Disclaimer: I do not own Rurouni Kenshin, the world, or the characters and ideas there in. I just take them out and play with them for a while (often at their expense but certainly not to my monetary profit.)

Kindly beta'd by skenshingumi, thank you for looking after my mouthful of errors, hun!

Sanosuke's Terrible, Awful, No Good Toothache

A Tale of Rurouni Kenshin

"Oh, I have really out done myself this time! I found one of Papa's favorite recipes and you guys are really in for a treat! You see?"

In fact, the crew did see and responded with a due moment of silence. There was really nothing to come directly to mind upon this declaration, and the dish itself held out for the three of them to peer at certainly raised more questions than it answered. The youngest among them was the first brave enough to hazard what was on all of their minds. "We see it, but what is it?"

For this the proud cook in question frowned at her pupil and set the bowl down with more vigor than necessary on the heated table between the diners. "What do you mean 'What is it'? Haven't you ever seen a bowl of curry before Yahiko?"

"Oh, I've seen curry before, Buso. It didn't look a thing like what ever is in that bowl."

"Yahiko you lousy freeloader! You can just..."

"Ano, is this a special recipe for curry then, Kaoru-dono?"

Sanosuke snorted at this, covering his slip when the assistant dojo master turned to glower at him. 'Special' would be entirely the wrong word for Jou-chan's cooking. However, the ex-gangster had to give Kenshin credit for swaying the conversation. The rurouni must be in want of a peaceful luncheon today. Kaoru choose to ignore him and favored Kenshin with a brilliant and prideful smile. "Hai. It calls for a special variety of curry flavoring and adds radishes and carrots. Papa would always make this for me when I was little. I know that you guys will love it too! I really think I got it right this time!"

Kenshin smiled in return for the young woman, eyes closed in a way that suggested he was proud of her effort as well. "Then this really is a special treat. We will endeavor to enjoy it to the fullest, that we will."

Sano wisely remained silent on the whole deal. If the conversation involved Jou-chan's cooking and he was involved, she usually wound up throwing things at him and he usually wound up avoiding the dojo for a few days. Silence was good here, as the Kid made a pointDidn't look a thing like curry what sat before them aside from the rice and something that was almost too red for a coloring. The chunks were deterring and the smell was... well, unappetizing was a thorough understatement. Still, as Jou-chan dished him up a healthy bowl of the stuff, Sanosuke picked up his chop sticks and reminded himself once more that free food was free food.

The little miss beamed about at the three men in her dojo as she seated herself with her own bowl of curry and waited for what she must have hoped would be positive commentary to come wafting her way. Kenshin managed a few bites of the stuff with no change in expression, but Kenshin seemed to be developing immunity to her poison, he was no good to judge by. Yahiko frowned as he was prone to doing on occasion, yet Sano suspected that this time it was indeed due to the food. In any case, no one had keeled over dead yet, so the young man ventured his own bite into the curry dish. The rice and mix passed through his lips and touched his tongue where Sano froze. Kaoru looked expectantly at him, still obviously pleased and apparently enjoying the flavor of the meal herself. Ugg, that look. It took effort, but Sanosuke forced the curry down his throat.

Okay then, the initial taste was awful as usual, it tasted soured and he had no clue how anyone could manage that with curry. The rice was undercooked, the carrots over cooked and the radish was still gritty with sand from the garden. But, free food was free food. Sanosuke resigned himself to his usual eating routine when Kaoru cooked and he didn't want to be thrown out for a few days, he ate very quickly in hopes of reducing the time the crap was in his mouth as much as possible.

All in all this was a good plan. Except, in this case, half way through his bowl of curry he heard and felt a distinctive crunch and pop at the back of his mouth. This was followed closely by a burst of pain that radiated up his jaw. The young man stopped chewing immediately and threw a horrified hand over his mouth. "Mrmph!"

"Oro?"

Yahiko looked surprised, "Whoa, what was that?"

Sanosuke grimaced for a moment as the pain in his jaw flared a second time and then cooled off to a dull roar. With a grunt, he pulled his hand from his mouth and spat into his curry dish. Table manners be damned. Dropping the dish to the floor the young man stood from his cross legged position on the floor and pointed accusingly at Jou-chan. "Anyone ever tell you that curry isn't supposed to crunch?"

"The curry, there shouldn't be anything hard it! It should be fine!"

"Yeah well, something sure as hell crunched Jou-chan! I always knew your cooking was bad, but now it's up to a breaking teeth level!"

At this he directed their attention with a nod of his head down to the bowl of curry he had so recently vacated. And Yahiko, of all things, sniggered. "Wow, nice tooth Sanosuke. Maybe you should take it with you... hang it on a necklace in fond memory or something!"

Kaoru leaned over to take a better look at it and grimaced. "Eww, that's really gross. If you don't want to eat the rest of the curry then you should really clean this up."

Sano blinked at this before scowling further. "Whaddya mean I should clean that up, Jou-chan? I broke a tooth on your cooking and all you can think about is not wanting to get rid of the thing?"

The young woman looked at him with a vaguely guilty appearance before hardening her resolve. "You shouldn't complain. You come around here and eat with out paying or ever even helping around the dojo then I can't be to blame if you have issues with one of your free meals here."

"Issues? Issues! I broke a damn tooth off, I'm in pain over here and you're saying I deserved it? Oi."

Jou-chan had the grace to blush, though whether in anger or in chagrin it was hard to tell. "It's not my fault that you broke a tooth, Sanosuke! And I've seen you take beatings with out complaining, why are you worried about a little tooth pain?"

Sano glared irritably at the younger woman and moved to further the argument on his behalf when Kenshin stepped in. "Maa, maa. There is no blame in a broken tooth, that there is not. Perhaps, Sano, you could visit Megumi-dono to see about the pain?"

Kenshin suggested this with all of the innocent naiveté a man with his history shouldn't have. Posture humble, yet hopeful as he literally stood between the two. He hoped to distract from the argument. Sanosuke would never verbally say how well he succeeded at that.

Such a simple suggestion shouldn't have evoked such a powerful vision, but there it was like a thunder cloud lurking in his head. The vision was terrible. Megitsune. In his mouth. Laughing evilly. Fox ears. No, no, no! He could not, would not go anywhere near the lady doctor about this. She would enjoy it too much! And to allow her, or anyone else for that matter, to go poking around in his mouth... The young man shuddered.

"Yeah, no big deal then. And she could help you make that necklace! Ano," Yahiko blinked in the middle of this off hand taunt and peered for a long moment at Sanosuke, who was still quite stuck in his own visual nightmare, "Sanosuke, you look pretty pale all of a sudden. You just figure out that she's going to wind up pulling the rest of that tooth out or what?"

This brought the ex-gangster back long enough to add further scenes of horror to his visual. And a tremor of open fear that slithered up his spine. Tooth... pulled? Oh, not happening!

Kenshin cocked his head to the side to peer with large eyes at his tall companion. "Haven't you ever had a tooth pulled, Sano?"

Sanosuke viciously jerked himself from the scene replaying in his mind and turned his focus back on to those around him. "N-no," and realizing the fatal flaw in that brief stutter in the feral grins appearing on both Jou-chan and Yahiko's faces, the young man took a deep breath and drew himself to full height before continuing with a bravado he certainly wasn't feeling at the moment, "And there's no need to have it done now. The tooth is all ready out."

Yahiko was all too happy to point out the obvious on this, "That's only part of the tooth rooster head, what about the roots, huh?"

"Besides," Kaoru chimed in with false pleasantry, "the big strong Sagara Sanosuke wouldn't be afraid of having an eensy weensy tooth pulled out, now would he?"

"Of course not!"

Sano grit his teeth for a moment realizing the force behind that statement told all, but hurriedly loosened them with a shot of pain that pounded in that suddenly open and jagged spot along his lower jaw. Damn. "Of course not. Ya see, it just doesn't bother me enough to concern myself with it at the moment. In any case, I've had enough of this joint for today, I'm out of here."

Before the others could recover from his abrupt departure announcement, Sanosuke turned with a flutter of his bandanna and jacket and stalked out of the dojo, sliding on his shoes outside with an easy grace and taking long strides quickly toward the gate. He heard as he barely crossed the threshold a yell from the dojo, "Sanosuke, you come back here and clean up this bowl right now!"

The young man closed the gate behind him, threw his pride to the four winds and took off at a dead run for the city.

Several hours later found the very irritable ex-fighter-for-higher cross legged before a gambling dish. A pair of dice rolled idly in his left palm as he glowered at a spot on the wall. He was very busily trying to ignore his all too helpful gambling buddies. They knew better than to pick on him about the whole deal, though they hid all too obvious grins behind their hands as they tried to instruct him about what to do about this ailment.

Hamajii sighed as he tossed his own set of dice repetitively into the air. "You know Sano-san, I still say if you don't want to be visiting the Gensai clinic, you should be visiting Mohira Akira along the docks. The man knows how to take care o' another man's mouth, he does."

Sanosuke scowled all the harder and clenched the dice hard in his fist. "And I already said no, you great lug. I am not going to have the same man who cuts my friggin' hair have anything to do with my mouth. It's crazy, ya know!"

"Ano, Sano-san," Ginjie intersected, "I really think that's your best option. You said yourself you don't want that pretty lady doctor to know anything about this, right? So, you need to have something done. Your cheek is already starting to swell and all..."

It was true that the left hand side of his mouth had steadily been throbbing harder, but that didn't mean there was any swelling. Sanosuke could deal with this on his own and he did not need anyone to look after him or... pull the tooth! It wouldn't be happening! "I. Am. Fine! Ya'll don't need to worry about it. And my cheek is definitely not swelling, do you hear me? Not swelling at all!"

Ginjie held up his hands with a pacifying smile. "No no Sano-san, maybe I was seeing things? In any case, this discussion is putting you in a foul temper, how about a few more rounds of dice?"

This, the young brunette was inclined to acquiesce to. They settled down and the friendly gambling continued late into the evening until the throbbing pain in his jaw set off a throbbing pain in his head. At this point, Sanosuke informed the crew he had lost interest for the night and proceeded off to his one room apartment and slightly thread bare futon. Sleep would cure it all. Sano always felt better after a good night of rest.

Or so he thought. Sleep came hard and was hard to keep. It was with grudging acceptance and a growing desperation that Sanosuke over road his innate fear and watched the sun break over the horizon from a peer kitty-corner to barber Mohira's shop. The place wouldn't open till the morning canon at seven o' clock. However, by this time Sano's left cheek was very visibly swollen and painful and the young man had every intention of getting the problem dealt with as soon as possible. He was frightened beyond words but even he knew there was a point when you just have to swallow your pride and your fear.

Sanosuke watched with bleak eyes as the docks came to life with fisherman and seaman of all sorts and the morning fish stalls opened along the roads. The peer side marketplace was popular among those who could afford it. Not that it really mattered to the young man, for once he was far from hungry. The idea of chewing put him off food entirely. His only hope was the morning blast and that damn barber shop. The barber. Oi.

The sound couldn't have come any sooner and Sanosuke found himself nearly pouncing on the owner of the shop as he opened the place. "Sano-san? What may I do for you... today..."

The sentence dropped off for a reason as Sano pointed needlessly at his cheek. Mohira understood. "I see. Come in, come in, we'll get that taken care of. You'll be actually paying me for this one, right?"

Sano grunted a hand drifting behind his head in an apologetic gesture, "Uh..."

"Why am I not surprised? Don't worry, I'll still help you out, but you know this is going on your tab. In any case, take a seat and let's see what we have going on here."

Mohira, being so close to port, was one of the few barbers first to change over to a western fashion chair. He said it was far easier on his knees to be able to stand and take care of his clientele. Which apparently included folks with tooth problems regularly enough for the fact that he didn't even question the issue. Sano eased himself into the familiar seat with no small amount of trepidation. He would never be able to come back to this place for a hair cut with out thinking of this again.

Mohira turned up the wick on a kerosene lamp and set it on a table near by. "All right Sano-san, open wide and let me peak in there. Oh, hmm, that was a nice break huh? Looks like the tooth was a little rotted anyway, something must have just set it off. Still, let's get the rest of it out of there then."

Sanosuke gripped the chair arms with force and squeezed his eyes tight shut, prepared for the worse. He was shocked then, to have the barber pull one hand free and insert a bottle in his grip. Sano blinked at the sake jug in his hand for a moment before turning. "Hey, Mohira-san, what's this?"

Mohira smiled, eyes tight closed, "Anesthetic, dear boy. Drink up."

The young man felt a bit stupid at this but was more than happy to oblige. Oi, why hadn't he thought of using a little more liberal 'anesthetic' himself last night? Oh yeah, he was broke. Made it hard to drown your sorrows. Three jugs of sake later left Mohira shaking his head at Sanosuke's tolerance and the young man in question quite contentedly drunk in the chair. He had to admit, he felt a lot better. Why have the tooth pulled, he could just stay drunk after all, right? Of course, right then he didn't care enough to get up out of this nice chair.

Mohira snorted, apparently deciding that Sano-san was ready enough and pulled out a couple of wicked looking tools that would have a sober Sano crawling out of the chair on sight. Drunken Sano found them vaguely amusing. "Hey, those fer torture or my tooth, Mohira-san?"

"Your tooth. You're in no shape for torture at the moment, I think."

The barber then poured a splash of sake over his hands and each instrument before standing over his patient and instructing, "Now open wide for me, Sano-san."

Sanosuke complied. The pulling of the roots hurt. There was no doubt about that. He didn't care enough to fuss over it though. There were benefits to being drunk after all. He was well acquainted with them; it was how he got to sleep a lot of nights. Ambivalence had its virtues after all. Once the roots were removed, Sanosuke found himself being ushered out of the chair with a wad of cloth stuffed in the hole in his mouth and instructions to head home and sleep it off. These instructions made perfect sense to him and his sleep deprived intoxicated mind, so home he went.

The ex-gangster woke the next morning with a wicked need to relieve himself. Obliging this need, he ducked out of his apartment, answered nature's call, and with some disdain removed the blood soaked cloth from his mouth. The area was tender, but the swelling was gone and the bleeding had stopped. All in all, this was much better than it had been before getting it taken care of.

Heading down to the river Sanosuke cleaned himself up a bit and decided to pay a visit to the Kamiya dojo, they may be worried about him not showing up for a day and all. And aside from that, he had another need to take care of.

Shuffling into the gate he found the group in the back yard attending to chores. Kaoru was the first to greet him, Kenshin smiling in greeting behind her. "Oh, Sanosuke. Look, I really am a, I feel a little bad about the other day. How are you?"

Sano shrugged and made a gesture in the air as though brushing it off. "Don't worry about it. I'm fine, like I said."

Kaoru smiled in relief before patting him on the arm. "Good to hear. Is there anything I can get for you then?"

"Actually, yeah. You wouldn't be by chance working on lunch yet, would you Jou-chan?"

After all, free food is free food.

END

Author's Note:

As I said up top, this story was beta'd by skenshingumi (and we should all be grateful as had I posted this on my own, there would have been a number of glaring oversights that yours truly would have never caught.) I will state however, that any errors in the author's note here are mine and mine alone.

Now, for the story. I researched into dental care in the late 1800's for this, all though I had NO luck digging up useful info. on the situation in Japan at the time. So, in this story I am taking the liberty of adding a western flair to a community that is in the stages of early westernization anyway. It is true that in the US barbers were as often dentists in this time period as doctors were; there were no specialized people solely in the field of dentistry at the time. So, Sano going to the barber in this light, makes sense.

In any case, just a bit of humor to lighten the day and still torture my Sano a little. I hope you enjoyed!

DoC