I had never had particularly strong feelings about the idea of going to university. I drifted through school not caring very much about anything, or ever putting in much of an effort, with little thought about what would come afterwards. Nevertheless, by the end of my third year in high school, I had managed to submit applications to several universities and to my surprise, one of them offered me a place.
At first, I was surprised that my dull applications had been appealing enough for any institution to want to include me in the ranks of their graduates. Having been granted this opportunity that I didn't really deserve, I was determined to make the best of it, and apply myself to tertiary study at this second-rate university with a zeal I had never shown before. I would rise to the top of the class and do my family proud!
This newfound studiousness lasted for about a fortnight, during which I took detailed notes in every class and spent a great deal of my time doing extra research in the library. A month later, the only time I seemed to spend working was a couple of days before an essay was due, when I barely left the desk in my shabby student apartment and became an expert on both the common and the rarer varieties of energy drink available in the convenience stores of outer Nagoya.
"Hey, Kyon! Do you have any beer in here? We're all out in… wait, are you still working?"
Haruhi tripped into my shoebox of a bedroom/study and draped her arms over my shoulders, breathing hot, beer-scented breath onto my ear. She, of course, had finished all her assignments weeks ago, as she always had at school, and she would probably receive excellent marks despite having spent less time working on them than me.
I was a lot less surprised that I'd been accepted into university once I realised that Haruhi had gotten herself a place at the same institution. Itsuki had responded to this discovery with the simple comment "Excellent. Now we can ensure that somebody will be there to keep an eye on her." I wondered what they would have done to keep an eye on Haruhi if I had decided not to attend university at all, but he simply smiled mysteriously and returned to sipping his coffee, leaving me wondering whether I really had anywhere near as much control over my own life as I thought I did.
I was surprised that Haruhi wanted to go to a second-rate school in a city as boring as Nagoya, but she told me that she wanted to go to a place where she could 'experience university life to the fullest'. I still didn't know why Nagoya was supposed to be the ideal place to do this, but she was certainly doing her best to live her idea of what university life should be – living in a cheap, rundown apartment, making new friends every week and drinking a lot of beer.
As you may have guessed by now, Haruhi and I are sharing the same shabby student habitation. This was a situation that I never even bothered trying to resist. If I had, I'm sure that Haruhi would have secured an apartment with a spare room a month before classes began, and I would be refused a place to live by every landlord in town until I was finally forced to room with her. But as two friends both living in a strange town, and without too much money in our pockets, this solution was too obvious to ignore.
Despite living together, though, Haruhi and I haven't been as close as we used to be before we came here. It was a little strange to find that while the only thing separating us was a thin wall that seemed to be made of cardboard, we didn't spend all that much of our free time together. It wasn't as though we fought over household tasks. I'd expected us to argue over that a lot more, over who did the washing or someone leaving a dirty frying pan in the sink after making eggs for breakfast, but as housemates we got along almost too well. It's just that while I expected university to be just like high school, Haruhi had raced ahead of me, making new friends and finding a whole new world for herself in Nagoya. Not that she was making any supernatural trouble – she had been quieter in that respect than I had ever seen her. Her adventures were entirely of the normal human variety.
They just didn't involve me any more.
"No drinks in here, Haruhi. Just me studying." I tried to push her away but she wouldn't budge. She rarely came into my room, let alone tried to touch me. The new friends she'd brought home tonight must be pretty heavy drinkers.
"Hey, those are drinks…"
I slapped her hand away as she tried to reach for the line of cans at the back of my desk. "Those aren't for you. They're energy drinks."
"Well, I could do with something to pick me up after all that beer."
"I need those so I can stay up and finish studying!"
"Shut up! It's against the rules of the SOS Brigade's secret undercover hideaway not to share!"
It wasn't against the rules when her music class gave her a whole chocolate cake for her birthday. "It's not much of an undercover hideaway when you keep bringing people here, and… hey! Not that one! That's imported!"
She ignored me, as usual, and popped the top of a tall, thin can, taking an experimental sip. Trust her to pick the most expensive one. "Hey, this is really good! Why have you been keeping this from me, Kyon?"
"Because it costs more than the others, obviously." She was studying the label now, and suddenly gripped the front of my shirt. "Kyon, have you read this? This drink will give you wings!"
"It's just an advertising slogan…"
"It's bad enough that you kept me from something so delicious, but to hide something as interesting as this from your Chief is criminal! Absolutely criminal! You deserve the death penalty! But because I'm a generous leader, I'll give you a more lenient punishment. Later." She suddenly drank the whole of the rest of the can and then waited for a moment. She looked at the can, disappointed, and then looked back at me. "It didn't work."
"It's probably going to make you even more energetic now, so I'd appreciate it if you'd get out of my room and annoy someone else when that happens."
"But I don't have wings!" She hiccupped. "Kyon, we have to hunt down the liars who make this drink and make them pay!"
"That's going to be difficult, Haruhi. I'm pretty sure they live in America or England or something." I took the empty can out of her hand and pushed myself out of the desk chair in order to shove her out the door. "Go back to your friends and we'll take on the Red Bull Corporation in the morning." If you can even get up in the morning, that is.
She charged down the short hallway to where her friends were still heavily indulging in their beer, and I sat down at my desk again to try to get to the end of that essay. I would have finished it in half an hour if Haruhi hadn't interrupted my concentration. Now I had to remember what I had been planning, gather all my references again, and it would probably take me an hour at least. After working on it all day, I felt like I was just about ready to pass out.
I had one can of Red Bull left. I had been thinking of saving it for a more desperate occasion, since it was one of the better ones. But on the other hand, now that Haruhi had discovered my stash and apparently developed a taste for my most expensive imported drink, maybe I'd better drink it now, before she could finish that one off, too.
When I fell into bed an hour and a half later, Haruhi's party was still going strong. I'd drunk the whole can, finished my essay and just managed to pull myself into the bathroom to brush my teeth. Despite the amount of taurine still in my bloodstream and the volume of the noise coming from down the hall, with a finished essay ready to hand in to my tutor tomorrow, there was nothing to keep me from a long, satisfying sleep.
I woke the next morning face down in bed, my face buried in a cushion. The sun was well and truly up, and Haruhi was still asleep. She probably would be for a while yet, and I suspected that it wouldn't be a pleasant awakening for her when it came. Nevertheless, there was still plenty of time before I had to hand in my essay, so I could afford to take my time, have a shower and make myself a proper breakfast. It was a glorious feeling not to have to keep writing outside the faculty office before the very deadline!
But despite the fact that I had worked hard and deserved to hand in a finished essay on time, for once, fate had other ideas for me that morning. When I tried to roll over in bed, I felt a sharp, wrenching pain in my back. When I shouted at the pain and tried to push myself out of bed, the room was suddenly thrown into chaos, first when my belongings seemed to fly off my desk and shelves onto the floor, and then when I panicked and whirled around, trying to see what was causing all the trouble. As I managed to land on my feet, though, and tried to back towards the door, I was struck by a sudden pain again, not quite on my back but somehow behind it, and I dropped to my knees with a groan.
Feathers, I realised, as the pain-induced haze over my vision began to clear. There were feathers in the air, on the floor, on my hands. And there was a weight on my back that hadn't been there before. Slowly, I pushed myself back so that I was kneeling on the floor. I had a sensation of being cramped, this time, though not of pain, even though I wasn't really near the wall. Tentatively, I craned an arm over my shoulder to investigate the skin of my bare back.
Well, that explained the cramped feeling, the unexpected pain and the way I had thrown all my belongings around the room apparently without touching them. It wasn't a thief, an attacker or a Haruhi-created beast invading my home – although Haruhi was without a doubt the one to blame for my current predicament. No, the chaos and the pain were all caused by me; or rather, the new appendages that I now found sprouting from my back. It was hard to be very adept at using limbs that I had only just acquired, fully formed, during the night, I managed to manoeuvre my newest features around and in front of my torso so that I could get an idea of their size. There was no mirror in my room, and the last thing I wanted was for Haruhi to see me like this, so I wasn't about to sneak into her room. The situation was worse than I thought. By the time I had extended them as far as they would go, I was amazed that I hadn't either broken through a wall or broken a bone before now.
Most people would be shocked, and probably terrified, to discover that they had suddenly sprouted an enormous pair of feathered wings. It my case, it elicited only a resigned sigh.