They Grip the Ground, Undercover challenge
Pairing: Jack/Ianto, vaguely. Teamfic.
Notes: 1800 words. Thanks to astolat for the read-through! :)
"Is that a rhinoceros?" Gwen asked, staring at the CCTV footage.
"That," Jack said, "is a Ronocijitikel. Nasty creatures. Foul tempers. Foul everything, really; you can smell a Ronocijitikel heading your way about an hour before you can actually see it."
Everyone stared at him, and then at the monitor.
"Looks like a rhinoceros," Owen said, doubtful. "See there, it even has the little piggy eyes."
"Piggy little eyes? Oh, well, then it's a Ronocijitikel for sure," Jack said, grinning. "And we're going to catch it."
"We don't have anything big enough to trap a rhinoceros," Gwen said. "And then how would we transport it? I think we'd best call, I don't know, the zoo warden? They must have those nets and tranquilizers and things at the ready."
Jack shook his head and laid a hand on her shoulder. "Don't worry, Gwen. We have the biggest Ronocijitikel trap in existence right here, right now."
Everyone looked at Ianto, who shrugged, having never seen anything labeled 'Ronocijitikel trap, extra-large' in the archives.
"Our imaginations," Jack said, and swept off towards the garage, his coat a snapping sail behind him. "Follow me!"
"Rhinoceros," Gwen said.
Jack took a corner too sharply, and everyone clung to their seatbelts with grim determination. He sighed at them and said, "No, Gwen. Still a Ronocijitikel."
"Now you're just being difficult," Jack said, and spun the SUV into another sharp turn. He grinned like the madman Ianto thought he quite probably was. "Ronocijitikel. Come on, you can say it."
"Ronocijiteros," Gwen said. "Damn it! I'm calling it Ron!"
Jack laughed and sped the SUV up an alley so narrow that Ianto was surprised it even fit. "Good enough for me," he said, and suddenly slammed on the brakes. He was out of the driver's seat before the SUV had even stopped rocking in place, the vehicle no more comfortable with Jack's driving than the team.
"Ronnie Rhino," Ianto said, joining him first. Jack nodded, smiling, and touched his back. His hand rested there casually as Owen and Tosh untangled themselves from their seatbelts and Gwen stepped down, still muttering "Ronociteros. Fuck. Rhinojikeros?" to herself.
The alley opened into a skinny road, and the skinny road led to a small grassy space, possibly a garden. Ianto couldn't see the Ronocijitikel from where they stood by the SUV, but Jack was right. It could be smelled, more pungent and wild than Wales tended to be, in even its worst, roughest places.
"Here's what we do," Jack said, and they huddled around him. He pulled a ball of twine from one of the many pockets in his greatcoat, and a small utility knife from another. He quickly cut five long lengths of the twine, and gave them each one. "Everyone ties their string to one of its legs--I'll take the horn--and then we simply lead it out."
Ianto frowned down at his twine, and thought about the size of the Ronocijitikel, and its small, angry eyes. "And how do you propose we get close enough to do this?"
Jack beamed at him. "Good question, Ianto. Can you guess the answer?"
No one wanted to guess.
Jack spread his arms out wide. "This is where our imaginations come in!"
For a long moment, they all just stared. Then Owen closed his eyes and groaned, his shoulders slumping. "I knew it," he said, grim. "I just knew he was going to say that."
"I am a tree," Owen said, creeping forward. "Fuck. Fuck. I am a harmless little tree walking towards you, and you don't care, because I am a tree."
"The monologue isn't necessary," Jack said. He was creeping forward too, string clutched in both hands. "Just believe you are a tree, and the Ronocijitikel will too."
"Fuck you, Harkness," Owen snapped. "I am a tree, I am a tree. If I don't keep saying so, I'm going to look into its little eyes--I am a tree--and then it's going to realize I am not what I say I am--don't listen, Ronnie, I am a tree. And then it's going to eat me."
"It's a vegetarian," Jack said.
"Then why are we trees?" Gwen asked, panicked. "Not that I am not--I am a tree! Just not an edible tree!"
"We're trees because it eats flowers," Jack said.
"I am a tree," Owen said. "I am not delicious. I am a tree."
Ianto caught Jack's gaze and grinned; Jack rolled his eyes theatrically. "You're a very dry, warped tree, Owen," Ianto said, to make Jack smile. "No one has to be a Ronocijitikel to see that."
"And fuck you too, Jones," Owen said. "I am a tree. Are you a tree? Because I don't think you're imagining hard enough!"
The Ronocijitikel lifted its head, trailing crushed violets from either side of its great, heavy jaw. Its piggy little eyes locked right onto Ianto. In this, he could see it was different from a rhinoceros--those eyes were red, a fiery red, somehow stupidly vicious, and maybe a little mad.
"I am a tree," Ianto said, and Owen was scrambling, saying, "Ianto is a tree," at the top of his voice, but it was too late. The Ronocijitikel pawed the ground, snorted, shook its head. Its hindquarters shifted and Ianto looked around wildly for a path of escape, but there really wasn't one. He was too close to it. Another snort, and he watched, frozen, as the great, flat feet shuffled, the creature heading straight for him and gathering speed.
And then Jack was swooping in, great coat flaring and hands reaching; he pulled Ianto against him with an almost painful pressure and said, "We are a tree," so firmly that Ianto, panting against his shoulder, half-expected to grow roots right then and there.
The Ronocijitikel jogged past them, the ground rumbling under their feet. He was so close that he brushed Ianto's hip, and Ianto jumped a little, holding onto Jack more tightly. "I am a tree," he said, trying not to panic. Jack shook his head, pulled Ianto even closer.
"We are a tree," he said. His voice was too quiet to be meant for the Ronocijitikel, though; he whispered the words into Ianto's ear. "We are a tree. Branches entwined. Go on, believe it. The Ronocijitikel does."
"The Ronocijitikel looks as if he has a walnut for a brain," Ianto said. It was circling around, eyeing them, confused. Ianto swallowed. "But we are a tree. We are a tree."
"Good. Good, Ianto." Jack turned his head and looked at Gwen, Owen and Tosh, who were standing frozen. "We are all trees," he said more loudly, so that they could hear, and Tosh nodded, eyes wide. Gwen jumped and immediately said, "We are trees," and Owen said, "Yes, yes, trees."
The Ronocijitikel snorted again, turned its head to look at them through one eye, then the other. Ianto held very still, arms tight around Jack's ribs, one foot between Jack's feet, Jack's thigh between his thighs, and thought, "We are a tree. We are a tree. Entwined."
After a moment, the Ronocijitikel lowered its head again, and began to pick its way through a patch of wildflowers with surprising delicacy.
Jack waited, then whispered, "It believes us. Look at it! Good job, guys--Owen, next time you start wondering if anyone is not a tree, keep it to yourself. Understood?"
"Understood," Owen said. "Got it. We are all trees, yes we are."
"With vines," Tosh said. She was the closest to the Ronocijitikel. She crept forward slowly but it didn't so much as blink at her, its dead red eyes focused entirely on the flowers at its feet. Tosh looked at Jack, scared, but he just nodded. She knelt, slowly, and wrapped her string loosely around the Ronocijitikel's leg. "I am a tree, this is a vine," she said, and the Ronocijitikel didn't even twitch an ear. She sighed with relief, and Owen crept forward, then Gwen, and soon three legs were loosely caught up in the twine.
Ianto tried to step back, but Jack hugged him tighter first. "We make a good tree," he said quietly, smiling a little, eyes dark. "We should do it again sometime."
"You have a very vivid imagination, sir," Ianto said, and Jack nodded, smile widening, wicked. Ianto smiled back. "In other circumstances, so do I."
Jack laughed and said, "I'd never doubt it, Ianto." He brushed Ianto's mouth with a light kiss and let him loose. Ianto blinked at him, then shook off the quick flash of heat, and moved forward to the Ronocijitikel's leg. He carefully strung the twine around it with a slipknot.
Jack wrapped his string around the Ronocijitikel's sharp horn. "This is a vine," he said. "You know, there's been talk about these guys. Some say the Ronocijitikel was the original rhinoceros, and the ones we see today are merely an earthbound cousin--Ronocijitikels that got stuck and made the best of it. So I guess that Ronnie Rhino isn't really too far off. Are you all ready?"
Everyone nodded. "You're very small, Ronnie," Jack said, and they all began tightening their knots as fast as they could. "Very small. In fact, you're the smallest Ronocijitikel I've ever seen. Don't you guys agree?"
"Very tiny," Ianto said, nodding.
"Petite," Gwen cooed. "You're very petite, Ronnie."
"Surely a miniature," Tosh said. "You're really no more than knee high."
They all looked expectantly at Owen, who rolled his eyes and said, "Fine. Ronnie, I've had dogs bigger than you. And I've seen tougher mice."
"And we are not really trees," Jack said, looking down at the now very small Ronocijitikel, who immediately looked up, then around, startled. "We're enormous people! Poor Ronnie. We've got you, haven't we?"
The Ronocijitikel tried to shuffle away, but solid and muscular as it was, it had shrunk too small to have any real power. It couldn't break the twine. It roared at them, frustrated and pitiful as a kitten dangling from a branch, and Jack reached down to scratch its back. "Poor thing," he said. "Still. Excellent work, you guys. And look, now we have a pet."
"We already have Mfwanwy," Ianto said, but he was calculating how much they would have to spend on flowers, and the best schedule for exercise. After dark, to be sure. No one would mistake Ronnie for a spaniel in the daylight. Maybe he could pass as a bulldog at night.
"Now we have a friendly pet," Jack said, grinning up at him. "Oww, Ronnie--don't bite. You're a friendly vegetarian, remember?"
Owen snorted, but Tosh and Gwen were scratching the miniature Ronocijitikel too, and he knew a lost cause as well as Ianto did. "I am not taking your friendly vegetarian on walkies," he said, insistent. "You can forget that thought right now."
"Speaking of now," Ianto said. He kept a wary eye on the creature, in case it tried to stomp his toes or ram his knee. "People will be coming to see what the commotion was about, soon enough. We should bring--Ronnie--back to the Hub. He'll fit in the SUV at this size, I should think."
"Yes." Jack straightened up, held the string like a leash and tugged Ronnie forward. "And now we make like a tree," he said, grinning, and Ianto raised an eyebrow as everyone else groaned, anticipating the punchline. "Don't ruin my moment--now we make like a tree, and leaf."