Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin is the property of creator Nobuhiro Watsuki, Shueisha, Shonen Jump, and Sony Entertainment. Stories written by me are intended for my entertainment and a small hope for entertaining others. No profit is made from it.

The Canteen

It wasn't very big, and it was just a little heavier than it looked. It was made of metal and covered with a thin layer of hide and had wide, convenient strap so that one could carry it on his shoulder or perhaps tie it to his belt.

Kenshin turned it over in his hands, before grinning and holding it back to Sanosuke. "It must have come in handy."

Sano nodded, but he wasn't looking at him or the canteen that was being offered back to him. His eyes were on a dry, grassless street, streaming with people. Aoi-ya was located in a busy place. Of course an inn would to be.

"Yep," he said, absently chewing on his newly-cleaned fishbone, hands deep in his pockets. "Sometimes it's a long, dry way between towns and water holes out there in the big world. And sometimes water in some places is contaminated or poisoned. Sometimes even on purpose. Got to be careful."

Kenshin frowned, looking over the heavy canteen again. There were several reasons that someone might poison water or wells, but none of them were good and the effect could be devastating. It would indeed be a good idea to carry one's own supply of water, just in case. He was glad that he had not had to worry about going thirsty much in his travels and suddenly wondered if Sano had, that it might prompt him into carrying this canteen around even when he was back in Japan?

When he glanced at Sano with the question on his mind, he found his friend looking back at him, an eyebrow raised a small smile around his fishbone. "I'm trying to distract you, you know. So I better not catch you worrying about things that even I don't worry about anymore. Or worrying at all. About anything, but especially not me."

Kenshin held up his hands in surrender. "You know this one never worries about you, Sano."


Kenshin didn't deny this, instead leaning against the wall of the Aoi-ya. His hearing picked up the faint noises of women talking without seeming to pause for breath, and a few wails of small children.

"Can we go home now?" Sano asked.

"Probably not. We all have not seen each other in a while, and we have a lot to talk about."

"You mean we had a lot to talk about, and the girls had even more. Notice Aoshi and the old man wimped out ahead of us, right?"

"Well…Aoshi doesn't have patience for such things."

"I don't either," Sano grumbled, and Kenshin grinned. At least, Sano could be counted on to hang around for as long as the food lasted.

Only until then, though.

"Feh. Kenshin, I know I teased her for not being ladylike enough, but there's such a thing in being too ladylike."

Kenshin only smiled. Yes, Kaoru had calmed down a bit these past few years, but that sort of thing came with age. He saw nothing wrong with the fact that she was more content to sit and talk and talk and talk and talk…more than she used to…

Well, maybe he did mind. Just a small bit. It had been a long time since so many of them had been in one place at once. There was much for Kaoru and Misao and the other women to fill each other in on. Even if he came to the end of his own legendary patience with merely sitting and listening.

He was glad to be on his feet and breathing a little fresh air and simply enjoying the company of one of his dearest and long-absent friends, Sanosuke. The conversation they carried was infrequent, low-key, and about small things of interest, broken by long moments of comfortable silence. This was better. Comfortable.

He followed Sano's gaze out onto the street and for the first time realized how at ease he was in Kyoto, something he would not have been able to say even a few years before. He had finally stopped looking for ghosts and seeing blood in the alley shadows.

"It keeps the water cold longer," Sano said suddenly.

Kenshin looked back at him and saw those lazy eye looking at him from low-hanging lids. He knew his friend too well to be fooled by that sleepy expression. Sano wasn't entirely certain what Kenshin was thinking, but here was another attempt to distract him by way of that useful little canteen again.

"Oh?" Kenshin prompted. He couldn't dilute a small gift of the heart from Sano with the truth that Kyoto didn't touch the darker part of his heart anymore. He was willing to be distracted.

"Sure. Stays real cold for a long time. Take a sip and see."

Kenshin eyed the canteen. "How long as the water been in there?"

"Changed the water this morning. Should be pretty cold still, like its off the top of the well."

Good manners wanted a cup to pour the water into, but it was a canteen and Kenshin wasn't entirely unfamiliar with them. Pulling the top off, he held it back and took a long drink.

Sano was right, it was still nice and cold. The fighter grinned slightly at him with an "I told you" look and looked back at the busy street.

Kenshin tipped the canteen back for one more drink before he would return it. The gurgling of the water as it poured from the narrow mouth was very pleasurable against the insides of his cheeks, pleasurable enough that he absently lifted his tongue into the trickle to feel it there also.

At once, there was a powerful, alarming sucking sensation, and an audible thunk that made Sano glance once at him before returning to his somnolent watching of a Kyoto main street.

Kenshin swallowed slowly. His tongue had somehow pulled into the lip of the canteen and had stuck there, uncomfortably tight. Blinking rapidly, he put both hands on the container and gave it a few short, firm tugs. This was painful, and he desisted. He tried sucking on his tongue, but it was no more effective than the tugging. Then he tried to push his tongue in further, hoping this would release some of the water and ease some of the suction that had him trapped. To his frustration, it backfired and his tongue was pulled further inside.

He tried tugging again for a moment, and then gave up with a little sigh. He turned to Sano, cheeks heating, and tapped his arm to get his attention.

"What's wrong?"

"Nnn," was one of the few sounds Kenshin could manage with most of his tongue stolen.

Sano blinked. "What?"

Kenshin tugged at the canteen again, then dropped his hands to better communicate his predicament. The canteen was far too heavy for just his tongue to support, so he caught it again quickly in his right hand.

Understand spread slowly across Sano's face. He opened his mouth, and nothing came out. Kenshin's face grew all the hotter at the utter look of incredulity that spread across his friend's face.

"Wh…but you…it can't be…how did you…how could you possibly…it's stuck?"

Kenshin nodded miserably. He had sort of hoped that this was something that happened once or twice with Sano and that he would know an easy method of getting it off. He also hoped he wasn't the only fool to actually get his tongue stuck in a canteen.

Sano blinked a few more times before the lines of his face relaxed and then scrunched as he fought off the urge to laugh. "Only you, Kenshin," he said, as if he had been reading his friend's mind. "Only you. Here, let me see--"

Eyes wide, Kenshin took a couple of steps back from the hand stretching toward him.

"Well, I'm not going to try to jerk it off and your tongue with it, Kenshin," Sano said, dropping his arm. He cocked his head, and finally lost his battle as a broad grin escaped him. "Where's the trust?"

Sano meant it as a joke, but light remorse tweaked Kenshin's heart. Of course he trusted Sano. In fact, there was not a man alive today that he trusted more than he trusted Sano. That didn't change the fact that his best friend could be singularly ungentle when he felt like it. And he had had a fleeting but vivid image of a small flick of Sano's wrist and his tongue being plucked from his head.

"I'll be careful," Sano promised, and he lifted his hands again and walked forward slowly, as if approaching a nervous horse. Laughter was in his eyes, but somewhere deeper a hint of serious. He would be careful.

Kenshin stood patiently and allowed Sanosuke to try a few ideas. He didn't try to pull the canteen off since obviously if that would work, Kenshin would have been able to get it off himself. But he did try gently turning the canteen, and then tried to slip his smallest finger between Kenshin's teeth and the metal opening, trying to depress his tongue to release the pressure. Nothing worked.

At last he stepped back. "You're not supposed to stick your tongue in it, you know. Did you ever like to lick the top of your dad's sake jar when you were a kid, or what?"

"Kenshin! Kenshin, stop! Wait, wait!"

Sanosuke's legs were much longer than his friend's and yet he was having a difficult time keeping up, especially when the redhead slid through gaps in crowds that could sometimes narrow by the time Sano came to them.

All he had done was suggest that they go inside and see if the others could help, which Kenshin had quickly refused. Big violet eyes all the wider, he shook his head, looking hopelessly funny with the canteen still attached to his mouth. When Sano tried to persist, Kenshin had hopped off the inn's porch and started off down the street, both hands on the canteen.

Sano finally caught up with him, grabbing him about the shoulders with a half a mind to lift him off his feet to get him to stop. But even if he didn't respect his friend far too much to go manhandling him out in public like this he did know that he had only caught Kenshin because Kenshin had allowed it.

"All right, all right. No Aoi-ya, and no friends," Sano promised as Kenshin turned around to face him. They were standing under a wide-lipped roof of some dwelling or another, so that Kenshin face was partly shaded. Sano didn't need to see his glowering to know he was doing it anyway. "You're right, we don't need them. We'll get it off ourselves. Can't blame you. Wouldn't want Aoshi seeing me with my tongue stuck in a canteen. And Misao…well, you'd never live long enough to hear the end of it, would you? Not to mention Jou-chan would just think we're being silly and try to yank it right off…"

Kenshin groaned and closed his eyes.

They stood for a few moments. People passed by, moving on with the day. The sun would being to descend soon. They would be missed for dinner if they waited much longer. Not that Kenshin would be able to eat right now or anything…

"Okay, so going back to Aoi-ya is a last resort," Sano compromised. "If we can't get it off ourselves, we'll see if any of them have an idea. Yeah?"

Kenshin nodded, looking a little relieved. He was thinking the same thing also.

Still, no further ideas were forthcoming. "There's got to be somebody around here you wouldn't mind letting help us out." He brightened. "Hey, didn't they say you had a teacher who lived around here or--"

If Kenshin had been reluctant to the earlier suggestion of going in to see the others this way, he was downright horrified at this idea. In fact, Sano figured it was a step beyond horror, since his friend paled alarmingly and the skin under his eyes turned a sickly blue. Sanosuke actually put his hands on Kenshin's shoulders for fear he might faint.

Whatever kind of man Kenshin's master was, evidently the thought of going to him in need of help loosening a canteen from his tongue was somewhat…daunting.

"So…no, then?"

Recovering some, Kenshin shook his head vigorously, the canteen wobbling in his hands with the movement.

"Right. Well, if you don't want any of our friends to see you, then I guess our only option left is to run away. We'll go someplace where nobody knows us. If you try hard enough, you can probably learn to eat certain things around your own tongue. You'll be drinking at lot of soup, probably. We can probably rig up some kind of face harness to support it so you'll have both hands free again."

Kenshin glared at him.

"Sorry, Kenshin. I know it's not funny," said Sano, who wasn't sorry and did find it very funny.

Another pause. Sano looked a little mournful for a moment before he said, "Guess we should just cut it. Simplest way."


"Not your tongue, the canteen," he added quickly. "Wish you hadn't gone and given away your sword now, but maybe I can sneak back in the inn without anyone seeing me and get you some kind of knife or another. You can use a-- What?"

Kenshin's face had suddenly lit up and he turned, looking around as though to gather his bearings and then pointed in the opposite direction that he had been fleeing the inn before.

"What, that way? Someone who can help?"

The redhead shrugged and nodded. Something like that.

"Well, okay. Let's go."

Wherever they were going, it was a good walk away. They were going to miss dinner, but Sano found he didn't mind so much. It was worth it just to see this.

Ordinarily, no one would pay too much attention to a man walking down the street drinking from a bottle, but there was a time or two when they had to pause to let someone else pass. A group of young girls took too close a look, and Sano sort of waved at them to draw away their attention and gave Kenshin a small push to get him moving again. "Uh…my friend's really thirsty," he told them, notes of suppressed laughter in his voice.

It only got worse, even where there were less people. Following behind Kenshin, Sano had been doing a very good job of keeping his amusement contained. It was just that the longer he looked at his friend and thought about the situation, the funnier it became.

He had his tongue stuck in a canteen.

Laughter bubbled up out of him, mirth overflowing past his ability to hold it back. Kenshin turned back to glare at him, which of course only made it funnier. Sano sank onto the path, weak with hilarity. He wrapped his arms around his stomach and shut his eyes, hoping if Kenshin was out of sight it would take the edge off.

Kenshin glared at him another few moments, but eventually the glare softened. The corners of his eyes crinkled slightly, and then Sano heard his soft, muffled laughter joining his.

"Sorry," Sano apologized, swiping at his eyes. "It's just, you know…"

Kenshin rolled his eyes and turned away again. He knew.

The place where Kenshin led them was a small shop, a wide, sturdy stall full of kitchen knives and implements lined up neatly and still out for sale even at this late hour.

Sanosuke studied the knives a moment before looking at his friend. "I could have borrowed a knife from the inn," he said. "Nobody would have seen me. We didn't have to buy one."

Kenshin shook his head. Sano shrugged and nodded. Even deprived of speech, it was clear enough Kenshin meant that there was something Sano didn't understand.

They waited a few moments, but there didn't seem to be anyone there tending the stall. There didn't seem to be anyone around at all.

"Lousy security," Sano said. "Somebody could just make off with all these sharp objects. We could probably borrow one long enough to cut the canteen and put it back before they ever came back."

Kenshin shook his head again, cheeks pulled in slightly as he continued to suck at his tongue, obviously still hoping he could work it out of the canteen and need no "sharp object" at all.

Out of patience, Sano called out a few times and finally a gentle-faced man appeared. He blinked once at them, did a double take at Kenshin before a warm smile broke over his face. "Himura-san!"

Kenshin gave the man a friendly but incredibly sheepish smile from around the canteen, hands still gripping the sides.

To cover any confusion the man might have had that Kenshin didn't stop "taking a drink" to return his greeting, Sano quickly said, "Er…hello. We have a, ah, little problem here. Do you think we could borrow one of your knives for just a minute?"

"Come on, Kenshin. Seiku wasn't laughing at you. He was laughing with you."

Kenshin said nothing, trudging back toward Aoi-ya and probably what would be a stone cold dinner if any had been saved at all, rolling around a slightly swollen tongue he wasn't entirely certain he could comfortably use yet for eating anyway.

"But it was a good idea going to see him," Sano went on comfortably. "Those blades of his were something else. I don't have any trouble believing it was his dad who made your sakabato at all. Great skill. Almost too bad he doesn't want to make weapons for a living. They'd be great, you know. Well-known workmanship, all over the world or something like that. We could say, no metal canteen stands a chance against one of those Shakku edges."

Kenshin stared ahead, raising a hand to rub at the corners of his mouth, just a bit sore from a little chafing against the metal nozzle.

"Weren't you glad to see that little kid again? Can't believe he remembers you if he was as young as you said he was when you first met him. Guess some impressions stick, though. He was laughing with you too, you know. And that Azusa-lady, she didn't laugh at all! She turned a little red, but that was probably indigestion or something. Yeah, that's why she had to leave the room…with a red face…and a hand on her stomach. Indigestion."

Kenshin sighed, running a hand down his face. As fond as he was of the Shakku family, he was suddenly glad he didn't have to see them every day.

"Maybe they were just impressed by the way you cut the canteen in half," Sano offered, obviously enjoying himself. He still held the two neat halves in his hand. "Can't help but admire such a clean cut, after all. Almost feels like I could just glue it back together and keep using it."


"Yeah, Kenshin?"

"This one will buy you another canteen."

"Nah, you don't have to--"

"And the next time you take a drink, nice and cold like it's off the top of the well, make sure you enjoy that little tickling feel you get when it comes down. It feels the best when you lift your tongue up toward it."

Sano grinned, but took the hint and quit his teasing for a while. And he didn't tell the others what happened either, just said that he and Kenshin had a small problem this afternoon and that it was all taken care of.

He could not, though, resist one last jibe in that evening when Kaoru asked Kenshin a question and her husband, still a little bit sore of the tongue didn't answer right away.

Sano called softly out to him, "What's wrong, Kenshin? Canteen got your tongue?"

Author's note:

I've been a little down lately, so I wrote out this little story in the hope of cheering myself up a little. I remain not so great with humor, but it worked (I am cheered some), and turned out just cute enough to put up here. Hope I at least teased out a smile for you as well.