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listen to the earth breathe through the doors and windows of homes (careful to hear what you really want to know)

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i.

 

During his first weeks in Rio, Shouyou thinks the sea might swallow him whole as he sleeps.

It’s a stupid fear, he knows. The place he’s staying at isn’t even that close to the beach, and a furious rabbit hole of research before he left home confirmed that Brazil was not, in fact, a danger zone for tsunamis, but the sound of the ocean isn’t something he thinks he’ll ever get used to. There’s no saltwater in Miyagi, after all. 

Shouyou leans slightly forward on the railing of his window, pressing his forehead against the safety net. The apartment he’s sharing with his roommate, Pedro, is a small and practical thing, in the eighth floor of a building whose neighborhood he still hasn’t memorized the name of. It’s in the middle of a whole cluster of other buildings just as tall and taller; a lot of the entrances also double as small diners and other corner stores, so the whole block always smells like something deep fried, and in the nights where it’s too hot to sleep with his window closed, the smell is so cloying Shouyou dreams about it. 

It’s two in the morning of late Friday or early Saturday, and he can hear the occasional drunken screams of university students stumbling up and down the street. Brazilian universities don’t have dorms, he’s learned, and it’s not that common for people to leave their hometown to study; if they don’t live with their parents until marriage (which he’s pretty sure his own mother did), students tend to flock together in cheaper neighborhoods, creating what’s dubbed as university cities. Which actually just means that no matter until how late Shouyou stays up, he’s never the last one awake, and all the convenience stores and diners around have pretty neat discounts. 

He can’t sleep.

It isn’t just being away from home, or at least not fully. After all, he’s been outside of Miyagi before; he went to Nationals three years in a row, and they always stayed somewhere in Tokyo, between the same clusters of city lights and buildings that he can see right now. But the otherness of this place— the sheer foreign feeling of it, the smell of the ocean, this mostly bare room, the words in languages he doesn’t speak—he would know he wasn’t in Japan even if he had his eyes closed and his ears clamped shut. He can feel it in his bones. 

Shouyou isn’t stupid. He was aware, however theoretically, that moving away to a different country comes with the whole, you know, being a foreigner thing. He took a few Portuguese online courses, just to get familiar with the language—and oh my God, how does anyone manage to learn that?—before giving up and deciding to just dive head first into it when he arrived. He just didn’t realize how much of home is centered just around the little things you do, be it bowing to someone when you meet them, or using honorifics to refer to people’s names, or thanking waiters and waitresses for the food in restaurants before eating it. The first time he put his hands together to thank Pedro after he made them both ramen for dinner, he got such a bewildered look in response it nearly made him want to crawl out of his skin.

“I thought they only did that in animes,” Pedro had said, in English, before taking his bowl and walking back to his room.

The feeling of being other is such a physical thing.

So Shouyou tries to keep a list of all the things he learns about Brazilian costumes, because it’s not like he should expect them to adapt to him. He learns that the correct way to greet someone you don’t know is with a kiss on the cheek, and you can be on first-name or nickname basis with someone after meeting them only once; they don’t bow when they apologize, and they usually apologize through actions rather than words. In Japanese, there are twenty different ways to say I’m sorry; in Brazil, when Pedro accidentally bleaches one of Shouyou’s t-shirts pink, he asks him if he would like to watch some reruns of One Piece together. 

And, when it comes down to the reason why he ended up here in the first place—beach volleyball might as well be a completely different sport than indoor volleyball altogether. 

He spent his entire flight to Brazil reciting the new rules to himself, adamant to have them all memorized by the time he landed. Instead of twenty-five, the set-point is at twenty-one points; after every seven points during the first two sets, teams are required to swap ends and move to the other side of the court, and they are also required to switch to the other side after every 5 points during the third set. Because it relies so much on weather, there is such a thing as the “bad side” and the “good side” of a court, and Shouyou couldn’t find anything that explained it in more detail than that it has something to do with the wind. And, of course, the main thing that differs one version from the other is that beach volleyball is only played two on two, so either one of the team members has to be able to do absolutely everything.

The thought makes Shouyou want to bare his teeth. And people thought he was crazy to cross the ocean for it. 

His phone buzzes on his bedside table, and he detaches himself from the window—damn it, he definitely has a net-shaped web on his forehead right now—to reach for it. It’s a message from Atsumu, whose contact name reads “my setter <3” (Shouyou did not pick that, but he doesn’t have the heart to change it now), and it reads, We kicked some butt! The phone buzzes a few times in a row after that, with other pictures a definitely not sober Atsumu is sending him, and it makes Shouyou smile a little. He heard the Black Jackals were playing a match today, but he was out working when it was airing, so he promised Atsumu and Bokuto he would catch it later. Only he doesn’t know when that later will be. It’s sort of a recurring theme for his life, now.

The million yen question: does he regret coming here?

Shouyou isn’t naive enough to not know his friends have discussed his choice behind his back more than once. Between Tsukishima’s flatly curious stare, Yamaguchi watching him in their last weeks of class before graduation, as if he were about to have a nervous breakdown, and even Kageyama’s silent yet stormy resignation, it’s as if the whole of high school volleyball in the nearby vicinity were talking about his life choices, in one way or the other. He swears he once even heard an off-handed mention of it from Goshiki Tsutomu, Shiratorizawa’s ace, mentioning him and Oikawa in the same sentence. People truly do thrive off gossip. 

He drops his phone on his pillow without unlocking it, running his hands through his hair. The more deeply he breathes, the more salt there is in his lungs. 

The thing is that this apartment is too cramped and this world is too wide, and Shouyou feels like he’s scrambling after some wild star, keeping his empty hands very close to his chest so as to not splinter into pieces while he reaches out. Whoever says that the people running away will never arrive anywhere knows nothing about running at all. Because all Shouyou’s ever done is run towards something, until his legs are screaming and his lungs are molten fire, and it’s always the same thing. There’s always someone just as fast.

Like all things, the wild star has a name.

Stupid Kageyama.

“I don’t understand why you have to go all the way over there,” in his head, in his ears, all around him. Kageyama’s body had been taut, like a bow just about to snap. “Fine, sure, maybe I don’t understand why beach volleyball at all. But it could be closer, couldn’t it?”

“It could,” Shouyou had agreed, looking at his own fingers instead of looking at the best person he knows. “But it wouldn’t be the best I could do.”

“And the best is what you want.” It wasn’t a question.

“The best is what you want too, ‘Yama.”

And that’s the impasse. Because the real question isn’t if Shouyou regrets coming to Brazil. It’s not if he’s homesick, or if he misses his friends, or if the change was too big. The question is how could he have stayed?

This moment right here, Takeda-sensei told him once. This, too, is volleyball. 

“And what are we going to do?” Kageyama had asked. 

“What we’ve always done.” Shouyou reached out to hold his wrist, just the lightest of touches. Kageyama’s skin has always been warmer than you’d expect. “Work harder. Do better. And then I’ll meet you on the other side of the net.”

Kageyama’s gaze was searching. “Can you promise me that?”

“Yes,” Shouyou had answered, simply. “That’s the one thing I can promise you.”

His phone buzzes with a new message, again. From “Yamayama”: Go to sleep, dumbass.

Shouyou doesn’t close his window and flops down on his too-soft bed, the used mattress threadbare and worn. His chest feels like a storm.

That night, he dreams that the sea eats away at him. That it crosses the street without looking both ways and drenches the street, and drowns the stores, and climbs the stairs. That he wakes up and the shoreline has swallowed them all up, and they’re all like the small bundles of rock he can see in the horizon at the beach, which you can almost mistake for an island, but isn’t alive. He wakes up with salt in his mouth.


ii.

When you see it in pictures and movies, it’s hard to forget one simple, crucial detail about Rio: it’s a big city.

Desculpa!

Shouyou feels like his tongue might just drop out of his mouth and crawl towards the nearest body of water if he has to open it to apologize one more time, but he can’t just not say something when he bumps into someone. He’s already practiced out of the habit of bowing, because it made everyone look at him as if he’d grown a second head, but ingrained manners are something you can’t fully get rid of.

He scrambles to put one foot on the ground so he doesn’t tumble out of his bike. Shouyou isn’t sure if a place like a commercial street in Barra da Tijuca is supposed to be this packed on a normal weekday, but the Olympics have turned the whole city upside down in just a few weeks. Heitor says it’s because the government and mayor are scrambling to try and make Rio de Janeiro look like gringos expect it to, and, as a gringo, Shouyou takes his word for it.

Regardless of that, his current concern is that he can’t properly ride even only a couple meters before having to stop so he doesn’t run someone over. One thing about Brazil: they hate it when people ride bikes on the sidewalk. Another thing about Brazil: they also hate it when people ride it on the street, so it’s a lose-lose situation for everyone involved. Shouyou can’t afford a car (nor does he have a license), and he took exactly one look at the city’s subway map before walking in the other direction. 

He can manage. One upside of his job as a delivery boy is that in just a few months, he’s managed to get familiar with more side streets and small neighborhoods than most cariocas do in their whole lives. Extra physical exercise aside, being the sort of person who’s able to give directions to people instead of needing to ask for it helps him feel less like a foreigner.

(Of course, it never fully works. He can’t suffocate his own accent, no more than he can bury the memory of cherry trees and freezing walks up and down mountains during winter, and the cawing of crows. The heat feels stagnant in the air, and the hunger feels familiar in his body.

The feeling of being other is such a physical thing.)

Shouyou catches sight of a woman waving wildly at him from the edge of the beach, and waves back at her to let her know she’s been seen. It’s not the first time he’s had to deliver something or other to people who aren’t really in a fixed address, but it doesn’t get easier. He has to wait for a bundle of people to pass before he’s able to get ahead and onto the calçadão, stopping right beside the white plastic table the woman and her friend are sitting at. They both beam at him, one fanning herself with her hat, dark skin glistening in the sun, and the other making a grabbing motion at the package he takes out of his thermic bag.

He recites the order back at them, to check if it’s right—two cheese pastéis, and two drinks of caldo de cana with extra lemon, for Madalena—and the dark-skinned woman’s smile, Madalena, grows even wider.

“You’re gringo?”, she asks, sounding way too excited. Her English is slightly dragging and more like a drawl, whereas his own accent is sharp and cutting. “Where are you from?”

Shouyou nods excitedly, tilting his chin up so he can peer at the two women without his cap getting in the way. “Yeah!”, he agrees. “I’m from Miyagi—that’s in Japan.”

The other woman lets out a yelp. “Ah, ah!” she goes, before clapping her hands together once, her face beet red. “Thank you for the food,” she says, in stilted Japanese, and Shouyou kind of wants to cry.

Instead, he smiles so wide he fears his face might crack open. He claps his own hands together and bows his head at her, a little lower than the situation calls for, but they don’t have to know that. “Thank you very much,” he answers, earnestly, and then he gets back onto his bike and starts making his way to one of the diners he’s most familiar with, just a few blocks away. As he goes, he thinks he hears one of them say, Vai que é tua, Ninja, but there’s no way those two women would know what he’s known as in beach volleyball, so he dismisses it as a mishearing. 

The sun is starting to set by the time he’s waiting for his next order to be done, but the heat isn’t letting up. He pulls his t-shirt away from his skin a little, trying to make the air move to get some relief. People are trickling out from stores and the beach in groups of dozens, moving away from the shoreline almost in tandem; leaning against the railing of his bike as he waits by the sidewalk, he wonders if Rio has some sort of unspoken curfew, or at least some rule about being out at night. He never sees anyone alone on the streets after sundown.

Shouyou quickly pulls his phone out of his pocket to check the time, and thanks the skies he isn’t running late with this order. The stereotype of Brazilians being friendly only goes so far; when it comes to their delivery being late, they’re almost as bad as entitled Americans. 

There’s a message from Pedro, telling him he’ll be out late, and a video from Yamaguchi followed by dozens of crying and heart emojis, so that’s probably a cat video. No missed calls.

It’s Olympics season, so the sound of cheering permeates the whole city, like a buzzing between the cracks of the sidewalk. He’s not particularly close to Maracanãzinho, but if he stays silent enough, he’s pretty sure he can hear the squeaking of shoes against a court. Shouyou has yet to live a night in Rio that doesn’t feel unbearably alive.

There's a screen hanging from the inside wall of the diner, showcasing one of tonight’s games. The narrator is speaking too fast and too passionately for Shouyou to understand what he’s saying, so he steals one quick glance at eat before settling to enjoy the soothing chatter of the language he’s learning to love. Kageyama is on TV, smiling with all his teeth and pumping a fist into the air. He hears the word ace.

Shouyou stops breathing.

Kageyama is on TV.

And then he groans and presses the heels of his hands against his eyes, because he knew the game was today. Tanaka told him that they were all getting together in Miyagi to watch it, and Shouyou answered with a smiley face and told them to not miss him too much, as if the idea didn’t kill him. As if. 

Kageyama just scored a service ace. It’s his turn to serve again. 

Shouyou looks at the face he knows better than his own—the lightning in his eyes, and the upturned curl of his lip that means he’s enjoying himself, and it’s all so overwhelmingly Kageyama that Shouyou feels like he’s drowning in it. 

And how is he not supposed to feel like the loneliest boy in the world?

The waiter hands him his order, and Shouyou is already biking away before he can properly wish him a good evening. He puts one feet in front of the other, focusing on turning all the right corners and going up all the right streets, tasting his heart in his mouth and feeling Kageyama burned into the back of his eyelids. 

He can’t help but feeling that it wasn’t supposed to be like this, even though there’s no other way it has ever happened. Shouyou left, and Kageyama stayed, and they took wildly different paths down the same winding road. Kageyama’s was just faster than his, is all. It was just faster. 

“Boa noite,” he calls out to the elderly lady he delivers the order to, a standard marmita of rice, beans, egg and beef, and she waves at him from her building door as he rides away.

He checks the time on his phone again, and decides to start heading back to his place. His self-imposed shift starts after lunch and ends after sundown, so he’s already doing a little bit of extra time; if he doesn’t get a move on, he’ll end up late for practice with Heitor, and he still needs to stop and change and get something to eat.

This neighborhood is closer to the stadium. Shouyou can hear the cheers more sharply. 

He tries to remember who’s on the rooster for Japan’s National team this year. Kageyama as starting setter. He’s pretty sure Ushijima is there, too, and maybe a few other veterans that he doesn’t know. Shouyou wonders what the people watching him go by would think if they knew. You see that one guy, Japan’s top scorer? I once played a game against him and won. You see the one making his Olympic debut before he’s even turned twenty? After matches, we would walk home together. He doesn’t like to hold hands but he likes to pull you close. We’d walk with our arms linked and stars dotting the sky. It always smelled of cherry trees. 

Kageyama must be on top of the world, right now. Shouyou isn’t there with him. 

It feels bittersweet, in a way. He’s not there, but he will be. Just because he took a detour doesn’t mean he’s stopped running; he might be taking the long way home, but he’ll get there when the time is right. He made a promise, after all. 

He sends Kageyama a text. I saw you today. You were amazing.

Then he races.


iii.

His first year in Brazil finds him sitting across the table from Oikawa Tooru in a shitty diner, because apparently that’s his life now. 

It’s a slow night in mid-June. Not warm enough for it to be stuffy, but not nearly cool enough despite Winter only being a few weeks away; Shouyou can feel grains of sand still sticking to his skin from dried-up sweat, his arms and knees just slightly stinging with scrapes, as they always seem to be. They’re sitting inside, near the kitchen, and the polished floor is cold against his bare feet, twisted out of the sandals. At least he knows he doesn’t look as winded as he feels, because Oikawa’s gaze when he thinks Shouyou isn’t paying attention just looks assessing. Like he can’t quite figure him out.

“Look at us,” Oikawa says, cracking open his beer, his smile just as bright as Shouyou remembers it. “Who would have thought?”

“Not me,” Shouyou acquiesces with a smile of his own, clinking their bottles together. 

Oikawa takes a swig, only partially managing not to choke. Brazilian beer is worlds away from cheap Japanese beer, and it’s an acquired taste. Shouyou dimly remembers that Oikawa left Japan before he was even able to legally drink, so it takes some getting used to.

“Figures the first time we’d manage to sit down and have a civilized conversation would be when we’re both halfway across the world,” Oikawa muses. “You never did settle for doing things the easy way, did you, Chibi-chan?”

“I’ll have you know I’ve grown at least nine centimeters since the last time we played each other,” Shouyou says, jokingly glaring at him. “I’m over 1,70cm now, thank you very much.”

“Oh, of course, of course,” Oikawa answers, laughing. “Forgive me. How long’s it been?”

“I’ve been here since last January,” Shouyou tells him, scratching his neck and trying not to look too flustered. “But since we played each other? I was a first year then, so—maybe three, four years. A while.”

“A while,” Oikawa echoes. His smile seems to sharpen for a moment, before he runs a hand through his hair, and the moment is broken. “Shall we order?”

Infuriatingly enough, the waiter has an easier time understanding Oikawa’s nearly native Spanish than Shouyou’s still mangled Portuguese, which annoys him to no end. He takes satisfaction over the fact that Oikawa tries to order feijoada, and Shouyou exclaims You can’t do that! in a knee-jerk reaction. Oikawa only blinks at him, startled. Shouyou stumbles his way through a normal order of rice, beans and salad, before turning back to him.

“It’s dinner-time,” Shouyou stresses. “You can’t order feijoada for dinner. What are you, some kind of monster?”

Oikawa looks way too amused at that. “Me, a monster? Why, Chibi-chan,” he says, winking at him. “I’m just a normal setter with some petty pride.” He takes another swig of his beer. “Monster is what they’re calling your generation, anyways.”

It’s Shouyou’s turn to blink. “My generation?”

Oikawa makes an all-encompassing motion with his hand, nearly smacking a waitress in the process. “Oh, you know. Tobio-chan, Ushijima-san, a few others you must have played at Nationals. Bokuto and Miya, too.”

For some reason, Shouyou feels his face flush. “Oh,” he says, rubbing his knuckles against his chin in embarrassment. “Well, that sort of makes sense. I just don’t see why it’s my generation. I’m not there with them.”

“But you will be,” Oikawa says. “Won’t you?”

Shouyou smiles.

It’s odd, but at the same time, it really, really isn’t. Seeing Oikawa again after all this time is like taking a deep breath in mid-Winter, when the air is just cold enough to make your throat ache, but it fills your chest just right. They weren’t close back in Japan. In fact, Shouyou’s pretty sure they’d never had a single conversation one on one at all before meeting here; Oikawa graduated two years before him, and by the time Shouyou was boarding a flight to Brazil, he’d already been living in Argentina for years. They’ve never been together anywhere other than on opposite sides of a net. Being here with him, right now—it’s nice. 

Not nicer than it was seeing the “Great King” of Aoba Johsai falling face first into the sand after failing to do a jump serve on less than reliable ground, but close enough. It’s been a week, and Shouyou still wishes with all his might that he had recorded a video of it happening. No one will ever believe him.

They didn’t plan on playing together, that first night, but it was the most fun Shouyou’s had in a really long time. And it was such a simple thing, that made him wish he and Oikawa had more time to spend together—just the look in his eyes when the locals challenged them both to a match, sun-streaked and smug. It was almost like thirst.

Of course, they lost, and had to buy beers for (predictably) the buy-me-a-beer brothers. It’s a drastic change, from indoors to beach volleyball, and Oikawa bemoaned the earth, sea and sky throughout their whole walk back to his hotel. He absolutely tried to take advantage of Shouyou’s navigating skills and pretend he wasn’t doing so, but Shouyou just told him there was no need; he would have walked with him regardless.

There was something oddly vulnerable in Oikawa’s face when Shouyou said that. He tries not to dwell on it, but it reminds him of something he told Yachi, once. Do you need a reason to not want to lose?

He thinks Oikawa might understand what he meant.

It’s not like he wasn’t that vulnerable too, that day. Homesickness hit him like a nail to the side, piercing and grating every time he tried to take a breath. He took one look at his phone, his eyes immediately zeroing on his friend’s faces on his lockscreen—Yachi’s beaming smile, Tsukishima’s mirthless demeanor, Yamaguchi looking so proud he could burst, Kageyama’s quiet happiness, and his own face, younger than he remembers and two years out of time—and it was like something just shut down in his head.

Pedro tried to pretend that he wasn’t completely put out by Shouyou’s puffy eyes and red face when he stumbled out of his room for lunch, but he had the courtesy of not mentioning it. Instead, he just served the food into Shouyou’s plate, and they rewatched the first half of My Hero Academia’s third season. Then in the late afternoon, Shouyou went out to the beach to practice with Heitor for their upcoming match, just two weeks from then, and while his friend had to leave earlier because of Nice’s birthday, Shouyou stayed by the shoreline, killing time. He didn’t want to go back to his place and check his messages and see this whole other life he was missing.

Then, in Japanese, a voice called out, You have got to be kidding me. 

Few people would understand what Shouyou means when he says he felt like lightning. 

But it’s been a week, and Oikawa and his team are leaving for Argentina in the morning. It’s Shouyou’s turn to pay for dinner.

“Did you have fun?” Shouyou asks, in between a lull in the conversation after their food arrives. “I wasn’t trying to flatter you when I said seeing you made me really, really happy, Oikawa-san. I meant it.”

Oikawa looks at him with a strange expression on his face, half hesitant and half wistful. “Yeah,” he answers, softly, looking down at his plate. “I had fun, Shouyou-kun.”

Shouyou flushes so quickly it makes him lightheaded, and Oikawa’s expression falls into something more familiar—cheeky, amused, and with just the lightest blush over the bridge of his nose. 

“You don’t have to call me that!” Shouyou blurts out, and then waves his hands in front of his face as if to try and erase the words he said. “I mean—I don’t think I’m able to call you by your given name, Oikawa-san, so you don’t have to!”

“Aw, come on,” Oikawa whines, leaning forward. “We’re friends now. We bonded. Call me Tooru.”

“I can’t.”

“Just once!”

No!

Oikawa blows a raspberry at him. “You’re no fun.”

And, because Shouyou is on his second bottle of beer, and he’s never been known as the strongest drinker, he raises his eyebrows and says, “What are you gonna do about it?”

Oikawa’s face isn’t like the sun, but it’s close.

(Of all things, this is one he never imagined.

Oikawa tells him about Iwaizumi, up in California. Shouyou tells him about Kageyama, all the way across the word. It’s more a sharing of alone-ness than being together. The four walls of Oikawa’s hotel room are just a measure of combined longing for something they’re both still waiting for, be it a year or ten from now. 

And lastly, there’s just something about Rio, and Oikawa is the closest thing to home on this side of the Atlantic.

Turn off the lights, Oikawa tells him.

And Shouyou does.)


iv.

“Oh my God,” Shouyou says. “Oh my God. Oh my God. Let’s sit down, please, I think my legs are about to fall off.”

Heitor rolls his eyes at him, but is betrayed by the smile on his face. “Oh, the drama.”

Shouyou flops down onto the sand like a marionette with his strings cut short, not even caring that he’s close enough to the water that wet sand is sticking to his trunks. He runs his hands through his hair, and a small pile of gold glitter slowly flutters down onto his legs, and Heitor cackles so loudly at his expression he actually cries. 

“Heitor,” Shouyou whines, trying to wipe the glitter off and only half succeeding, “your wife was the one who told me I just had to put it on, so it’s your fault too.”

Heitor sits down next to Shouyou much more calmly but not gracefully at all, because the guy is eighty percent legs and the rest of it is height. “I told you to not let Nice convince you of anything,” he protests. “That’s on you. And hey, man, you looked beautiful.”

“Thanks, Heitor. I think I may have accidentally inhaled some glitter.”

Heitor pats him on the shoulder. “Happens to the best of us.”

Tomorrow is Quarta-Feira das Cinzas, which means Carnival in Rio is supposed to be winding down, but it’s Shouyou’s second year in a row and he’s not sure if they know what “winding down” means. According to Heitor, as long as everyone is silent and hungover in the morning, it counts. They’re in a nearly deserted part of the beach, with the only other sign of human presence besides them being spirals of colored string and beer cans half-buried in sand, as if someone just left them there to come back to later. 

Shouyou doesn’t go absolutely unhinged for Carnival, thank you very much, but there’s this sort of bubbling energy that sizzles through his skin throughout the whole week when it comes. Pedro isn’t a fan, so he has to rely on Heitor and Nice to direct him to bloquinhos that won’t end up with him mugged or dead in a ditch, or to just tag along. This year, Nice made sure to keep Shouyou close, “for old time’s sake,” as she said, so they could start his farewell off with a bang. That means it’s just past ten P.M. and he’s been out on the street since eight in the morning, there is glitter in parts of his body he didn’t know it was possible for anything to reach, he reeks of cheap beer and vodka, at least one person accidentally pissed on his shoes, and he has to throw his whole outfit away first thing in the morning. 

He’s so happy he sort of feels lightheaded. That might also just be all the weed he breathed in throughout the day.

Nice insisted he and Heitor go on to do what they wanted, because she was going to some sort of after party with a few of her friends from college, so they wandered off slowly—sometimes being caught in waves of another oncoming bloquinho, or stopped by people who’d heard Shouyou’s accent and were suddenly very interested—until they made it to the same quiet corner of the beach, just a few ways away from where they first met. And he’s trying to keep his head above water.

Shouyou’s leaving Brazil in June. That’s four months from now. 

If anything, being closer than he’s ever been to going back to Japan is making him more emotional than ever. He teared up listening to one of Bokuto-san’s voicemails one of these days, just because he misses his friend so damn much, and just a few weeks ago Pedro came back from a Japanese restaurant with a fistful of chopsticks and a triumphant expression on his face, and Shouyou just burst into tears on the spot. Home is like an always aching wound, and even two years later, he never did figure out how to soothe it. He’s not sure if there’s even a way to do it. 

Heitor helped, in a way. It seems like it’s been too little time and yet a whole lifetime since they met, next to a coconut water stand in the beach nearest Shouyou’s apartment, and Heitor grabbed him by the shoulders and blurted out, Ninja Shouyou, be my partner!

He’s really lucky that back then Shouyou didn’t have enough grasp in the language to understand the ambiguity of it, or it would have made for a much more awkward first meeting. He’d been warned that in Brazil, beach volleyball players were much more casual about partnering up for games, so Shouyou figured that the much more casual actually meant extremely casual, and he went with it. He doesn’t regret it for a second. 

They’ve played some good games, and some great ones, like the one where Nice finally proposed to Heitor. Shouyou isn’t even close to being as confident as he would like to be, out on the sand, but he’s—different. When it comes to volleyball, he’s different. He’s never known how to stand still, but the beach urges him to not ever stop, pulls him by the wrist and keeps his heart on his throat and his aliveness on his feet, ready to jump.

Once upon a time, in a school gym in Miyagi, Shouyou asked Ushijima Wakatoshi what he thought about when he spiked. Ushijima told him, My next move. 

There’s no such thing as memory in volleyball. 

Shouyou tips his head back and looks at the night sky, breathing in deep. It’s late Summer, so the salt is even starker than usual in the warm air. When he came to Rio, one of the things that surprised him the most was that you can’t see the stars when it’s dark, not really, even at the beach. The buildings are too close to the shore, and the city lights bleed onto the sand, glancing off the dark mass of water that is the sea. 

“You know,” he tells Heitor, “I’d never been to the beach before I came here.”

Heitor gasps, turning to look at him. His smiles are too easy, so even expressions that are meant to look serious just end up weirdly earnest. “You’re joking with me. Isn’t Japan an island?”

Shouyou shakes his head, grinning. “Japan is an island, yes, but the prefecture I’m from doesn’t border with the ocean. My whole family also lives in Miyagi, so there wasn’t ever any reason to make it down to the shore.”

“Man, I can’t imagine it,” Heitor says. His lanky legs are splayed out in front of him, so that the waves are lapping at his feet. His sandals sit discarded on the sand next to him, and his black sleeveless shirt is sprinkled with the same pink-and-green glitter Nice used on her own face before the bloquinho. “I’ve lived in Rio my whole life. So did my parents, and their parents, and their parents’ parents. There’s this idea that people who live at the beach never need to go to the beach, but it’s just because we don’t always have to. The seawater’s already in our blood.”

Shouyou hums. He rests his chin on top of his knees, hugging them tight against his chest. “É,” he says. “I think I get that.”

Something in his chest feels like a children’s toy, bobbing through the waves in an empty and wide ocean. By all accounts, it should be sinking, but it isn’t. There’s salt in his teeth.

“Are you okay?” Heitor asks, because for some reason he can always read Shouyou like a book. Or maybe Shouyou has always been this expressive, and his friends back home are just emotionally clueless fools. “You looked like you had fun today, but now you look kind of sad.”

Shouyou shrugs. “I’m just—” and the language fails him, word slipping from the tip of his tongue onto the sand between them. He groans, trying to wrack his brain for it, but it’s no use. He ends up having to say it in English, which Heitor doesn’t speak all that well, so it’s a full five minutes of them making gestures and squinting at each other, as if it would help them understand what they mean faster.

Finally, Heitor’s eyes widen. “Ah!Tu tá com saudade, né?

Shouyou squints at him again, ready for another round of mimicry. “I don’t know that word.”

Heitor scratches the back of his neck, looking way too sheepish for a 1,97cm tall giant. “Eh, I don’t really know if I can translate it,” he says. “I think I heard somewhere that it’s the kind of word you can’t translate? But I know what you mean.”

God, Shouyou hates language barriers so much. He waves his hands in front of Heitor’s face, urging him on. “No, no, explain it to me! What does it mean?”

“Well,” Heitor starts, turning to look at Shouyou fully. He has his storytelling voice on, which Nice likes to say will make him a great father, and he flushes bright red every time. “In English I think you say that you miss someone. But saudade is—physical. It’s the feeling you get from missing. You can have saudade for something, for someone, for a place. I don’t know how Japanese works, but I think saying you’re homesick is the closest you can get in English to saudade. It’s like, you miss home so much you’re sick. That’s on the same train of thought.”

“But does saudade really feel like being sick?” Shouyou asks. He draws a pattern on the sand with his fingers, trying not to dig in. His palms are itching. “Can it feel like something else?”

Heitor looks at him, considering, and then looks back out into the horizon, or somewhere close—it’s so dark you can’t really see where water ends and the sky begins.

“Not everything feels like something else,” he says, “but I think it can feel like hunger.”

And Shouyou bursts into tears.

He hears a muffled curse from Heitor, but he’s too busy trying not to dig a hole into the earth and crawl into it out of sheer embarrassment. He can’t even blame the alcohol, because he doesn’t drink, so he has to grapple with the cold, harsh reality that he has actual feelings that he has to deal with, and other people around him can witness it. It’s mortifying. 

But his skin feels scraped raw, and in the back of his stomach there is a hollowing in the shape of a boy, so Shouyou hides his face between his knees and hugs himself and shakes. 

And Heitor doesn’t move, and he doesn’t ask him what’s wrong. He just puts his arms around Shouyou and holds him tight, and for once in his life Shouyou is so grateful that he’s small, because he can almost hide himself completely in Heitor’s hug. It’s warm, and slightly sweaty, and his skin smells like sunscreen and salt and Nice’s perfume, and it all just makes Shouyou cry harder.

“I miss him,” he chokes out, sobbing against Heitor’s t-shirt. His fists tighten against the fabric like a child clings to a safety blanket. “I miss him, I miss him,” he repeats, in Portuguese, in Japanese, in English, because his brain is tired and his mouth is sour and his hands are empty, because his knees are always scraped and he is always thirsty. Because he is not ashamed of this little life he’s carved out for himself, but thinking about Kageyama never fails to make him stumble. Some days it’s fine. Others it nearly breaks him. The yearning for him is like hunger, and it rises and falls so sharply Shouyou always cuts himself on it.

Dimly, he realizes his friend is humming a song against his hair—the tune is unfamiliar, but the words are soft and the rhythm is gentle, and Heitor’s voice isn’t half bad. Shouyou lets it soothe him back into ragged breaths, and then normal ones, and then he’s pulling away and furiously wiping his eyes with his fists. Heitor lets him take the lead, his honey-brown eyes very wide, and his hands very kind. 

“Don’t apologize, Sho,” Heitor says, quietly, before Shouyou even opens his mouth. “There’s no shame in it.”

Shouyou chuckles weakly, feeling drained out. “Yeah,” he mutters. “No shame.”

Heitor hesitantly turns back to gaze at the sea, but Shouyou can still see the way he keeps glancing back at him.

After a too-long pause, Heitor says, “You never told me there was a he.”

Shouyou tilts his head at him. “Does it make a difference?”

Heitor shakes his head. “No, no, that’s not what I mean,” he says. “You never told me there was somebody.

Shouyou feels very small, and he tries to pretend he’s not nuzzling closer to Heitor for warmth. “It’s complicated,” he says, and Heitor laughs.

“It’s always complicated,” he drawls, “until it really, really isn’t.”

Shouyou smiles, in spite of himself. “There’s no such thing as uncomplicated when it comes to Kageyama Tobio.”

Heitor goes silent so quickly Shouyou’s afraid he’s said something wrong, but when he turns to look at him, he just looks absolutely flabbergasted, his jaw hanging open.

“Kageyama Tobio,” Heitor chokes out, eyes so wide it’s almost comical. “Your somebody is one of the most famous volleyball players in the world? The one who debuted at the Olympics at nineteen years old? That somebody?”

Shouyou scratches the back of his neck, grinning sheepishly. It’s very easy to forget that the guy he’s seen let Natsu do his hair with a completely dead look in his eye, and then refuse to take out the pink hair clips and the tiara for hours, is now on the world stage. “We played together in high school,” he explains. “We were in the same grade. I hated him at first, because he’s an asshole, but—well. We sort of did everything together. He’s still an asshole, but—”

“But he’s your asshole,” Heitor concludes, still sounding winded, but also fond. “That’s sweet.”

Shouyou buries his face in his hands. “It’s not that sweet.” Then he runs his hands through his hair, unlodging another pile of glitter onto the ground. “I don’t know why—it’s only a few months until I see him, now. It’s not like we don’t talk at all. But the closer it gets, it’s like the more it hurts.”

Heitor scratches his beard. “I told you saudade is a physical thing,” he says.

Shouyou makes a face at him. “Any other untranslatable words you would like to teach me before I leave, O Wise One?”

“Sure,” Heitor answers, brightly, clapping his hands together. “There’s two that I can think of— cafuné and chamego. ” Shouyou tilts his head in a silent question, and Heitor promptly continues. “Well, cafuné is when you run your fingers through someone’s hair, but it also means the tenderness, and the innate trust of it, and I’m sure you’re dying to go back home so you and Kageyama can—”

Shouyou screeches. “Stop, stop, shut up!”

Heitor just talks louder, over his protests. “Oh, and chamego—when you’re smitten for someone, and the two of you just want to be near each other and be sickeningly sweet, like—”

Shouyou throws a handful of wet sand at him, and the betrayed look on Heitor’s face is vindicating. He’s also lucky that Heitor is too much of a softie throw some back at him, because Shouyou’s pretty sure he would break in half with the force of the attack. They’ve played a lot of games together, and Heitor’s spikes are scary.

The tide starts to swell, the sea drawing closer to their legs. The moment deflates gently, like falling back into your bed after a long day. Shoyou’s in dire need to do just that. 

Quietly, he says, “Thanks, Heitor. For everything.”

“Don’t mention it,” Heitor answers. “You’d do the same.” 

Shouyou bows his head, acquiescing. Then, haltingly, he goes, “It’s still months until I see him again. What do I do with all that time?”

Heitor shrugs, as if the answer is obvious. “You live it,” he says. “There’s no other way around it.”

Oddly, it reminds him of Atsumu, and the Inarizaki High banner. Who needs memories?

The only thing sports ever promise us is a few small moments of transcendence. And what the hell else is life made of, if not for moments?


v.

Going home feels like leaving it. The flight hasn’t even started boarding yet, and he’s early, but Shouyou already knows he’ll be missing one too many things like a limb. 

“Don’t be a stranger,” Pedro tells him, in Japanese, throwing his arms around him and hugging him tightly. Then, as he pulls away, he frowns. “No, that doesn’t work. Não some, tá?”

“Tá,” Shouyou agrees, smiling. “I won’t.”

“Have you mastered the sand and the wind yet?”, Lucio Kato asks him before he starts walking to his boarding gate. It’s almost funny that the whole reason he made it here at all was because of one of Shiratorizawa’s coach ex-colleagues —Shouyou is still convinced the guy hates his guts.

And the story goes on like this:

On opposite sides of a net, Shouyou tells Kageyama, This time, I’m going to win. 

Kageyama’s grin is all teeth, but his eyes are like the sea in Ipanema during a storm. Behind Shouyou, Atsumu steps into the court with a battle cry, and Shouyou yells with him. His stomach is gnawing. He’s missed this.

After the game, Kageyama drags him to his apartment by the wrist. His forehead against Shouyou’s is the warmest he’s ever felt.

Took you long enough, dumbass, he says. It was never what it should have been like without you.

Shouyou kisses him.

But that’s still to come.

Between the sky and earth, we witness the spectacle of the world, Shouyou thinks. To Lucio, he says, “Not at all.”

The view from the top is the ocean on all sides and an unforgiving sun. And home, too. It’s also home. He just had to take the long way around.