn't have been a problem, but with the publicity over their private concert context, they knew that there would be media in the airport waiting for Lance.

As the plane descended into LAX, Lance again felt the weight of the world settling onto his shoulders. He'd had just a relaxing night talking to Janelle and sleeping with her that he almost didn't want to get off the plane. He knew that the moment they were outside the gate that everything that he'd been dreading since he'd left New York would be there for him to face once again.

"You excited about seeing the guys again?" Janelle asked.

"Yeah," Lance said half-heartedly.

As Janelle replaced her seatbelt into position she kept her eyes on him. He knew that he should be excited that she was there with him, since thats all that he'd been thinking about in the past few days, but it seemed that now that she was there with him he had more things to worry about.

He knew that she always said that she'd be fine sitting in the hotel room or off to the side while he worked, but he wondered if she really meant that or not. He prayed that she did mean what she said because it was his deepest fear in life to have her leave him, a thought that had been plaguing him constantly in the last few months. But Lance knew that life had to go on, so as he prepared to leave the plane a few moments later, he took a deep breath and plastered a smile on his face, just like he did every time he felt alone in the crowd.

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