"That looks like a bomb," Gwen said and Jack just gave her a look; he knew exactly what it looked like.
The problem was he didn't recognise anything about it and he had a nasty suspicion that the little blue lights down the side that were slowly dimming were some sort of countdown.
"Okay," he said, "clear the area; I'm going to try and disarm it."
"Are you sure that's a good idea, Sir?" Ianto asked, ever formal when they were on a mission.
Jack didn't bother replying because he was pretty sure it was a really bad idea, but he couldn't have an unknown device going off in the middle of Cardiff. He hadn't actually tried being blown to smithereens, but he was pretty sure if anyone could survive it, it was him.
"Just get out of here and make sure there is no one else close," he said firmly and went back to looking at the alien bomb.
Reaching out very carefully, he touched the outer casing of the device and felt something tingling through his skin. It wasn't unpleasant, but then low level radiation poisoning didn't feel bad until it killed you a few years down the line so he wasn't overly comforted.
There had been weird readings coming from all around the area since the previous afternoon and there were no explanations for any of it. He really didn't like situations without explanations; they tended to be very dangerous. Not for the first time he found himself wondering if the Doctor would have taken one look at the device and laughed at him for being so worried.
He fervently hoped that it just happened to look like a bomb and was simply more junk thrown out by the rift. Over his year away he had become pretty bored of dying and coming back to life and he felt like avoiding it these days.
"The immediate area is clear," Ianto informed him through his headset; "we are proceeding with a wider perimeter."
"Understood," he replied and couldn't help smiling; Ianto's calm voice always seemed to reassure him.
It had been something of a shock to find that one of the things he had missed most was Ianto's voice and even now, months later, he still loved to hear it.
"You're obsessed, Jack," he whispered to himself.
"What was that, Sir?" Ianto asked over the comm.
"Nothing," Jack replied in a light tone, "just talking to myself."
One of the slowly dimming lights went out completely and he realised that he was running out of time. The scanner he was using was telling him nothing useful other than the fact that the device was emitting low level meyon particles. Meyons were harmless to life on earth and most life for that matter, but they did cause biological reactions in a few races. Why anyone would plant such a device in Wales was a complete mystery. The nastier possibility was that the meyons were just a mask for something else.
The box was not attached to anything and he decided that he needed more information, so he very carefully picked it up. It did not appear to react in any significant way, but another of the lights went out. Since it didn't seem to react to being moved he considered the idea of just finding a big hole and dropping it down it, but he wasn't sure he had time.
Standing up, Jack took the device and slowly walked towards the door of the small café they had invaded to find it. He had made it two steps when another light went out and it occurred to him that the lights were going out faster.
"Oh shit," he said as something dawned on him, "I hate people who use exponential timers."
Throwing caution to the wind he began to run. He even made it to the van before the last light went out and the device made a low level whine. Then it lit up all over, several things opened and produced what looked like emitters and Jack felt tingly all over. He held his breath, waiting for the bang or the something, and then the box just closed up again and did nothing.
"Oh for heaven's sake," he said feeling let down and relieved at the same time.
Then he scanned himself and found nothing more than a large level of Meyons in the area.
"Stand down," he said through the comm, "it's just a particle generator. Everyone back to base, I want this thing dissected and analysed just in case."
It really was annoying to be given the run around by what was looking more and more like a piece of rift junk.
Bill picked himself up off the ground from where he had seemingly just fallen over his own feet. Not something he was used to or tended to do a lot, but one minute he had been walking and enjoying the early morning sunshine and the next he had been on the floor. It had been most odd, but then there was something about Cardiff that was distinctly weird anyway. They had arrived the previous night and were going to be doing a TV show later in the day, interviews the rest of the time and a signing at a record shop the following morning. He usually slept like a log after travelling, but he'd barely managed any sleep at all the previous night, hence his early morning walk.
Normally he was not a morning person, in fact he could sleep for his country when necessary and he knew the others would take the piss out of him for being up before they had to be. For some reason he didn't like Cardiff and he had no idea why. It was a beautiful city, full of friendly people as far as he had been able to tell, but something put his teeth on edge. It was very frustrating.
"Are you okay?"
He looked round and smiled at his escort; they weren't huge in the UK yet like they were in Europe, but he hadn't been stupid enough to sneak out without one of their minders.
"I'm fine," he promised, feeling more embarrassed than anything, "I just missed my footing. Maybe we should head back for breakfast now."
His companion looked rather pleased by that idea.
Breakfast had been huge. When he had sat down Bill had intended to eat a little and then maybe go and try and catch a nap before they had to leave, since he had been up most of the night, but he had still been eating when the others had arrived. As it turned out, he had been ravenous and, not that he had mentioned it to Tom or Georg or Gustav, but he had started all over again when they had arrived. He'd eaten so much he should have been stuffed all day, but the problem was, two hours later, in a car on the way to the TV studio, he was hungry again.
Tom gave him an odd look when he rummaged through his bag and dragged out the box of sweets he had shoved in there for some reason that at the time he hadn't been able to fathom.
"You cannot be hungry again," his twin commented.
"Didn't sleep well," Bill said with a shrug, "I need sugar to stay awake."
The gummy worm tasted absolutely delicious as he popped it into his mouth and chewed on it without much thought. He was on number five before anyone chose to comment.
"You're not pregnant are you?" Georg asked in a mock serious tone.
Tom and Gustav laughed at that, but Bill narrowed his eyes and then very accurately clipped Georg around the ear. He got enough girl jokes from other people; he wasn't amused that Georg seemed to be taking them up now.
"I'm just hungry," he said, feeling somewhat petulant, "and I'm really beginning to hate this city and the sooner we get out of it the better."
"Maybe just PMS," Gustav suggested.
If Gustav thought he was far enough away to avoid being hit, Bill made sure that belief was rectified.
"Don't eat too many of those," David said from the front seat; "you know what you're like on a sugar rush."
Bill really felt like pouting and sulking; everyone was ganging up on him. He wasn't on a sugar rush and he didn't feel like he was going to be any time soon. That was why he was eating.
"You ate a full English breakfast and a plate of scrambled eggs two hours ago," Tom said quietly, obviously picking up on his bad mood and being careful, "how can you be hungry already?"
It was worrying Bill a little.
"I don't know," he replied honestly, "I just am ... and ... um ... two English breakfasts and some cereal and the scrambled eggs. I'd been there for ages when you all came down."
Tom looked a little startled.
"And other than being hungry you’re feeling fine?" Tom asked, sounding a little concerned.
Bill nodded; he felt perfectly healthy. He was just eating a huge amount.
"Maybe I'm about to have another growth spurt or something," he suggested quietly; "it could be messing with my metabolism."
It was the only thing he could think of and it was thin, but it was remotely possible.
"Could be," Tom replied, but didn't sound convinced, "but if you feel anything else, tell me straight away."
Bill just agreed; when Tom used that tone there was little choice but to say yes or have a huge argument. Popping another sweet into his mouth he sat back in his seat and hoped the bizarreness would end soon.
Bill really felt terrible and he spent the journey back to the hotel with his head against the headrest and the side of the car with his eyes closed. His chest felt heavy as if he was congested and the rampant hunger had turned into a vaguely sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. All he wanted to do was fall into bed and sleep.
"You sure you're going to be alright?" Tom asked as they reached the hotel.
The change had occurred around lunch time and had been becoming progressively worse as the day went on. Tom had been worrying about him all afternoon, but he had managed to put on a front for the media. He was almost ready to call it quits.
There was a small group of girls waiting outside the hotel and all Bill could be thankful for was that they weren't in Germany and there were only a handful of people waiting for them.
"Yeah," he replied, but not even he was convinced by his tone, "I'll be fine in the morning."
Tom looked concerned and Gustav was also looking at him with a worried frown, but they just had to get through a couple of autographs and then he could sleep. He hoped it was just a one day bug; he didn't have time to be ill. If Georg started looking at him like he was about to collapse, then he'd start worrying, because Georg didn't overreact like Tom and Gustav sometimes did.
"Everyone have pens?" David asked, turning in the front seat as they came to a stop.
They were all still armed from their exit from their last onsite interview so they all nodded and Bill made a mental note not to move too fast as the world gave a small lurch.
"Bill," now David sounded concerned as well, "you're grey; I think we should get you to your room as fast as possible."
"No," he insisted, opening his eyes even as he realised he wasn't sure when he had closed them, "we can't leave them just standing there; they could have been there for hours. I'll be fine; it's just a touch of flu or something."
David was frowning and looking at him hard.
"You're sure?" at least David seemed to realise there was no arguing with him.
"Positive," he replied, trying to sound confident and well.
"Okay," David decided, "but Georg, stick to him like glue, Tom, you get to take the brunt of the girls today."
Bill wanted to protest, but the others were already nodding and he knew he was beaten. If he was honest with himself, he was glad Tom would be taking the lead. When Saki opened the door he didn't really have a chance to think about it anyway, because the only thing in his head was climbing out of the van without taking a header onto the pavement. Saki had to steady him as he stood up, but then he pulled the mantle of professional musician around himself and tried to forget that he was feeling like crap.
He managed it too, for a little while.
He was trying to smile he really was, but as he reached for his third CD to sign he breathed in and a whiff of strong perfume flooded over him. His system was already wonky and that was all it took to send his rebelling stomach over the edge. He didn't even have time to apologise; he just clapped his hand over his mouth and ran.
Luckily for him he already knew where the toilets were in the lobby and he charged into them and into a cubicle just before he lost all control and threw up noisily into a toilet bowl. His stomach felt like it was trying to turn inside out and he couldn't do anything about it. He didn't know how long he spent with his head down the bowl, but he did know when someone pulled his hair out of the way for him.
When he finally sat back, he would have laughed if he hadn't felt so woozy and ill: he was still clutching the black marker. Tom took it from him and handed him a wad of tissue to wipe his mouth.
"Come on," his twin said without commenting on the whole thing; "you're going to your room."
This time Bill didn't protest, especially since Tom had to help him to his feet. Tom left him leaning against the stall wall while Tom flushed the toilet and threw away the tissues and then his twin took him around the waist and helped him walk in a vaguely straight line back into the lobby.
It turned out Saki was guarding the door and David, Gustav and Georg were waiting just outside. From the expressions on their faces he decided he probably looked as bad as he felt. His stomach felt like it was churning and churning and he had a nasty suspicion that this wasn't over.
Falling onto the bed, Bill decided that dying there and then would be a preferable option to what he was going through. At least his body seemed to have nothing left to get rid of in either direction, but he was aching and exhausted and all he wanted to do was sleep. He had been in the bathroom for what seemed like hours as his whole system rebelled against something.
"You look really terrible," Tom commented, pulling his shoes off for him and then helping him under the covers.
"It’s nothing to how I feel," Bill replied in a croaky voce.
"Do you think you can sleep now?" Tom asked him, stroking stray hairs out of his face for him.
He gave a small nod; he was so tired he was pretty sure he could have passed out in the middle of an earthquake. Now that his body had stopped emptying itself he didn't think he would move for a very long time. David had wanted to call a doctor, but he had managed to put off that indignity and he hoped things would start looking up now.
"You sleep too," he said in little more than a mumble.
Their schedule for the next day was looking more and more unlikely to be happening, but he didn't want Tom to pay the price for his illness if he made a miraculous recovery. Tom just shook his head and smiled.
"Not yet," his twin said, settling down next to him, "I'll just keep an eye on you for a bit. I'll sleep when I'm sure you're okay."
Bill knew there was no arguing with Tom when he was in big brother mode, so he just closed his eyes, squeezing Tom's hand gently to say thank you as he let his body slip into much needed sleep.
It was almost completely dark when he awoke again, only a street lamp from outside showing through the curtains. He could see Tom on the other side of the bed, lying on his back and clearly fast asleep, which pleased part of Bill. What had most of his attention, however, was the fact that his chest felt very tight and he felt very cold. He was confused and in his head these two things seemed to go together, but he didn't have much time to think about it. Before he really knew what was happening his throat felt full and he couldn't breathe and all he could do was expel what was blocking his airway.
Whatever it was, was gelatinous and slightly sticky and it flooded over the bedclothes. Strangely though it didn't frighten him, even as his whole chest seemed to convulse and he expelled more of the viscous liquid; all that made it through in his head was that the liquid was warm. In fact it felt hot against his skin and he was so cold that he pulled the soaked bedclothes closer to his body. He didn't understand it, but he was in no state to think and he just followed his body's needs.
Tom rolled over and his arm hit something hard, which woke him up. Blinking away sleep he brought his arm back and realised that the back of his hand was somewhat sticky and felt hot and he looked over to where Bill was lying trying to make sense of what he was seeing. The sheets where Bill was curled up looked funny, but Tom had to sit up before he realised what it was. The sheets were shiny and he reached out to touch, fascinated.
The sheets were solid and he actually knocked on them before he believed what he was seeing. Then he was on his knees and trying to pull the sheet off of Bill, because he couldn't see anything of his twin, only the shape below the white cover.
"Bill," he called when the hard covering would not move, "Bill!"
There was no response and he climbed off the bed, running around the other side, trying to find some way through to Bill. There was the smallest of gaps in the hard white expanse, up by Bill's head and Tom tried to get his fingers through it, but something clear and hard was in the way. He could see the contrast of Bill's dark hair and part of one closed eye, but that was it.
"Bill!" he yelled at the top of his voice, desperate for any response from his brother at all.
The door opened behind him, but he didn't care who was coming in, all he knew was that he couldn't get to Bill. His hands were covered in some sort of sticky goo and they felt like they were on a heater, but he didn't care.
"Saki, help me," it was David's voice and Tom found someone shifting him out of the way and both Saki and David moved to where Bill was lying.
Tom had no idea what to do as the two men tried to wrench the bed clothes off of Bill with seemingly no luck at all. This was just too strange and Tom didn't know how to explain it; how could this have happened to Bill with him lying next to his twin? He was ready to panic; in fact he probably was already panicking when some very deep rooted behaviour finally kicked in.
There had been one thing that was a little strange about the Kaulitz upbringing, something that others might have thought odd. From a very young age both he and Bill had been taught one thing and one very specific thing so that it was ingrained: ‘if anything weird happened call Dad’. Tom had his phone in his hand before he made it much further with that thought.
"Tom?" his father's voice sounded on the other end of the call.
"Dad," Tom didn't know what to say first, "something's happened to Bill."
"Something how?" his father asked in what sounded like an incredibly calm tone.
Tom almost lost it again at that point.
"He was ill, Dad," he managed to pull himself together just a little bit, "last night, really ill and now he's," Tom wasn't sure how to describe it, "wrapped in a sheet that's gone hard and we can't get him out."
He heard a gasp on the other end of the call.
"Saki and David are trying," he began to say.
"Stop them," his father said quickly, "whatever you do, don’t let them break the cocoon."
Tom had no idea what was going on, but he reacted immediately.
"Stop," he shouted and did his best to pull Saki away from where Bill was, "Dad says stop."
Both David and Saki looked at him like he was mad.
"I'm coming, Tom," his father promised him over the phone, "don’t let anyone do anything. I'll be there soon."
It didn't really occur to Tom to ask how his father would find them, or get there, he was rather too focused on Bill, but he was not about to disobey his father at all. Their dad seemed to be the only one not working from pure desperation and so Tom put his complete faith in his father. The whole room was staring at him, which as it turned out included David, Saki, Georg and Gustav, but he didn’t know what to tell them.
Any need for explanations was, however, postponed as four other people suddenly barged into the room; four other people with guns.
"Nobody move," a tall man with dark hair and an American accent said while waving a revolver around.
That was almost one step too far for Tom and he was very close to losing it.
"Tosh?" the man spoke to one of the other three while keeping an eye on everyone as far as Tom could tell.
Tom knew he was being stared at and he all but glared back at the small Asian woman.
"Tosh?" the man repeated.
"Oh, sorry," the woman seemed to snap out of whatever was going through her head, "definitely the source."
"What the hell's going on here?" David finally broke through the shock that seemed to have the whole room in its thrall.
The tall man fished in his pocket and brought out a wallet.
"Torchwood," the man said and threw it at David.
All Tom cared about was that the afore-named Tosh was pointing something odd at his brother and he deliberately stepped between her and Bill. That caused her device to make a really strange noise.
"Oh," she said as if this surprised her as well.
"Talk to me, Tosh," the tall man said.
"We have two of them, Jack," Tosh said looking straight at Tom.
That was about as much as Tom could take and he was right on the verge of throwing a complete epi when something equally as bizarre happened. His father appeared in the only free space in the room out of thin air. Tom's brain was very close to shutting down for the sake of his sanity.
"Step away from my sons," his father said firmly in German, pointing some kind of handheld device at the four strangers, and then repeated the instruction in English.
The Torchwood people all looked at Jack who nodded and stepped back a little. Guns were not exactly lowered, but there appeared to be an almost truce.
"Jack Harkness, Torchwood," Jack introduced himself in equally as good German, "and who might you be?"
"Jorg Kaulitz," Tom heard his father say as his parent made his way towards the bed.
"That's rather a human name for an alien."
If his father looked surprised, it was nothing to how Tom felt. He really didn't know what to think.
"How did you?" his father asked.
"Neranians look remarkably like humans," Jack said with what was to Tom a very annoying grin, "but your genetic markers give you away."
Jack indicated the side of his neck and Tom couldn't help looking at what his father had always told him was a tattoo from the base of his father's ear disappearing into his dad's clothes.
"Dad, what's going on?" he had to ask or he was going to just go mad.
"Something that shouldn't be, Tom," his father said, giving him a quick glance, "but don't worry, everything will be okay."
It wasn't much of an explanation, but Tom knew that look on his father's face, it was all he was going to get for now. He was beginning to feel flustered and this was just too confusing. When his father waved a second device over Bill while still keeping the first trained on the Torchwood people, Tom had to just accept this was really happened.
"Meyon particles, who the hell has been exposing my children to meyon particles?" his father sounded angry.
"A device went off yesterday morning in the centre of the city," Jack seemed quite happy to explain even if the man did seem annoyingly cheerful, "we don't know who set it or why. We followed a trail of meyon particles here. I take it, it wasn't you then."
"Of course it wasn't me," Tom decided that his father was really beginning to sound angry now, "why would I expose my children to something that would undo all the work I put in making sure they would be nothing but human."
Hearing his father say something like that seemed to make it more real and Tom's mind rebelled. He really did feel like screaming and shouting until someone gave him some answers, which was usually Bill's job, but he was quite ready to fill in. He would have as well, if he hadn't been interrupted yet again, this time, however, it was by the room lurching rather nastily.
"Dad," he said in what came out as rather a weak voice and then his legs were caving in.
Someone caught him, but he wasn't sure who.
"Tom," he heard his father saying rather urgently, but he couldn't reply.
Everything was rather hazy.
"Stay back," his father said, but he had no idea why.
"Let's cut the crap," Jack replied, "that's not a gun, that's a geological scanner; Neranians are pacifists and it looks like you need our help."
Tom felt warm and tingly for a moment and then went back to being cold.
"He's going into metamorphosis without a shell," he heard his father saying, "it must be the residue from Bill's cocoon. We need to get him somewhere warm with a stable environment or it could kill him."
"Ianto," Jack said, but it was becoming difficult to concentrate and understand what was being said, ".. lab ... oxygen ... warm and humid. ... Gentlemen, we're going to Torchwood."
Tom felt himself being lifted, but his brain didn't seem to want to know about consciousness anymore and he couldn't hold on to it. Everything faded away and was replaced by darkness.
End of Part 1