Chapter 19: Epilogue - Living the Dream
A few years later
On a personal level, the relationship between Kakeru and Nana kept growing stronger. Despite being sometimes recognized by many people as players, both Japanese youngsters managed to live a relatively quiet and yet happy life when off the pitch. Although several media suspected their relationship to be more than friendly, Kakeru and Nana managed to keep it for themselves away from any indiscretion. Noriko proved to be a great help in helping both her friends to settle down in Manchester, and avoid anything that could lure too much media attention. Kakeru and Nana also managed to keep solid grades in their undergraduate medical studies despite their current professional obligations. Even United's team doctor saw Kakeru and Nana as good pupils whenever he took his time to give them a few tips about his job. Both Japanese youngsters quickly learned a few tricks regarding the job of sports a doctor in a high-level discipline.
Since Kakeru and Nana made the jump to become professional footballers, they quickly became leaders in the Manchester United Under-21 team. Alongside a group of young players of around the same age and despite strong opposition from players who didn't see Nana's arrival as a good thing, both Japanese youngsters dominated the Under-21 Professional Development League. After a period of time in which the first team underperformed under Sir Alex's successors and was stricken with a severe injury crisis, Kakeru was finally given his senior debut in a match in the Europa League. Kakeru's first match with the first team was memorable as he scored 2 goals, including the game-winning goal.
Ian Darke: Towards Memphis, bouncing around. Mata got to it, back again, and AIZAWA has got the dream goal that he was looking for in his debut! And one that he will never ever forget! Written in the stars!
Ian Darke: Lingard again... towards Varela. Clever movement so far by Manchester United, and THERE HE IS AGAIN! KAKERU AIZAWA... AT THE DOUBLE!!!
Just a few days after Kakeru's debut, Nana was given the chance to start alongside him in her own debut. It was a Premier League match against Arsenal at Old Trafford.
Martin Tyler: It could be in early. And it pulls... Oh, ho! Kakeru Aizawa does it again! An instant response to a loose ball. He hits, he doesn't miss.
Martin Tyler: Varela... back for Lingard again. Arsenal trying to keep pace with him... Oh, goodness me! Unbelievable! A double double for Kakeru Aizawa!
Martin Tyler: Mata... Good run by Aizawa making the pass possible. Taking on Gabriel here... Now to Nana MISHIMA!!! Oh, that's superb from the 2 Japanese. And Aizawa this time assists, added to his 2 goals, to allow Nana Mishima to steer in the third, and widen the divide between United and Arsène Wenger's Arsenal.
Later in that season, United won their first trophy of the post-Sir Alex era - the FA Cup. By accumulating solid performances even when they don't score, Kakeru and Nana became important members of the main squad that needed fresh energy to support a few ageing players.
Nana's signing with the club also acted as a boost for the reintroduction process of Manchester United Ladies FC. Since the Ladies FC team was reintroduced, several female players from England as well as from abroad joined in. From time to time, Nana came to those women's training sessions and gave her share of good advice while training alongside them.
Several things have changed at Manchester United over the years. A number of players moved on or retired since only to be replaced by others. Among the older ones, Ryan left the club in order to follow his own path as a manager while Paul and Rio became TV pundits. Nevertheless during a short spell in 2014 as a first team coach, Paul taught Nana the technique to fire powerful long-range shots. Although Nana eventually mastered the technique, her finesse continued to be her best asset as she took her place as a force to reckon with, not least as a dead ball specialist for both club and country.
Martin Tyler: Mishima... long way out! Oh, fantastic goal by Mishima! Not too far for her.
Rob Hawthorne: It is Mishima! Her shot flew over the top of the wall and straight into the top corner of the net. 2-0!
Martin Tyler: Mishima takes the free kick... Köhler coming in! Mishima set it up for the German international, who completes with a thumping header.
Meanwhile, Kakeru was quickly growing into one of the most lethal strikers in England despite fierce competition within the team.
Rob Hawthorne: And here it is with Aizawa. He's onside this time... and Kakeru Aizawa takes Manchester United home and dry. 3-0!
Rob Hawthorne: Given away to Aizawa... Skips past a challenge, and a second... BRILLIANT! What a goal! What a superb goal for Kakeru Aizawa.
Martin Tyler: Aizawa with the HIT! Manchester United are level now. 2-2!
Martin Tyler: Good cross... Aizawa! It's Kakeru Aizawa again!
Since Kakeru and Nana arrived, chemistry was interestingly not much of an issue between both Japanese newbies and the other players.
Martin Tyler: Mishima, Aizawa... brilliant pass to Anthony Martial... Goal! Talk about being on the same wavelength, it was perfectly synchronized.
Rob Hawthorne: Aizawa breaks through... can he score here? He passes it to Jesse Lingard... So unselfish! What a great link-up play between Aizawa and Depay for the goal.
Needless to say, the combination between Kakeru and Nana on the field is almost out of this world.
Rob Hawthorne: Aizawa to Mishima... and back again to Aizawa, BRILLIANT! Great combination by the 2 Japanese youngsters!
Rob Hawthorne: Mishima... It's Aizawa again! YES! Two for Manchester United, 2 for Aizawa.
Martin Tyler: It's the ball that they want from Martial to Mishima. Nana Mishima, Aizawa is there, Mishima squares it to Aizawa! Goal!
Kakeru and Nana performed so well that both were the 2 prime candidates for the PFA Young Player of the Year Award. Despite the mutual competition for the individual award, neither Kakeru nor Nana cared too much about who wins the award as long as they worked on revitalizing the first team with energy alongside other youngsters.
After wearing a higher shirt number when she first arrived, Nana chose to wear the number 7 despite the popular myth that it was cursed since Cristiano Ronaldo left the club. Meanwhile, Kakeru finally settled with the number 19 when it became available. With a flair for drama and heroics, both Kakeru and Nana strengthened their reputation by scoring late key goals.
Martin Tyler: Aizawa... Oh, it's Mishima! Aizawa and Mishima combined and got the game level with 2 minutes to go.
Martin Tyler: Mishima... Oh, and Aizawa runs past Reid. Ogbonna trying to stop him... AIZAWAAAAAA!!! Absolutely magnificent! It's a complete turnaround deep in stoppage time.
Rob Hawthorne: Great ball through for Aizawa... Off the post, MISHIMA'S THERE! GOAL! We've seen Nana Mishima now in the 94th minute. United have done it to Manchester City again.
Faithful to his old habits, Kakeru's finest moment in his relatively young professional career came in a match in which he scored a late winning goal that clinched his first Premier League title.
Rob Hawthorne: Long ball by Mishima to Aizawa... Can he lift it above the goalkeeper? OH, WHAT A FINISH!!! Only 3 minutes to go, he scores the goal that could send the Premier League trophy back to Old Trafford! They can almost taste the champagne.
Although Kakeru and Nana made their way into the first team and did well so far, they never let complacency enter their lives either in football or academics. They still remember all the efforts they both had to make to get there, and thus they still live every day as if it was the last.
Old Trafford, Manchester, UK
On a nice Sunday, all Manchester United players were awarded their winners' medals following the Premier League title that was won a week before on Kakeru's clinching goal. He and Nana were among the players receiving the loudest cheers when their names were announced by Alan Keegan on their way to collect their medals. After the trophy was passed on from the current captain to some of the other players, Kakeru and Nana proudly lifted the trophy together on their turn. Meanwhile in the stands, the Aizawas, the Mishimas and Noriko applauded from their seats alongside the several thousands of supporters. A few minutes after the team celebration started with champagne spraying and some posing for the photographers, the players were joined by their respective families and friends on the pitch.
While all the players' families were mingling on the field, getting acquainted and taking the opportunity to touch the trophy, Noriko came to congratulate Kakeru with a handshake. Noriko had her other arm wrapped around him to pull him closer and whisper into his ear: "Make sure you make the most of it."
Kakeru gave a nod in reply before Noriko let him go. Then he went towards Nana. However, Mito noticed something odd in Noriko's earlier behavior. "What did you say to Kake-nii? What was that about?" Mito asked.
"Just wait and see. It will be great." Noriko replied.
Back to Kakeru and Nana, both a little separated from the group on the field:
"It took us some time, but we finally won our first major trophy and one of the top prizes in club football as key players on the senior team, Kakeru." Nana said.
"I know. But there's still more to do for us ahead: fight to win the Premier League again, play to win the Champions League, and then win the World Cup. Today is a big step, but there is always more to strive for." Kakeru replied.
"That's true, Kakeru. I don't want this taste of victory to be the last one, far from it."
"I really look forward to pursue those dreams even if they may take forever to make it. I'm glad to have you by my side for this." Kakeru said. "But still..."
"What is it, Kakeru?"
"Seven... When you came back to Japan during middle school, it was the first positive thing that happened to me in a long time. Little by little, things kept improving in my life since that time. I don't think I can ever thank you enough for the unwavering support you've shown towards me over the years since. I wouldn't be here today if you weren't there for me.”
"I don't think I would have made it here without you to support me all this time either, Kakeru. I was also running away just like you, but you gave me the courage to push forward." Nana replied as a slight blush appeared on her cheeks.
"Whenever I have you by my side, I feel I can do anything. It's a feeling which I want to last forever." Kakeru said as he unveiled a small box in his right hand. Struck by pure shock, Nana clapped her hands over her mouth anticipating what would happen next.
"I must admit that I'm not the best at doing this. Yet, I've been thinking about this for a while and I thought this would be the right moment to give you this. I wish both of us to continue this journey together forever." Kakeru said as he opened up the box, revealing an engagement ring with a diamond on top of it.
"Nana Mishima... Will you...?" Kakeru asked nervously.
"Kakeru... Yes! I want to! I've been wishing this to happen for years. I can't think of anybody else to love, to have a family with, and to grow old with. You are the one." Nana replied immediately with tears of joy in her eyes.
Happy to hear such positive response, Kakeru took the ring out of the box and put it on Nana's left ring finger. Then both lovers gave each other a short kiss before they hugged each other tightly like never before after the kiss. Within a few seconds, several fans in the stands and a number of people on the pitch saw the moment and cheered loudly in response. Kakeru and Nana turned their gazes towards all the people cheering and applauding, including all of their teammates. Although Kakeru and Nana's first reaction was a mix of surprise and slight embarrassment, they looked into each other's eyes and then laughed out loud at the moment itself. By the time both Japanese players broke the embrace, Noriko walked towards them to be the first to talk about what just happened.
"Well, that was a scene to remember, you two." Noriko said.
"So you gave him the box containing the ring a few minutes ago?" Mito asked.
"I did. Only he and I knew about the proposal plan."
"I wanted to keep this a surprise for today, Seven." Kakeru said.
"And it was the best ever. Thank you." Nana replied.
"Congratulations, Kake-nii and Seven!" Mito said.
"I'm so happy for both of you!" Mrs. Aizawa said.
"I knew this day would come. I'm so proud of you, Nana." Mrs. Mishima joined her voice in.
Although M. Aizawa and M. Mishima didn't say any word, they both smiled. It was all Kakeru and Nana needed to know their approval on this. From there, the Aizawas and the Mishimas came to congratulate Kakeru and Nana with more hugs. Among the Manchester United players and staff, it was veteran player Michael Carrick who stepped forward first to congratulate the newly engaged couple.
"Kakeru, Nana. Well done and congratulations."
"I thought all of you guys would be shocked after this, Carras." Kakeru replied.
"We always knew there was something special going on between both of you since the day you came to Carrington for the first time, so it wasn't much of a surprise. I heard that all the players are willing to make a pledge: that they will do everything to win all the big trophies next season as their wedding gift for the two of you, all the way."
"Yeah, all the way." Kakeru replied before he and Nana each gave their old friend a high five handshake.
The celebrations continued for a few more minutes. Just before he walked his way to leave the pitch with the rest of the team, Kakeru looked up to the sky.
'Do you see us from where you are, Nii-chan? Some of my biggest dreams have become reality today. I know I still have more to do, but I know I can do anything. Will you help me live long enough to fulfill those dreams?' Kakeru asked in his thoughts.
"For sure and even far beyond, Kakeru. I'm still your guardian angel and I'll make sure you'll continue living on for as long as you take good care of yourself. We are bound by a miraculous compatibility with this heart after all." Suguru's voice replied in Kakeru's mind.
'Thank you, Nii-chan.'
"Now go and join her, Kakeru. She's waiting for you." Suguru's voice finished.
"Kakeru?" Nana asked.
"What are you thinking?" Nana asked.
"I was thinking about the dreams which have become reality here today and about what more we can do in the future." Kakeru replied.
"My biggest dream outside of the game has become reality in this place today and I'm really glad it happened here of all places." Nana replied.
"This really is the Theatre of Dreams indeed, Seven. So let's walk towards this future and fulfill those dreams together." Kakeru said
"Yep! Let's go." Nana finished as she bore a radiant smile on her face.
From that moment on, a new chapter had begun in Kakeru and Nana's lives. With their hearts full of hope as they walked off the field, Kakeru and Nana vowed to accomplish more great things together. Knowing how strong they are and despite any setback that might hit them, no obstacle would stop Kakeru and Nana from getting together to the top in the future.
Listen, baby, ain't no mountain high
Ain't no valley low, ain't no river wide enough, baby
If you need me, call me, no matter where you are
No matter how far, don't worry, baby
Just call my name. I'll be there in a hurry
You don't have to worry
'Cause baby, there ain't no mountain high enough
Ain't no valley low enough, ain't no river wide enough
To keep me from getting to you, baby
Remember the day I set you free
I told you, you could always count on me, girl
And from that day on I made a vow
I'll be there when you want me some way, somehow
'Cause baby, there ain't no mountain high enough
Ain't no valley low enough, ain't no river wide enough
Ain't no mountain high enough, ain't no valley low enough...