Here I am, stuck at home with a Firebending toddler and a Water Tribe infant who flings everything she touches as if the world is a giant sandbox. At least she’s humouring mother while I attend to… business.

Honour and such.

Saito’s heart and thoughts raced frantically as he followed Asuka’s father to rejoin the party. He thought about the proposition that he had put to him, and at the same time he thought about the way he had spoken to Asuka’s mother. There was obvious tension there between the two of them. Besides, the disapproval of him wearing so fine a pair of robes as was worthy of their son was clearly shown on her face.

Saito felt nothing but remorse and shame. How could he marry into a family like that? There was no honour in marrying Asuka just because her father had offered to fund his studies and get him a good post in the military. Even though his feelings for Asuka were genuine, it would appear to everyone that the penniless tutor (regardless if he was a student of Piandao or not) had married the student just for the money. And it wouldn’t look good for the family either. They would appear to be foolish in allowing their prized daughter, their only shot to move up among the ranks of the wealthy Fire Nation families, to marry a man of low pedigree.

"Excuse me," said Saito, almost stuttering. "But I have to - " he gulped. "I have to find Asuka. If I may, sire."

Asuka’s father stopped in his tracks and gave Saito a long, curious look. Finally he nodded and replied, “Of course.”

Saito bowed and dashed off to find her.

Back to earth.

Saito was thankful that Asuka’s father could not see his face at the moment, because, to put it simply, Saito was astonished to hear those words coming from his mouth. A man of high position and nobility uttering words like that! Saito had dealt with many well-to-do families in the not too distant past, but this was the first time he had heard such words uttered.

After he had finished changing, he stepped out from behind the curtains, feeling somewhat awkward wearing something that belonged to the family. The materials were smoother and definitely felt very good against his skin. So this was what luxury felt like…

"You mean, you want me to marry her? Marry Miss Asuka?" asked Saito disbelievingly. When he saw the arched eyebrow on the other man’s face, he stopped short and reddened. "Not that I don’t want to," he said hurriedly, "She is a very lovely person, both appearance and personality-wise…" he felt himself smile as he said that, then he continued, "but I don’t think it would be wise. After all," he hung his head, "I am no one. I come from a remote village, with no property to my name other than a small house and the tiny plot of land that my mother uses to grow vegetables. How could I possibly give her the life she deserves?"

The parent.

Saito’s eyes widened when Asuka introduced the man who had just arrived as her father. He had never met him before, even though it was technically his money that he was receiving as payment for his tutoring services. He was even more surprised when her father bowed to him first. Why would a rich lord such as himself bow to a lowly tutor like him? Her father was an extremely unorthodox man to do so. It was such a surprise that her mother seemed to be the complete opposite of him.

"Greetings, sire," he said to Asuka’s father, trying hard not to stammer, but he could not suppress a slight blush when he mentioned that Asuka had written things about him. "I am - I am honoured that Miss Asuka has conveyed such favourable things about me to your knowledge." He couldn’t help using the formal manner of speaking; anxiety usually caused him to automatically switch to the stuffy manner of speech.

"Now, now," said Asuka’s father with a wave of his hand, "no need to go all high and kingly with me. I’m not impressed with any of it. And I do believe I will take Asuka’s word for it when she says that your character is most admirable and you are a man of high honour, despite your background."

Saito could not help but blush for real this time as he snuck a glance at Asuka, who had turned red as well, “I am most flattered, sire, but - “

"No buts!" said Asuka’s father with a hearty laugh. "And what did I tell you about calling me sire, eh? Call me father! From what I’ve read, I should be proud to call you my son!" He gave Saito a friendly slap on the back and laughed again when Saito nearly stumbled out of surprise.

"Alright then, uh, father…" said Saito with a weak grin. He didn’t think her mother would take to it kindly…

Bittersweet

Saito fingered the edge of his robes gingerly as he stood at the corner of the room, well out of sight of the wealthy, popular kids that filled the party area. He had on his best robes, but even his best was paltry compared to the rich, lavish attire worn by the affluent attendees of the party. No one spoke to him; even the hired waiters did not bother to ask if he would like any refreshments. He caught a few looks of disdain thrown his way and he felt his cheeks burn up with embarrassment.

He looked up, perhaps a little too eagerly, when Asuka was presented to the party guests, and couldn’t help but beam at the way she looked that night. She was absolutely stunning, and Saito was proud to be acquainted with her.

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Surprise

Saito stepped down from the ostrich horse carriage and while the driver attended to his trunk, he carefully moved a precious glass box from the carriage seat, trying his best not to disturb its contents. He covered the box with a red cloth, paid the driver and carried his trunk together with the box into his front yard.

"Hello?" he called out as he set his trunk on the compound. "Anybody hooome?"