The truth was, he had always been a terrible liar.
Both his father and older brother had given him a hard time about it. “You’ll have a rough time being a lawyer if you don't learn how to be a smooth talker,” they told him.
Kaname Todo was the guy who told it like it was, never mincing words, whether it was informing a clubmate that their karuta form was sloppy or calling out a friend for slacking on their studies. Deception did not come easily to him. Then again, perhaps that was why so many had readily put their faith in him when he had gotten into organizing those underground trade rooms. Something about him exuded dependability. “This guy is doing something illegal, but he’s still got ethics” - that was always the customers’ big takeaway. You had to admit, he’d been a resounding success until he'd called it quits.
If it weren’t for her, maybe he’d still be involved in that racket.
The heiress to I & H Wedding Planning, Haruna Ichinose, was the widely adored campus idol, and though many simply fawned over her looks, Kaname could tell she was no "beauty in vain.”
When people found out he was one of the most passionate members of the Zophie University Karuta Club, their reaction was often one of perplexed confusion, wondering why he wasn’t involved with something better suited to his “image,” like the jurist club or one of the contact sports teams.
Not her, though. A brash guy with a hidden soft spot for poetry was nothing out of the ordinary to Haruna, and the two of them became fast friends. He grew to enjoy his time in the club more than any of his other activities, the camaraderie with his teammates and quiet focus of their matches a welcome contrast to studying the dry legal texts that were required reading for his courses.
If only she hadn’t already been with Koh, he would have done everything he could to make her his. Not that he wasn’t always up for some mild flirting regardless...
The news of their breakup had made him the happiest he’d been in ages. Everything had gone so smoothly once they started seeing more of each other. He made a point of being close to her whenever possible, even if it drew the ire of her overly attentive butler when he came to pick her up from campus. Seriously, that guy always seemed to be glaring daggers at him.
He made sure to look out for her at every opportunity, defending her from would-be underwear thieves and other suspicious characters. He even made sure to hold on to the matching baby chick charms he had bought with the team their freshman year, hoping that she’d notice. In his mind, it was only a matter of time before they’d be a real couple, partying and clinking glasses of champagne, the two of them dancing around a gold and crystal ballroom, him in his sharpest suit and she in her favorite daffodil-yellow dress.
But then she’d caught him in his lie, and all his hopes were dashed. Never had he felt like such a fool. After seeing how heartbroken he’d made her, he promised himself that everything in his life would be solidly aboveboard - literally and figuratively.
They’d made amends eventually; as if by fate, she’d come to collect her textbook from the practice room and caught him alone after she’d done all she could to avoid him.
The moment she’d offered her forgiveness was one of the happiest in his life, and when he made his solemn promise to her, he’d had every intention of keeping it:
“After I make it on my own as a lawyer, can I try asking you out again?”
By the time of the club’s trip to Kyoto, he wished he hadn't been so cavalier.
Kaname feared that in his words to Haruna he had overpromised and would underdeliver in the end.
He thought back to their practice session together and the poem that she’d drawn and read to him aloud:
The river waters part as they rush past the jutting stone...although divided, will meet in the end…
Who knew how long that river ran? Their lives were passing them by in a flash, and in no time at all they would be separated, off to pursue their own careers, he in law and she in fashion, journalism, or whatever else she decided to do with her life.
Much as loved the idea of showing off before her in a courtroom, dramatically slamming his palms down on the counsel table before cleverly pointing out a contradiction in a witness’ testimony or even pointing his finger and yelling out an outraged, “Objection!”, he had to be realistic: it could take years, even decades before he became a hotshot attorney to rival his father. And surely it was inevitable that someone else would come along and recognize what a treasure she was, snatching her away before he’d made his mark. By the time he got his first big case, she’d no doubt be married already.
The thought alone made him sick with fury. He hated the thought of going back on his word, but there was no way he could take that chance.
On the day the Omi Jingu tournament reached its conclusion, he invited her to take an evening stroll with him, alone, with none of their classmates, not even Kyoko, tagging along.
Kaname gently reached out his hands, gently grasping her by the fingertips and pulling her closer, not wanting to startle.
He dropped their hands as he straightened his back and faced her directly, shoulders squared, fully holding her gaze.
“Haruna...” Just like the day she’d confronted him, he felt weak and exposed. No mock debate partner had ever had the same effect on him that she did.
“I want to break the promise I made with you,” he said, voice barely above a whisper. The look of hurt disappointment in her widened eyes was enough to cause a clenching in his chest.
“But Kaname, I thought you said you’d give up all that shady business…” He detected a certain edge to her voice as she reproached him, accompanied by a fiery look in her lovely eyes. Uh oh, better explain himself fast before her nationally ranking hand slap paid another visit to his face.
“I have stopped,” he said emphatically, “All of it: the parties, the deals - I told all my contacts they’d never see me operating a venue like that again.” He was speaking the truth, and Kaname felt a wave of relief surge through him at being able to tell her everything without so much as a hint of deception.
“What I meant was...” He relaxed his posture slightly as he let out his held breath, preparing himself to say the words he’d kept bottled up inside for so long. His hand cupped her cheek and tilted her head up to look at him.
“I want us to be together. Now, not later.” The hand fell as she pulled back, eyes wide with what he hoped was curiosity and not doubt.
“I can’t wait until after law school,” he interrupted, wanting to end her confusion as quickly as possible. “Look, I’m aware of all the problems you were having with the Futaba twins and your parents and all the fuss about them wanting you to get married. And now you’ve got all these other people making life a hassle for you, like how Hiiragi never leaves you alone.” Just thinking of the name of their senior made his blood heat a bit - the guy had always given off bad vibes, and he could have sworn he was trying to jinx him during the tournament. Thankfully he’d been able to correct his downward trajectory and rebound by thinking back to that sunlit afternoon in the practice room when he and Haruna had reconciled.
“So, what I’m trying to say is...” He held his head up and looked her straight in the eye, “I love you, and I want to protect you. Please give me that chance.”
“Kaname...” her voice wavered with uncertainty, but the blush that appeared on her cheeks gave him hope. She took a step closer, and he braced himself for her answer.
“Yes,” His heart swelled. “I-, I want to believe in you. Even after everything that happened, I know you never wanted to hurt me.” She looked at him with a resolute expression. “I’m willing to give it a try, but please...”
“I won’t let you down.” Before she could say “Don’t lie to me again” Kaname made his move, leaning forward to press his lips against hers in the lightest of touches.
It was an honest man's kiss.
He pulled back far sooner than he wanted to, watching her face carefully for any sign of disapproval.
She surprised him by standing on her tiptoes and returning his kiss with fervor. The sensation of her fingertips brushing against the fabric of his jacket collar made his pulse quicken, and for once he was the one left flustered.
They walked through the cool night air together hand-in-hand, and it felt as if all the dejection and self-deprecation of the last few months had finally been lifted from his shoulders.
“I know this was supposed to be our last tournament with the club, but I hope we can keep playing together, you know, just for fun.”
“Of course,” she answered cheerily. “Those times when we got to practice together were always so nice and peaceful.”
“Mmm, yeah. I could listen to you read love poems to me all day long.”
Kaname relished the sound of her embarrassed giggling as she turned to hide her laughter, and he fought the urge to pinch her cheek. Hiding a wicked grin of his own, he tightened his hold on her hand.
In a moment of arrogance, he’d lost sight of his true self, but her patient and forgiving spirit had
helped him find his way.
He vowed to himself then that no matter how swiftly the river of life’s currents flowed, their paths would never diverge again.