The stars are beautiful tonight.
Aiba suspects that the stars are beautiful every night, but he so rarely gets to see them like this. But tonight he and the others are out camping, a well-deserved break (for all of them, but mostly for Sho, who just finished his first round of university midterms and barely made it out alive), and now that he's here, far from the light pollution of the city, he can't look away. It feels like there are more stars in the sky now than he's seen in his whole life, an infinite display sprinkled against the velvety backdrop of space. It's a little overwhelming.
Sho catches him staring and hands him another one of the beers they managed to smuggle from some senpai. The five of them are arranged in a loose semicircle around the campfire, with Aiba on one end, then Nino and Ohno huddled together with a blanket over their shoulders, then Sho and Matsujun on the other end. Sho has to lean across Nino and Ohno to hand Aiba the bottle. "You all right, Aiba-chan?"
"What? Oh, yeah." He takes it from Sho and cracks it open. "Just looking at the stars. They're pretty, aren't they?"
Sho hums in agreement. "It's nice to see so many of them. Usually you can only see the brightest ones."
Matsujun sidles up to Sho until their shoulders are brushing. "Do you know all the constellations, Sho-kun?"
Sho peers up through his fringe, taking a swig of beer. "Well, let me see..."
"That one looks like a fish," Ohno says. It's the first time he's spoken in a while. He doesn't even point to the patch of sky he's looking at, so the others have to crane their necks and try to figure out where he's seeing it, but Aiba catches it right away: a group of bright blue stars that form an oval shape, like a fish's body, with two lines flowing out behind it like a ribbony goldfish tail.
"It does look like a fish!" he cries, delighted. "And look, that one next to it looks like a giraffe. See its neck?"
Ohno laughs in his quiet way that Aiba finds endlessly charming. "And that one over there looks like Lupin and Fujiko."
Aiba collapses against Nino's side in a fit of giggles. Nino clicks his tongue and shoves Aiba away, doing his best to look affronted as he clings closer to Ohno, who's still laughing quietly. "You guys are stupid," he scoffs.
"Your face is stupid," Aiba counters, grinning.
Sho clears his throat and cuts in before Nino can snap something back. "In my physics class the other day, the professor started talking about galactic cannibalism. It was pretty interesting."
Nino gives a full-body eye-roll. "No one wants to hear about the things you find interesting."
Matsujun leaps to Sho's defense. "I think it sounds interesting."
"I think it sounds scary," Aiba chips in.
"Great job," Nino quips, "now you've frightened the child."
"Hey, I'm older than you!" Aiba cries, thwacking Nino over the head and nearly spilling his drink.
Sho continues, ignoring the two of them now squabbling. "She talked about how scientists predict that in approximately four billion years, the Andromeda galaxy will collide with the Milky Way."
Aiba looks up from the noogie he'd been grinding into Nino's skull. "No way," he breathes. "Collide?" He's so distracted by the idea that Nino manages to squirm out of his headlock. "What'll happen to us?"
"Oh, Earth should be fine," Sho says, waving it off as if an intergalactic collision is no big deal. "Galaxies consist mostly of empty space, so the probability of two objects actually hitting one another is very slim. It probably won't be violent at all, just two galaxies merging."
Just two galaxies merging. Aiba can't even wrap his head around it. The alcohol is making the ideas slippery in his mind, so he latches on to the one that seems most important. "So we'll be okay, right? It won't kill us off or anything?"
Sho and Matsujun both laugh, though Aiba has no idea how they could think it's funny. "Aiba-chan," Matsujun says in that duh tone, "we won't even be around by then."
Aiba roll his eyes in return. Honestly, sometimes Matsujun seriously underestimates him. "I know we won't be here. But what about the people who come after us?"
"They won't be here either."
All Aiba can do is stare. He doesn't understand.
"The Earth won't be like this forever," Sho explains. He seems way too calm about the whole thing. "The Sun is perfect for us right now, but it's getting hotter as it gets older, and eventually it'll be too hot for life to exist here — just like on Mercury and Venus."
Aiba is stunned by this news. "When will that happen?"
"In about one-point-four billion years."
"Only that long?!"
Nino reaches over to smack him. "That's a long time, Aiba-chan."
Aiba rubs the sore spot on his head, ignoring Nino's comment. "Surely we'll be able to fix the Sun by then, right? Or find somewhere else to live?"
"It's possible," Sho agrees. "But who knows? Reversing the aging process of a star, or finding a new planetary system with a habitable planet, or terraforming one, or just getting there... those would take a monumental amount of work. Maybe the human race just isn't meant to survive that long." He must see how concerned Aiba is, because he hastens to add, "But, listen to this," saying it in the tone that means he's going to talk about something he thinks is fascinating but which no one else will understand. "When our galaxy merges with Andromeda and they become one big galaxy, there's a chance that this new galaxy might turn into a starburst. Can you believe it?"
Aiba blinks. "Starburst? Like... candy?"
"No," Sho says, looking vaguely pained, "a starburst is a galaxy with an exceptionally high rate of star formation."
Aiba stares. "I don't..."
"They make lots of stars," Nino deadpans.
"Oh! Okay. So we'll turn into that?"
"Maybe. Just think about it — this space we occupy now will become the birth site of more stars than we can even imagine. Some of those will become part of planetary systems. Some of those might even house habitable planets! So we might not exist anymore, but this place, our home, will be home to so many new possibilities..." Sho pauses for breath, his eyes wide and not quite focused on Aiba. "Isn't that amazing?"
"I think so," Matsujun breathes, all the stars reflecting in his eyes.
"I guess," Nino mutters. "But it's not like we'll be around to see it anyway."
Aiba wants to add something, but he can't find the words to express how he feels. He can barely grasp the concept, lost in the buzz of alcohol and drowning in that one monstrous thought: in so-and-so many billion years, they'll be gone. Earth, their beautiful home, will burn up; the Sun, the very symbol of light and hope in their world — the only world they have — will turn against them. It's too huge an idea for Aiba to process, and trying just overwhelms him.
The others keep talking, but Aiba doesn't listen, too caught up in looking at the stars and wondering how many of them have burned out.
Before long, the guys start yawning and making sleepy noises. Sho is the first to retire into one of the camping tents they set up earlier, and Matsujun follows close behind. Nino lasts a bit longer, busying himself with harassing Ohno, but eventually the alcohol gets to him and he ducks into the empty tent, bidding goodnight to Aiba and Ohno on his way.
Aiba is still looking up at the stars when he sees Ohno stand in the corner of his vision. He turns to tell Ohno goodnight, but instead of heading for the tent, Ohno just settles down next to Aiba. The campfire is dwindling, so Ohno wraps part of the blanket he was sharing with Nino around Aiba's shoulders. Aiba clutches at it, thankful.
Ohno smiles at him, sleepy and genuine. "Hi, Aiba-chan."
He doesn't say anything else, but Aiba can feel him, even when he looks back up to the sky — can feel, somehow, the way that Ohno is focused on him. He breathes out a sigh and asks, "What do you think, Captain?"
"I dunno," Ohno says, shrugging. It's not really the enlightened answer Aiba was hoping for.
"It's kind of crazy, right?" Aiba glances down at Ohno's face to see his reaction, but there is none. "You know. To think that in a billion years, no one will even be here."
Ohno doesn't respond with words, just a quiet "un" of acknowledgement.
Aiba bites his lip, bordering on frustrated. He doesn't know what he's feeling and he doesn't know what to say, so he just keeps talking, letting the words stumble out of him, drawn by Ohno's watchful silence. "It's just — what will anything matter? All the awful things people do, and the good things, and the way people like Sho-chan work so hard, and us being in Johnny's, doing what we're doing with Arashi... what will it matter in a billion years if we don't even exist anymore?"
Ohno tilts his head, thinking. "Well... what does it matter now?"
Something in Aiba's chest tightens up at those words, terrified. "What?"
"It doesn't, right?" Ohno continues, unfazed. "If all of this will be gone, it doesn't matter if people were bad or good, or if Sho-chan worked too hard, or if you were sad." He doesn't even smile, just shrugs a little and wears that same neutral expression, like this is the simplest thing in the universe. "So you should just be happy."
Aiba's head is swimming. He's sure there must be more to it — it can't possibly be that simple. But his head feels fuzzy, his eyes feel watery, his heart feels like it's beating sixty-six thousand miles an hour, and Ohno's gaze on him is steady and strong. He swallows his tears and asks, "You really think so?" It feels like tip-toeing out onto a ledge, like if it falls out from under him he'll have nothing left.
And Ohno just smiles, as perfectly earnest as always. "Sure."
Aiba feels relief like a wave; he feels lightheaded with it, the way it crashes into him head-on and makes his skin tingle all over. He sniffles and leans to rest his head on Ohno's shoulder, and without even having to ask for it, he feels Ohno's hand creep up alongside his beneath the blanket, feels Ohno twine their fingers together. "Thanks, Captain," he whispers into Ohno's shoulder.
Ohno just squeezes his hand, but Aiba knows all the things it's supposed to mean, and it makes him feel warm inside. That's all that matters.