Rude Awakening

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Sumiko realized she must have managed to nod off sometime during the night, because she found herself being awoken at an ungodly hour by the sound of a huge clump of snow from the roof sliding and crashing down just outside. She noticed the only other person in the room was Chizuru, who also began to stir and wake up.

"!" Chizuru gasped when she opened her eyes and saw Sumiko bound, gagged, and tucked into the futon next to her, and she began struggling against her own bonds. Sumiko wanted to tell her that it was useless, since she had been trying to get out of them all night, and warn her that doing so would just make her muscles sore, but the gag made that very difficult. Chizuru seemed to catch on to that, though, because she gave up pretty quickly and started glancing around the room as best she could. "Mmph!" she gasped when they both noticed the silhouette of a man passing by the window and stopping in front of the door.

"Are you awake?" a kind looking middle-aged man asked as he slid open the door. "I'm sorry you were treated like this," he said apologetically as he entered the room and knelt down beside them, pulling the futon back. "I'll untie the ropes. Please wait a moment."

"Mmph," Sumiko said, nodding her head at Chizuru, trying to communicate that he should untie her first.

"I understand," he told her, nodding with a small smile. "Ah-ah. That Souji," he said, sighing regretfully, as he began untying her friend. "Being tied so tightly, it must have been rough..."

"Hmph!" Sumiko huffed indignantly in response. That was a bit of an understatement. He had tied her own wrists so tightly that she was pretty sure she'd have welts there for awhile. The kind man smiled wryly at her.

"Can you sit up?" he asked Chizuru, helping her up so he could untie the cloth over her mouth. "You can removed the gag, too."

Chizuru took the ball of cloth out of her mouth and turned to watch while he untied Sumiko. "E-Excuse me... where is this place?" she asked tentatively. "Who are you...?"

"Oh, pardon me. I am Inoue Genzaburou," he said, finally introducing himself, while Sumiko removed her own gag. "This is the Shinsengumi head quarters."

"Shinsengumi!?" Chizuru cried, glancing questioningly at Sumiko, who nodded calmly in confirmation.

"You don't need to be afraid. Can you come with me a moment?" he asked, smiling kindly, as he held onto the end of the ropes he had left around their hands to keep them from running off.

The two girls were quietly led to another part of the building.

"What happened?" Chizuru whispered.

"You fainted," Sumiko whispered back. Chizuru made a face to let her know that wasn't what she meant, but before she ask again, Inoue-san had stopped to open a door. They had reached their destination.

"Go in," Inoue instructed them.

"Good morning," a familiar voice greeted them as they stepped into the room and saw all the men waiting for them. "Did you sleep well?" Okita asked. "It looks like that one did," he said, smirking, as he glanced at Chizuru. "She has the tatami mat's pattern on her face."

"Eh!?" Chizuru gasped, feeling incredibly embarrassed, as she held her hands to her face and blushed. Sumiko sweat-dropped. She couldn't believe her friend fell for that. Didn't she remember waking up on a futon? Poor Chizuru always had been a bit on the gullible side.

"Stop it, Souji. She'll think it's true," Saito said. "There aren't any tatami marks," he told Chizuru.

"That's mean, Hajime-kun," Okita said with a laugh. "You didn't have to tell her." Both girls furrowed their brows and frowned in annoyance at him. What a terrible personality...

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