Their goodbye took place in the middle of the cobblestone sidewalk. Oikawa and Hinata had spent a good deal of time together after their random run-in in South America, rocking the beach volleyball scene in some riveting ways. A wheeled suitcase at his side, Oikawa extended his hand to bid Hinata adieu.
“Well then, take care of yourself, Shrimpy—no,” Oikawa interrupted himself. The months he’d spent with Shouyou Hinata made such a pejorative nickname unseemly. “Shouyou.”
Oikawa laughed internally at the way Hinata’s eyes sparkled like the ocean at earning the older man’s endearment. Shouyou grabbed Tooru’s wrist and tugged so hard Oikawa thought he’d rip it off.
“You bet I will! Thanks so much for everything!”
They bantered a bit until it was time for Oikawa to head on his way. “I’m going to beat everyone,” he coolly quipped. “Be ready.”
“Sure!” Hinata daftly exclaimed, earning a wry leer from the setter.
“Uh, you’re included in that, y’know,” he futilely replied. “Ah, well. See you later,” he peaced and started over the crosswalk. Hinata remained, watching him go. Tooru pulled out his phone to check his flight status. He opened his emails.
In the middle of the crosswalk, he halted, glaring at the cell phone. Shouyou blinked in confusion.
Oikawa put away the device, spun around with a wide smile, and walked back to Shouyou’s side of the street.
“My flight’s canceled. I’m leaving tomorrow,” he said offhandedly.
He didn’t know how to react at first. Part of him figured surely Oikawa had other things to do. But he remembered where Pedro was going that afternoon, and a lightbulb illumined above his head.
He grabbed Oikawa’s arm with a gasp. “We should go to the Matsuri!”
Matsuri was the universal word for festivals in Japan. The fact Shouyou was crying about attending such a thing in Brazil indicated he’d gone even more insane than he already was.
“They don’t have Matsuri here,” Oikawa replied matter-of-factly, still unnerved by the glittering energy in the short guy’s eyes.
“They do! Pedro took me!”
“Come on!” Hinata said and yanked Oikawa down the path to his apartment at breakneck speed.
“Gah! Are you always like this to people?!”
Once home, Hinata couldn’t unlock the apartment door fast enough.
“Pedro!” he screeched flinging the door open and instantly tripping on the threshold. With Oikawa’s hand in a vise grip, they both faceplanted onto the floor in the entryway. Hinata’s roommate Pedro skidded into the hall with his laptop to check the commotion.
Completely unfazed, Hinata sprang up. “Pedro! Did you leave yet?!”
“Help. I’ve been kidnapped,” mumbled Oikawa, still flat on the ground.
“Almost,” Pedro apprehensively answered. Hinata righted himself while Oikawa achingly forced himself up, feeling older than he actually was. “Are you Shouyou’s friend?” asked Pedro of the stranger.
“Shouyou?” the dazed Oikawa replied. “I mean, uh, yes! I think.” He checked his surroundings for any other “Shouyou’s friends” Pedro may be addressing.
“Oikawa’s flight got canceled! He wants to go to the Matsuri!”
Oh, my gosh. This kid’s serious!, Oikawa recoiled.
“All right. Bus is in 15 minutes,” Pedro said and rushed into the next room to put his laptop away and finish preparing.
“Bus?” asked Oikawa, unsure how they would be driving to Japan.
“Yeah,” said Shouyou. “It’s basu in Japanese.”
“I know what it means!”
And without ever understanding what they were doing or why, Oikawa soon found himself following two nerds aboard a city bus and making their way through the city.
The trio exited with several others who all proceeded in the same direction. Oikawa cast his gaze side-to-side at an increasing conglomeration of pedestrians. The fact some were in cosplay took Oikawa aback.
“Here!” Shouyou shrieked when they arrived at the main entrance. Tooru gawped.
A whole road had been shut down, and spanning the center of the street was a trio of ginormous replica Torii gates. The fore gate supported a banner advertising “Rio Matsuri” in both Portuguese and Japanese. Stalls lined either side of the street. Oikawa spotted origami demonstrations, bonsai trees for sale, and kimono modeling. Other booths hawked anime merchandise and accessories. Some stands marketed pocky, Ramune, and green tea-flavored everything. Directly adjacent to it all was a botanical garden dedicated to Japanese horticulture.
“Oh my word. We are in Japan,” Tooru finally said.
Pedro fanned through the guidebook picked up at the entrance, and his eyes lit up on one page. “Shouyou, the anime quiz is at 4! I’m gonna go sign up. The prize this year is awesome!” He sprinted away before Hinata even began waving goodbye. Shouyou then twirled to Oikawa.
“Isn’t this cool?!”
“Uh, yeah, I guess,” he said, still a bit uneasy at the concept of a Japanese cultural festival in the heart of Brazil. “Do they do this often?”
“Every year, Pedro says,” answered Hinata. “He took me last year. He’s been to it plenty of times. And you gotta stay for the dance at the end! It’s just like in Japan—well, sort of.”
Sort of?? Oikawa didn’t know what to make of that qualification.
Hinata began searching for something to do while Oikawa tensely took in the scenery. It was all so unexpected and out of the ordinary (never mind injected with just enough exoticism to feel foreign) that he couldn’t bring himself to become familiar with any of it. Shouyou’s eyes lit up when he spotted a group of cosplayers wearing volleyball uniforms. He yanked Oikawa’s arm enthusiastically.
“Look! That’s from that volleyball manga!”
“Wait. There’s a volleyball manga?” Oikawa replied. Otaku culture totally wasn’t his scene.
“Yeah! It’s real popular right now. They’re making a fourth season!”
“I see,” said Oikawa, trying to pretend to be interested. “What’s it called?”
Mangaka sure make up creative names, Oikawa thought.
Hinata peered at his cohort’s unsettled expression and took a step back. Oikawa was tense and uptight, and it was Shouyou’s job to get him to loosen up somehow. He cast his head side to side, scouting for an activity. Immediately to their side, a plain backdrop had been set up on a park field with several rows of chairs in front of it. While there were professional karaoke groups that practiced for months and performed on the main stage nearby, here was a fun, noncompetitive side event for members of the public to sing. Right now, one attendee sang badly into a microphone.
“There!” Shouyou screeched.
“Karaoke! You should do it!”
“Whaaaaaaaat?! I can’t do that!”
“I’ve heard you singing in the shower after playing beach volleyball. You’re good,” Shouyou suavely declared with a thumbs up. Oikawa felt a wave of humiliation at the realization anyone actually heard him.
“I don’t think I should,” he nervously said. “These people are clearly”—he was going to say “professionals,” but the grating screams into the microphone (which Oikawa could easily outclass) caused him to bite his tongue—“on a whole different level than me!” he finally spun it positively.
But Shouyou had a possessed look in his eyes.
“Oh? So the Grand King doesn’t want to show off how supreme he is?”
Oikawa trembled at the challenging look. Well, Shouyou had a point. After all, if Oikawa went up there it would certainly set the standard everyone should strive for. But he still couldn’t bring himself to say yes. “Well, I—it’s not that, it’s just—”
And then at last, a substantially more skilled singer took the mic and did a much more enrapt rendition than the preceding person. The young adult singer seemed naturally gifted and proud of his God-given talents, swinging pompously to the rhythm of the song. Hinata smirked.
“Yeah, you’re right. This guy’s gonna get all the praise by default. He’s just that good, and he’s not even trying.”
Shouyou’s plan worked. For Oikawa, to think that someone would receive all the glory without having to put up a fight for it was anathema. Tooru could not allow that. If people got top billing, they had to earn it. Talent was something you make bloom.
“Well, these people need to see what real talent looks like,” Oikawa said, rolling up his sleeves and marching to the signup table. Shouyou beamed devilishly.
The duo waited for the singer’s grotesquely extravagant performance to end, earning a raucous applause and even hoots from the performer’s groupies. The singer bowed obsequiously. Oikawa clicked his tongue.
Hinata smacked Oikawa on the back for encouragement, and Tooru nodded before heading up front. He bowed to the person in charge of the playlist who started up one of Oikawa’s favorite J-pop themes as requested:
“Hikari Are” by Burnout Syndromes.
It took a little bit to psych himself during the opening bars. He breathed in and out. And then, when the lyrics arrived, he began….
Hinata’s mouth dropped wide open at the rendition that was better than he anticipated. Soon the familiar song to the crowd of anime fans and Japanese descendants prompted shouts along to the music.
And Oikawa smiled.
When the track ended, the loudest chorus of cheers came in reply.
“Go, Oikawa!” Hinata screeched, on his feet pumping his fist.
When Oikawa stepped away, Hinata grabbed his arms. “That was amazing!”
“Why of course it was,” Oikawa said.
Tooru didn’t feel so out of his element after that. Before long, the sun set, and a lot of people congregated around a mound of wood in the center of a plaza at the end of the street. Leaders in blue T-shirts taught dozens of members of the crowd some sort of dance.
“What’s that there?” Oikawa asked. Hinata’s eyes lit up.
“Oh! They’re getting ready for the Matsuri dance!”
It was tradition to close out with a dance. But before Oikawa could even put two and two together, Shouyou was once again dragging the older man off toward the activity.
“There you guys are,” announced Pedro stumbling on the pair advancing to the plaza. Wrapped tightly in his arms was a plush toy looking like a chibi version of someone Hinata swore he knew.
“Kenma!” Shouyou screeched at the toy.
“Yep!” Pedro proudly declared with the most uwu face ever. “I won the quiz. They gave a Kodzuken plushie for the prize!”
Hinata winked at Oikawa. “This guy’s a good setter. He might even be as good as you.”
Oikawa stared blankly at the toy, unsure how to interpret having his skills compared to a stuffed doll.
“Are you gonna join in the dance?” Hinata asked.
Pedro beamed. “You betcha!”
And all three were soon practicing the routine in advance of the festival’s late-night signature event. The moves were remarkably simple, even if not entirely traditional, Oikawa noted. Some modern dance elements had been incorporated into the routine, and Oikawa couldn’t help but snicker at them.
And once the sun was long set, and after some more socializing, the activity around the pile of the wood reached fever pitch. Staff members tossed even more burnable objects onto the heap. Oikawa wondered if they might actually light the stack on fire or if it was all for show. Pedro said in all the years he’d been here, they’d never actually lit the symbolic bonfire.
“All right. Let’s get the Matsuri’s main event started,” a group on the stage at the back of the plaza, beyond the bonfire pile, announced.
And then, to Oikawa’s surprise, what piped up through the speakers wasn’t any semblance of traditional music but a rocking beat of J-pop.
“You gotta be kidding me,” Oikawa said.
“Come on!” Hinata yelled, reminding Oikawa to start.
Guided by the blue-clad leaders, the whole throng of people—some in cosplay, some in traditional Japanese garb, some like Pedro, Hinata, and Oikawa in everyday clothes—swirled slowly around the cordoned-off pile. While Shouyou found his adrenaline levels peaking so much that he frequently lost the rhythm, Oikawa managed to keep the pace perfectly.
“Hey, Shouyou, your friend’s got some skills,” Pedro said.
“I know, right?” Oikawa and Hinata both yelled perfectly in unison.
They made eye contact.
“All right!” said the person onstage through a megaphone. “We’ve got a special surprise this year. Everyone stand back, because we got permission to light the bonfire in accord with old tradition.”
An unmatched wave of cheering possessed the whole crowd, as loud as any arena Oikawa dared think. And in a few short moments, flames touched to the base of the stack of wood rose to consume the whole pile with a majestically licking orange glow. The music kicked up in earnest again, and everyone resumed the slow circling of the flaming pyramid.
When their energies began to mutually dissipate, Oikawa and Hinata (Pedro still had it in him to dance for another four hours if the event would ever allow it) breathlessly sneaked out of the mass and mounted a hill above the plaza. Seated on the soft grass, Pedro’s Kodzuken plush between them smiling at the blaze, they took a few moments to quietly enjoy the soothing aura from the flames while their muscles relaxed.
Hinata took a peek at Oikawa.
Tooru was grinning. “Shouyou, this has really made me want to go back home to Japan,” he said with a nostalgic glint. “Thanks for bringing me here.”
That note of gratitude was the most heartwarming thing Shouyou could have heard. He beamed as brightly as a child at Christmas.
“Whatever you do next,” Tooru said, “I’ll be watching you.”
Hinata snickered. “I already got a plan what I’m gonna do when I go back to Japan. And then,”—he firmly faced Oikawa—“I look forward to a rematch.”
Tooru grinned. “You’re on,” he simpered.
And they bumped fists in the warmth of the bonfire….