Once Upon A Time …

Day One: 14 December 2008

It was just gone midnight when the police got the call. The constables who responded were not surprised to see some kind of elf lying in the doorway of Tesco. It was two weeks to Christmas and the parties were in full swing, drunken revellers were everywhere.

"This one's out of it," said Steve Barnes, leaning over the elf. He sniffed but couldn't tell if the smell of alcohol was coming from the elf or not. "Come on, mate, wakey wakey." He shook the man but couldn't rouse him.

"Better get him back to the station. He can sleep it off there," said Mervyn Simmonds, Steve's partner. He was older and had seen it all before.

They hefted the elf into the back of the police car. Steve sat beside him to shove his head out of the window if he looked liked being sick; neither officer wanted to have to clean the car. Not again. The elf was still out of it when they carried him into the station.

"Who's this then?" asked Andy Davidson, on desk duty and grateful for it. He'd had his fill of picking up drunks.

"Don't know. Can't we just lock him up?" It was close to the end of shift and Mervyn wanted to get home to his wife for a snuggle before she went to work in the morning.

Andy didn't like taking in someone without going through proper identification procedures but the sight of three officers coming through the door with an aggressive and cursing drunk changed his mind. "All right. Put him in number three." He turned his attention to the newcomers and forgot about the elf for a while.

At three forty, the station was quiet again and Andy was catching up on the paperwork. He remembered the elf and went to check on him. Letting himself into the cell, he walked over to the bed where the man lay sprawled, still unconscious. Andy patted down the man's costume but there were no pockets and no identification.

"Anything?" Sergeant Miller was standing at the open door.

"Nope. This guy's make up is bloody good. Those ears look right natural." Andy pulled at one elongated ear, thinking of Mr Spock from Star Trek. The ear didn't come off, in fact the man's face tightened as if it was being pulled too. Squatting, Andy looked more closely. There was no join where the ear met the face. "Sarge, take a look at this."

"What is it?" Miller came into the cell and watched as Andy pulled the ear again. "Must have used superglue. Bloody fool. He'll regret that when he has to go to hospital to get them off." The sergeant turned and walked away. "Book him as an elf 'til he wakes up."

Andy did not move. He looked at the man more closely. He was small, not five feet tall, and his features were … not quite right. Not human? That was ridiculous but Andy had seen a lot in the past couple of years and his association with Gwen Cooper had taught him not to dismiss his instincts. He reached for his mobile.

A phone ringing in the early hours was not unusual and Gwen surfaced at the sound. She reached out, fumbled a bit then located the phone and looked at the display.

"It that's Harkness, tell him to sod off," mumbled Rhys from beside her. He pointedly turned onto his side, back to her.

"Sorry, love." She pressed the button and took the call. "Andy, this better be good."

Fifteen minutes later she was on her way to the police station. For the sheer hell of it, she'd called Jack and told him to meet her there. Why should she be the only one whose night was disrupted? It wouldn't hurt him to leave Ianto's side for an hour. The SUV was just in front of her as she drove up to the station and she parked alongside it. To her disgust, Jack looked as bright eyed and awake as if it was the middle of the day.

"So, Gwen, what have we got?" Jack was rubbing his hands, not at all dismayed to be called out. He had been going through reports and was mightily bored. A little excursion was just what he had hoped for.

"An elf, according to Andy."

"Let's go see." Jack bounded up the steps and Gwen followed more slowly.

At the desk, Andy looked up and groaned. He had wanted Gwen not Harkness. The man's irrepressible cheeriness got him down although that was better than his intense stares which were plain scary.

"Andy, this better not be a wild goose chase." Gwen stood before him.

"Well I think it's weird." He took the cell keys from under the counter and led them down the corridor. "This bloke, dressed like a bleeding elf, was lying in Tesco's doorway. There's no identification and his face … well, it doesn't look right." He opened the cell door after checking the occupant was still out of it.

Jack went in first and stood looking down at the figure lying on his back on the bed. He sighed; this was not good.

Gwen came up to join him. "What is it, Jack?" She knew him very well after two years and that sigh and his stance told her he knew something. The figure on the bed was odd, she thought, recognising why Andy had called them in.

"A Huliken." He looked back at Andy. "There only the one?"

"Yeah, that not enough for you?"

"They usually come in sevens."

"Sevens?"

"Uh huh. With a woman. Can you check please? See if they're somewhere else in the city?"

"Okay." Andy left, unreasonably pleased to have been proved right and to have Harkness ask nicely – he had actually said 'please' – for once.

"Tell me, Jack." Gwen stood looking at him.

"They're Space Gypsies. Travel all round the galaxy in family units, Mum and the seven boys. Heard of Snow White and the seven dwarves? This is where the story started." He nodded towards the Huliken.

"You're joking." She was not prepared to believe that. "That's a fairy tale, dreamed up years ago."

"All fairy tales have some basis in reality."

Andy reappeared at the door. "I don't know how you knew this, but there's two more. Over in Ely."

"We'll go get them. Andy, put the word out and call Gwen when the others show. The woman will be tall with dark hair in a long, black dress."

Jack reached down and put the Huliken over his shoulder before leading the way out. That day they collected four more Huliken. Their mother and two brothers were unaccounted for.

It was the start of a very strange couple of weeks.


Well, that's the first chapter up. There are eleven more chapters to come detailing a very strange run-up to Christmas for the Torchwood team and lot of shattered illusions. I shall post one a day until the 25th - Jay