Wednesday June 15th, 2033
Stadion An der Alten Försterei, Berlin, Germany
Nadeshiko Japan had gone abroad for a week for a triad of friendly matches with SF Frankfurt, and national women's teams of Denmark and the Czech Republic. Inter-high back home was in the middle of it's intermission, so Keiko had taken a week off from school, at the cost of having to take make-up classes once she got back. Suzuka was here as well, also on leave from college. Today's game was between Nadeshiko and SF Frankfurt, which was nearing the half-time break, with Japan currently leading at 5-2.
"Und Unternehmungen heizen oben! [And things are heating up!]" said the commentator in German "Die Aizawa Mutter-Tochter-Duo hat Sache schwierig für unsere Mädchen gemacht, und es scheintals würden sie nicht gehen, um up zu lassen. [The Aizawa Mother-Daughter duo has made things difficult for our girls, and it seems like they're not going to let up.]"
"Things are looking hot so far!" Keiko thought as she passed the ball to Meiko
Meiko passed two German midfielders before finding herself being blocked by three at once
"It's yours!" Meiko exclaimed as she heel-passed to Suzuka behind her
"Nice pass!" Suzuka replied when she received it. She took the ball even further toward the goal before being blocked by a huge defender "Aus meinem Weg! [Out of my way!]" Suzuka told the defender
"Du gehst nirgendwo, Asian! [You're going nowhere, Asian!]" the defender replied
"Vielleicht hast du Recht. [Maybe you're right.]" Suzuka replied slyly before passing to Keiko behind her
"Und Akitsuki geht auf Aizawa Jr! [And Akitsuki passes to Aizawa Jr!]" the the annoucer "Ihre Teamkollegen und Mutter stecken und sie ist eins-zu-eins mit dem Torwart, kann sie ziehen Sie ihn ab? [Her teammates and mother are stuck and she's one-on-one with the keeper, can she pull it off?]"
She did! Keiko feinted kicking left, the keeper fell of it, and she kicked right instead, right into the goal. Just as half-time started, it was now 6-2 for Japan.
"In der 45. spielminute. Tor für Japan, durch den spieler mit der nummer 9, Keiko Aizawa. Neuer spielstand, SF Frankfurt... zwei. Japan... sechs. [In the 45th minute of the game. Goal for Japan, scored by the player with number 9, Keiko Aizawa. New scoreline: SF Frankfurt... 2. Japan... 6.]" said the stadium announcer
"Good job everybody!" said Taeko "We just barely tied with Denmark the other day, but this is just fantastic."
"Like we were going to let ourselves get shown up, right girls?" said Meiko
"Right!" the team chorused
"By the way, Keiko, Nana-san?" said Nanami
"Yes?" Nana replied
"Is it really okay for you two to be here?"
"Well...." Keiko replied awkwardly. Kakeru's surgery was today. Just before they took him to the operating room, Kakeru told them to go play in the match. "Papa told us we should play, so..."
"We all know you want to be there when news come on whether the surgery succeeded or failed." said Mina Meier, who had wandered over to their bench
"She's right." said Taeko "We have a four-goal lead now, I think you two can go. Family's more important anyway."
That last sentence did it. Without further ado, Keiko and Nana left for the lockers and changed. They then met Mina in the parking lot, having called a taxi for them
"Nehmen Sie sie in Charité, auf der Doppel! [Take them to Charité, on the double!]" she told the driver, handing him €70 "Stimmt so. [Keep the change.]"
In just fifteen minutes, Keiko and Nana had arrived at Charité, where Kekeru's life-saving surgery was taking place. Evident to Kakeru's fame as a soccer player, the press was crowding the entrance while being held back by police and hospital staff. When Keiko and Nana arrived, the press started pestering them with questions, but neither of them understood German and could only reply with a "ノーコメント。 [Nōkomento./No comment.]". It was only with the help of the police and hopital staff that they were able to enter the hospital at all.
When they reached the room where the surgery was being performed, already there were the rest of the Aizawas, including Kakeru and Nana's parents, Saito, Ryuichi Araki, Yusuke Saeki, Koichi Hibino, Leonardo Silva, who Keiko was determined not to look at, Mai with Yusha in her arms, Kota Nakatsuka, Michiro Takase, Kaoru Matoba, Teppei Iwaki, and Ayaka Mine. The sign "Chirurgie im Gange [Surgery in Progress]" still shined above the door.
"Back already?" Mai asked as Nana sat next to her "What about the game?"
"It's only half-time, and Nadeshiko is currently leading at 6-2." Nana replied "They don't need us right now. And Kakeru is more important."
"Was the press out there bad?" Silva asked
"You have no idea." Nana replied
"You Kakeru's eldest kid?" Kota asked as Keiko sat with Saito and held his hand
"No, Baka, she just happens to look exactly like the man. Seriously, Kota." said Araki
"Where are the rest of Papa's friends?" Keiko asked
"Other places. They'd much rather be here, but they had engagements they can't get out of." said Kaoru "Oda-senpai really wanted to come as well."
"Any news?" Nana asked
"Nothing yet." said Yusuke
A half-hour after they arrived, Taeko and Suzuka arrived and told them that Nadeshiko won 3-7. Time seemed to go by slowly that afternoon. Keiko held Saito's hand tight but never took her eyes off the sign above the door. It wasn't until Kota addressed her that she adverted her attention
"So... when is it?" Kota asked Keiko after three hours of waiting
"Come again?" Keiko replied, turning her attention to Kota
"I just noticed that ring on your finger. When's the wedding?"
"We are not.... Oh, just forget it." Keiko replied before turning her attention back to the sign
"Just trying to make conversation with ya. None of us have seen or spoken to ya since you were just a small child. I just thought-"
"Oh, give it a rest, Kota-kun!" Nana snapped "None of us are in any mood."
"But-" Kota tried to say something back, but Yusuke put a hand on his shoulder and shook his head
Another hour later, Saito spoke to Keiko for the first time since she arrived
"Hey." Saito said, getting Keiko's attention "You wanna go see Sanae?"
"What for?" Keiko asked
"The doctors are going to take the bandages off her eyes shortly. I'm sure she'd love to see you."
"If it was successful. (sigh) Alright, I'll go."
Saito and Keiko got up from the bench, and Saito led Keiko to Sanae's ward. A few weeks prior, Sanae had come abroad beforehand to receive a surgery of her own. A surgery that would give her her sight back. The chances of success were just as slim as Kakeru's but the doctors were sure beyond any doubt that they had succeeded. They arrived in Sanae's room in minutes. Ushio, Michiru and Soji were already there. Already there were the doctors preparing to cut off the bandages over Sanae's eyes.
"Keiko-chan, Saito-kun. Nice timing." said Soji
"Any news of Kakeru-kun?" Ushio asked
"Nothing yet." Saito replied
"Wait!" Sanae told the doctor before he could touch the bandages
"What is it?" the doctor asked, who apparently was fluent in Japanese
"I'm scared. What if I take these off, and I still can't see?"
"Don't worry. The doctors who performed the surgery are some of the best Ophthalmologists in Europe, maybe in the world. I assure you that there's nothing to be scared of."
The doctor carefully cut the bandages around Sanae's head and took them away. Sanae had her eyes closed and was a little scared to open them. Then, slowly she opened them. There was a look of surprise on her face once she opened them completely, and she turned her head to face everyone. Keiko saw that her pupils were no longer milk white, but beady black. The surgery was a success!
"I can see. I can see!" Sanae exclaimed as her brother and sister hugged her
"It's a miracle!" Soji exclaimed
"Onee-chan can see us again!" Michiru exclaimed
"You two changed so much!" the doctor handed her a mirror when her siblings let her go "And so did I. Is that Keiko-chan?" Sanae asked, noticing Keiko at last "It's great to finally see you. You're even more gorgeous than Saito described."
"Oh, go on." Keiko replied modestly
"I look forward to seeing your wedding."
"Onee-chan, please." said Saito
"Alright, alright. Now I think you two better get back to where Kakeru-san is." said Sanae
Keiko and Saito left without objection
"Feeling better?" Saito asked as they walked back to the surgery room
"A bit. At least I now know that such a risky surgery can be successful." Keiko replied "At least, your big sister can see you guys again."
"For the first time in almost four years."
They soon found themselves outside the surgery room again
"Well?" Nana asked
"Sanae's surgery was a success. She can see again." Keiko replied
"Good for her." said Ayaka
"Anything new?" Saito asked
"Nothing, Saito-kun." said Mito before noticing that Mr. Aizawa was glaring at him "Dad, don't glare."
"I still don't approve of you!" Mr. Aizawa snapped at Saito
"Give it a rest, Grandpa." said Hiroki
"What Hiroki-kun said." said Mrs. Mishima "It's up to them who they decided to date. Besides, I'm eager to see my first great grandchild."
"Don't get ahead of yourself!" said Keiko as several people sniggered "It's not funny!"
"Take it easy, Keiko-chan." said Kaoru "We're just-"
"The sign!" Takase exclaimed. The "Chirurgie im Gange [Surgery in Progress]" sign just went out
The first person to come out was the lead surgeon. When he lowered his mask, his expression was straight, but he then smiled and said "Gelingen! [Success!]". Hardly anybody present understood German, but his meaning couldn't have been plainer. Everybody gave a sigh of relief or started shedding tears of joy
Minutes later, Kakeru was moved out of the surgery room and into a recovery ward. For the time being, only the Aizawas, with the exception of Saito, were allowed to follow. The entire family was soon standing or sitting around Kekeru's bed
"I still can't believe that he's going to be okay." said Mrs. Aizawa as she dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief
"I, on the other hand, am not surprised." said Mr. Aizawa "This is Kakeru we're talking about."
"Kake-nii's a survivor, that's for sure." said Mito
"Mom, Papa said that he was going to retire for good after this. What about you?" Keiko asked
"I'll continue playing for a few more years." Nana, who was holding Kakeru's hand, replied "Until after the next Summer Olympics. I still want to play with you and Ryo in a big international competition at least once before I retire for good."
"Me too?" Ryo asked
"We all know you have potential, so you best pick yourself up." said Keiko
"That would be a sight to see." said Hiroki
"And good luck in the Youth Olympics next year, Hiroki-kun." said Saito
"It's not final yet!" said Hiroki
"A prodigy keeper like you is bound to get picked." said Mito
"Onii-chan is the best!" Koichi exclaimed
"Keep it down, will you." Keiko hissed "Papa's not supposed to wake up for a while."
"Excuse me." said a voice from the door. everyone turned and saw that it was the lead surgeon who just saved Kakeru, now cleaned up of course.
"May we help you?" Nana asked
"I'm about to address the crowd outside to tell them the surgery was a success." The man told them "May I ask Mr. Aizawa's wife and eldest child to come with me?"
Keiko and Nana both looked uncomfortable at the thought of facing the press, but knew there was no avoiding it, as they were the last of Kakeru's family to arrive. Keiko and Nana willingly went with the surgeon. Along the way, they passed everyone else, and Suzuka came along to provide translation for Keiko. Soon enough, they were at the entrance where the press was still being held back. Once the four of them came into view, the press started taking pictures and trying to ask questions, but the lead surgeon was the first to speak.
"Die Operation war ein Erfolg! [The surgery was a success!]" the surgeon told the crowd "Diese noch nie zuvor getan Operation war ein Erfolg und vollständig dokumentiert. Herr Kakeru Aizawa wird eine vollständige Genesung zu machen. [This never before done operation was a success and fully documented. Mr. Kakeru Aizawa is going to make a full recovery.]"
A reporter managed to get close to where Keiko was standing and directed a question at her "Du bist Kakeru Aizawa älteste Tochter, oder? Wie fühlen Sie sich zu wissen, Ihr Vater wird gut sein? [You're Kakeru Aizawa's eldest daughter, right? How do you feel knowing your father is going to be alright?]" the reporter asked
"Tell them that I don't speak German, and that I've never felt more relieved in my life." Keiko told Suzuka
Suzuka did as asked and the reporters asked no more questions at Keiko, but instead asked Nana and the surgeon. It was more than an hour before they were in the clear to go back inside.
By the time they got back to the recovery ward, Kakeru and Nana's parents had decided to leave early to leave Kakeru with his immediate family. The Shirayukis had already been told of the surgery's success from Saito, and were just as tactful to them. Everyone else, aside for Mai and Yusha, had already left as well, again, to be tactful to the family. No one said a word for several hours as they watched Kakeru sleep, waiting for him to wake up.
"I can't get over how similar a situation this is." Nana said at last after several hours
"Come again?" Keiko asked
"When I was your age, give or take a couple years, I sat next to Kakeru's bed waiting for him to wake up after the accident that killed your uncle. Of course this isn't the same situation, but I can't help remembering it."
"Sorry to worry you." said Kakeru, who had just woken up, taking everyone by surprise
"Kakeru/Kake-nii/Papa/Dad!" everyone exclaimed when they saw Kakeru was awake
"Told you I wouldn't die on that table." Kakeru said to Keiko weakly
"Don't try to talk now." said Keiko
"At least let me say this; you all should go get some rest. Most of you are getting dark circles under your eyes."
"It is almost 11:00 at night." said Mito
"And Koichi here already fell asleep." said Hiroki, whose left shoulder was being occupied by a sleeping Koichi
"Yusha fell asleep a while ago too." said Mai
Everyone bid Kakeru goodnight, the women kissing him on the cheek, and left him to sleep some more. Keiko piggybacked Koichi out of the room. Just before they left, Kakeru called Saito back for a minute.
"You wanted something, Dad?" Saito asked
"I just wanted to tell you to take care of Keiko." Kakeru replied
"Hehe, right." the two of them punched knuckles before Saito left for real then.
Two months later;
After two months, Kakeru had recovered, at least to the point that he didn't need to stay hospitalized any longer. In that time, Keiko's high school team had won the summer Kanagawa Inter-High tournament for the fourth year running, and advanced to Nationals. Unlike the few previous years, they managed to make it farther through the nationals then ever before, but ultimately lost to Aoba High, yet again. This time in the finals. Now it was August, and today Kakeru was giving his last speech to the world.
Thursday August 17th, 2033; JFA House;
"Ohayou, everyone." Kakeru, flanked by Nana and Keiko, said to the press that had gathered
"Kakeru Aizawa-san, now that you have recovered from your surgery, will you return to being a full time player? Will you join in the next World Cup and the next Summer Olympics in Casablanca?" These were just a couple of the many questions the press had for Kakeru, and Kakeru waited until they realized he was waiting for silence to continue.
"Firstly; no. I will not return to being an active player." Kakeru told them "I am retiring. After today I will be spending the next several years as a full-time father and husband. My family means everything to me, and I wish to see my children grow into their own. My time in the spotlight is over, and it's time for my children, and for their generation, to take the center stage. I won't deny that I'll miss being a professional player for our Japan, but I am leaving this fulfilling career behind with no regrets. After... one final run of the field this upcoming Saturday."
Saturday August 19th, 2033; Ajinomoto Stadium.
A few days prior, a short friendly match between the men and women's national teams was arranged as a farewell game for Kakeru. Since Kakeru was technically still recovering, it was arranged as a sudden death round. True to Kakeru's popularity, all tickets were sold within a few hours and the stadium was filled to tmaximum capacity. Everybody who knew Kakeru personally was in the attendance. Keiko noticed the rest of the Aizawas, Saito and the Shirayukis, Mai and Yusha, Yuki and Saki in a front row. Also in the general area were the rest of Kakeru and Nana's high school friends, both teams from Enoshima, Principal Iwaki and Ayaka Mine, and several people she knew from Sakagami.
Keiko, Nana and Suzuka took the front for the women's side, the regulars right behind them. On the men's side, standing with Kakeru for the last time, Keiko recognized Ryuichi Araki, Yusuke Saeki, Koichi Hibino, Akira Takajo, Toru Asuka, Mikiya Tono and Ryosuke Shima. Keiko didn't know the remaining four.
Since this was Kakeru's final game, he was given the right to kick off. Kakeru kicked off with Araki and brought the ball down a few paces before being blocked by his wife and daughter. Nana managed to kick the ball through his legs allowing Keiko to take it. She ran it down a few paces before being blocked by Araki.
"I never thought I'd get a chance to play with you like this." said Keiko
"Neither did I." said Araki "You're so much like your old man, but show me what you can do."
"With pleasure!" Keiko slipped past Araki using the "Witch Turn" and managed to take it near the penalty area, but the ball was stolen by Shima before she could react.
Shima then passed to Takajo made it to the half-line before the ball was stolen by Suzuka. Suzuka took the ball a short way down before being blocked by Kakeru, who had broken free of Nana.
"You probably don't remember." said Suzuka "Three years ago..."
"You were the redheaded Goth with piercings who tried to seduce me, and then I rescued from a rapist." said Kakeru.
"Uh... yes. That was me. I never properly thanked you for opening my eyes."
"You can do that by showing me how good you've become."
"With pleasure!" Suzuka performed a triple roulette to slip past Kakeru.
Once past Kakeru, Suzuka attempted to pass to Keiko, but the pass was intercepted by the Emperor, Toru Asuka. Possession of the ball passed back and forth for over twenty minutes. While frustrated that most strategies weren't working, Keiko couldn't keep a smile off her face. Being able to play with both her parents on the field, and with so many of Japan's best, she was having more fun than she had ever had.
Finally, just short of what would've normally been half-time, the men's team broke through the women's defense and brought the ball into the penalty area. Takajo and Araki led the charge with the women's defenders caught off guard. Araki aimed a kick toward Rin's right, and Rin moved to intercept. This was a feint. Takajo and Araki moved aside to allow Kakeru to take the shot. Rin couldn't react in time, and Kakeru sent the ball flying right past her left.
PEEP PEEP PEEEEEEEEEEEEP
It was over. The men's team had won, Kakeru having scored his final goal, which was met with thundering applause.
"Nice goal, Papa." said Keiko, tears in her eyes and Nana's arm around her. Kakeru replied with a smile and ruffled her hair.
Keiko glanced around and saw both teams shaking hands and bowing to one another.
Near the women's goal, Keiko saw (and she had to rub her eyes to make sure) her uncle Suguru, transparent and invisible to everyone, standing there. He gave Keiko a thumbs-up and a wink and said "Keep up the good work." before disappearing.
The rest of the Aizawa family, along with their friends, was running out to the field to meet them, and the Aizawa family gathered into a large hug.
With Kakeru now officially retired, the Aizawa siblings were given something new to think about. Their own lives were still just beginning and they now had to decide what they were going to do from now on.
Nevertheless, they were even more pumped up for the challenges that awaited them. Especially Keiko, inspired by her father's perseverance. Her dream of becoming "The Next Knight in the Area" was only just beginning.
The Next Knight in the Area: The End