A/N: Two months after the request was made, I finished brainstorming for her request. Tina Cheung, I'm sorry if it took you an eternity to get this from me. Happy reading! It has been awhile since I last wrote Mankin. Ehehehe, OOC warnings on Hao's part.


Awkward. That was the nearest adjective that Asakura Hao could think of to describe the circumstances he and his wife were in. His wife, the insurmountable itako, Kyouyama Anna of the Osorezan Mountains, was not exactly the most affectionate woman in the world. Not that he was complaining, no siree, he wasn't. And it was not just because of her uncanny ability to read what was beneath, behind, and beyond the lines by mere scrutiny of his ebony eyes.

He simply loved her. It was something that he may never tell the world even if he passes away, least of all his wife, because he knew that this kind of truth was just too difficult to handle, not to mention that their prejudices were way too insidious already. In a nutshell, they would all call him a liar.

And the simple truth of loving involves the simple fact of non-condition. He understood it the minute he gazed at her eyes while she emotionlessly accepted his marriage proposal. There was no love for him; it was all for convenience. With his younger brother gone and him being the only way to continue the clan of the Asakura, she did what any dutiful student of Asakura Kino would: marry the other remaining Asakura-blooded man.

He would never be loved back. He would never be in her heart. He may touch her body and possess it and brand it with his name every night, but her heart would always be shut close for him.

Yet inspite of it all, he loved her. Wholeheartedly.

Perhaps that would serve suffice to explain as to why he was wearing a Hello Kitty apron this morning, holding a dish rag and scrubbing the plates. Most of the water on the basin had spilled on the tiled floor already, but he had dismissed it. Making this mess was part of the learning experience of Being a Proper Husband (as Anna puts it), and as long as he had mopped the floor before Anna comes back from her scheduled itako rituals, his soul would be safe for today.

At least he was making progress—there were evidently lesser broken plates tucked carefully behind the refrigerator. A smile of satisfaction sprawled on his face. After dying in trying to make the world exclusively for the powerful shamans, and then getting reborn to try again only to fail once more, what else was left for a trounced shaman like him to do?

Why, become a proper husband to a frustrated mistress of an onsen resort, of course!

And this was just one of the ways to play his role to Anna's approval. His trusty aide, Opacho, would ask him quietly at times why her approval meant so much to him. To which, he could not answer. He could not put into words the feeling of a little schoolboy praised by his favorite teacher for the very first time; the desire to do even more things that would make her nod his way.

He wanted to please her, his darling, impersonal wife.

His pair of ebony orbs scanned the plates closely for any sign of unremoved dirt or soap suds, and along the process, found himself staring at his reflection. His hair was messed up, and his clothes were still drenched even with the pink apron in place. His favorite pair of earrings were gone, as ordered by his chief who found them disturbing. In place of his leather fashion accessory were kitchen rubber gloves. None of his Asakura Hao that everyone-including his own family—feared so much was left, and all he could see was a very abused husband who would probably get scolded for turning the floor into a water theme park.

But the smile on his face seemed to say that he didn't mind at all. How could he mind, when the feeling of being able to cook their dinner right felt like a bigger joy for him than the time he realized that the world acknowledges his power by the fear on their faces.

How could he mind, when his world had started to revolve around his house chores, and how his ability to do them correctly had been a mission to him already.

How could he ever mind, when he could share the futon with a woman who made him forget who Asakura Keiko was, and then hold her close to his heart whenever he was sure that she was already fast asleep to feel his bold move.

No, he didn't mind at all.

He remembered that on the first night of their union as man and wife, she asked him not to expect her to be a perfect wife. In turn, he asked her to not try to become one. He didn't really need a wife in his life, let alone a perfect one which was not compatible to his own imperfect brokenness, but he did need someone like Kyouyama Anna.

He needed someone to snap at him, kick him in the arse, and boss him around. He wanted someone who would need him, even if it was only in dinnertime.

He needed someone who would smile his way when she thought he was not looking, or sew a cute little Hello Kitty apron for him, or tell him that his dishes were like rubber given a slight flavoring and spice, yet would finish everything on her plate.

And he needed that everyday. And the only way for that to happen, and to be sure that it would happen in a long time, was to marry her.

Even if keeping someone like her was troublesome, it was outweighed by his fascination for her. A fascination that through the months grew into a powerful affection that moved him into forgetting his past long enough to make him hold a dish rag without complaint.

Like right now. A lifetime ago, he would not have recognized this kind of smile. That was, should he say, the Kyouyama Anna effect.

"What is a lake doing in the kitchen?" Anna raised her eyebrow at him, making him turn around in surprise. How long had she been standing there behind him, watching him holding up a piece of plate and looking at it in awe and reverence?

"Lake…oh…that…." He peered at his work on the floor. "That puddle…"

"Lake," she insisted.

"Yes, Anna." That was the only appropriate reply, next to 'Yes, Master, I obey.' He dried his hands with the apron, although it didn't help much, considering its own sodden state. "Well, I decided to be productive and mop the floor while I was the plates."

She gave him a 'Yeah, right' look, but didn't say anything. Instead, she sat down on a chair and tossed her hair behind her nape gracefully.

He caught his breath silently. She could be a nightmare, but she was a beautiful one, in her golden silk strands and fiery dark eyes.

"So where had you been?" he asked casually.

"In the mountains."

"You hunted for our dinner?"

She made an irritated noise in her throat. "I went through a cleansing ritual to prepare myself for the execution of the techniques the Mistress Kino will pass on to me."

"Which one, the cooking of rice that can also be soup, or the massage techniques that allowed the birth of Mikihisa Asakura?"

Her mouth twitched slightly. "Neither."

"So how was the ritual?" he asked, now mopping the floor. He liked hearing her voice. It may be anything but animated, but it was Anna's.

"It was…cleansing," she said, shrugging.

"It's been awhile since I last conducted rituals. How did the purification process go?"

"The same as yours."

He smiled cheekily. "You took a bath in a tub of mineral water?"

She snorted. "About our dinner…"

"What do you want?" he asked.

"Just cook." It was all so simple, yet he felt that it meant something more.

Acceptance.

She was willing to have what he could give, and try to be happy with it. She would not look for anything else, anything that Yoh might have given her. What he could give may not be what she wanted, but she would take it.

At the uncertain depths of her eyes, he could read why. She knew. He didn't know how, but somehow, she learned about what he feels for her.

Perhaps she was too selfish, or maybe she was just too honest with herself, but he also knew that she was not about to give him what was rightfully Yoh's.

But she could give a little. He was fine with that. The thought of Kyouyama Anna extending her hand to him was enough; may it be motivated by pity, compassion, or perhaps if he allowed himself to be fanciful, love.

Theirs was a strange two-way exchange of tenderness. Give a little, take a little, and pretty much nothing would be changed. It was making the best out of the circumstances that would last a lifetime. To ask for her heart when he already had almost her entirety would be simply too rude, the way it would be for her to command him not to fall in love with her because she was powerless to reciprocate his feelings.

Thus, their one-of-a-kind marriage.

Awkward, but he would not ask for anything more.

"What are you doing there, standing around like an idiot?" she snapped.

He snapped out of his daze. His wife was standing in front of him, hands on her hips. Her left hand was holding a mop.

A sheepish grin crawled on his face. As he was about to reach for the mop, she suddenly stepped back and begin to clean the mess herself.

"A-Anna," he said, sweatdropping. "I'll take care of that—"

"Concentrate on our dinner," she snapped, eyes on the liquid mess. "We'll finish faster if we do this together."

Something cold touched his heart at the word.

Yes, together. They would act as one to make this marriage work out.

Love did not bind them in marriage, at least not in the way the romance stories go, but they were determined to make it last.

Together.


Not Your Average Marriage

A Hao/Anna Request by Tina-chan.