"Leader, I'm tired."
Ohno nodded in agreement from where his face was mashed up against Aiba's ribs and arm.
"No," Aiba said, sounding pettish in a way that Ohno had never heard from him before. "I am tired of being tired."
Ohno knew what he meant; he couldn't remember the last week where he'd gotten a good night's sleep all seven days. He squeezed Aiba's hand, but Aiba pulled it away.
"No one yelled at me today," Aiba said. Ohno's brow furrowed as he tilted his head up at a painful angle to try and comprehend Aiba's point.
"I messed up over and over. Nino gets everything right the first time and Sho-kun is going on even less sleep than us and Matsujun's head is about to explode..." He trailed off considering how to put Matsujun's frustrations into words before looking down and meeting Ohno's eyes.
"Well, you know, Leader. And you, we practically don't need an instructor because of you, if you knew the dance already. If Arashi were four people you could have been done hours ago but no one yelled at me."
Ohno had no idea what to say.
"Like I'm not one of you, like I'm not worth yelling at because I still, still wouldn't get anything right, like I can't contribute and the rest of you are working so hard..."
Aiba stood abruptly, and Ohno's head knocked painfully against the hard bench. Aiba reached out instinctively, back toward Ohno, but checked himself and turned to walk away.
Ohno watched him go, head aching, heart in even worse shape, and tried to make sense of what must have been building in Aiba for a long time without anyone seeing.
When they reconvened Aiba wasn't there.
Everyone looked mildly concerned, but Ohno stood frozen, only the protest of his lungs letting him know that seconds were passing.
When he stammered out that he was going to look for Aiba, they turned to him in surprise, but he was already leaving.
After a heart-stopping twenty minutes, he found Aiba outside an emergency exit on a landing of the metal stairs. He was smoking with deliberate, ponderous inhalations, and Ohno didn't know what he was going to do before he did it.
He grabbed the cigarette and flicked it away before wrapping his hand tightly around Aiba's wrist, dragging him through the open door behind him. Aiba was sputtering, sounding angry, and Ohno snapped out, "Shut up."
He practically tossed Aiba ahead of him through the door to the practice room, not returning any of the smiles of the other three members.
"Aiba-chan would like it if we could go through the steps one more time."
Everyone shrugged their assent, confused, as Aiba stared at Ohno. The instructor started to count along with the slowed down music, and Ohno began the choreography with precise movements. Aiba looked away, expression still harsh in a way that was shocking on Aiba's face.
"Pay attention," Ohno barked, scaring the crap out of Jun, diligently dancing next to him.
Sho started, "Leader, you're--"
"Quiet," Ohno said, belatedly adding, "Please. Aiba-chan needs to concentrate. We are doing this live next week on Music Station, and if Aiba-chan can't do it then Arashi will have to cancel the appearance, and I am not so tired that I'm all right with that." Everyone had stopped dancing except for him, but he pushed forward, not willing to lose.
"Tired?" Nino said, eyes sharp.
"What the hell are you talking about?" Jun's worry was pushed out cloaked in anger.
Sho looked at Ohno with speculation and the remains of his forcibly kept patience, then turned to whisper to the instructor, who nodded and left quietly. Jun went over and switched off the music, but it was nearly over, and Ohno finished the last twenty seconds of the dance, completing every movement with a snap. Aiba watched him and said nothing.
When he was done, Ohno took a deep breath and glared at Aiba. "You said we are Arashi." Aiba flinched. "You said that we might not have wanted this at first but if we stuck together we could have dreams and work to make them come true. Work together."
Jun gave a frightened breath. "Aiba-kun, you're not--"
"No!" Nino said forcefully. "He's not."
Sho moved toward Aiba as if to touch him, but Aiba startled away from him.
Ohno kept his eyes on Aiba. "Five people. Nino, Sho-kun, Matsujun, Aiba-chan, Leader," he said with quiet emphasis. "Without one of the five none of us are here. I would not have stayed one week without you, Aiba-chan."
Aiba's eyes strayed to Nino, who nodded, grim, and then to Sho, who did the same. Matsujun was still and silent, desperately afraid.
"I'm just so useless sometimes," Aiba broke out, distressed. "I say the wrong things and dance the wrong way and the choreography leaks out my ears when I'm not looking and--"
"You're our Aiba-chan," Nino said with finality.
"You help me study. You let me sleep for five minutes and you always get me up, even when I yell at you," Sho said, looking like he was completely in this one place in a way that didn't happen much lately.
"You have to stay. You have to stay, Arashi is five people," Jun whispered.
Aiba looked away. "There are... there are people, better, others who could--"
"There are not others to us," Ohno said softly.
Aiba held his breath a moment before resolutely straightening himself up. "Leader was right," he said. "I'd like to go through the choreography one more time."
Jun went and started the music again. Ohno brushed his fingers over Aiba's wrist and gave him the most exaggerated stern look he could muster, and Aiba was surprised into a boyish giggle that did much for everyone present. Sho gave an ungrudging grin, Nino turned his face away to wipe at his eyes, Jun started breathing again, and Ohno decided that maybe he wasn't so tired after all.