Sift through the Mud

Broken Quill and Scattered Ink

Disclaimer: I do not own Ranma 1/2.

:…:…:…:

"Ran-chan," she slowly walked towards him, a blush forming. The okonomiyaki chef was being suspicious, suspicious enough that even Ranma had a bad feeling and swallowed up what was left of his food before standing and backing away slowly.

"Now hold on a minute, Ucchan," he warned, backing up until he hit a wall. He shook. "You can't just…I mean…I—I'm married, for crying out loud!"

"But you were forced into marriage with Akane." Ukyo said calmly. "Isn't it me that you love? I'm sick of waiting, Ranma."

And before Ranma could blink, her lips were upon his.

:…:…:…:

"I'd rather die knowing my killer. Whether he was man, nature's catastrophe, or twisted accident. But oh, to know that I had died because of the heartbreak over the loss of my love…

oh please do not let me know."

~Anonymous

:…:…:…:

Ranma had always had a knack for bad timing.

Once Ukyo pulled away from him, he turned to see Akane, standing in the Okonomiyaki shop's door way, one hand holding Aoki's, and her other holding the cloth over Ukyo's doorway over and away from her face. A look of pure shock and horror danced in her eyes as her mouth opened slightly, and Ranma couldn't help but think that those lips of hers would be so tasteful as of now—no matter how inappropriate that thought in this situation was.

A murmur began to lull in the air as the crowd of customers in Ukyo's shop waited for Akane's impending wrath to befall the poor pig-tailed boy.

Akane followed her instinct and walked up to him, raising the hand that had just let go of their daughter, readying to slap his cheek. Wordlessly, Ranma closed his eyes but did not move, welcoming the punishment.

That poor Akane…how she decided to marry that boy is beyond me.

She shoulda married someone more reliable. Someone of more husband-like material.

His eyes were shut, but Ranma's ears were not. His blood began to boil as he heard the customers looking on were intruding his and Akane's public spat.

When the pain never came, he looked up to see Akane frozen in time, a small whimpering and tug at her skirt. He looked down at Akane's thigh to see his daughter attached to it, tearful and afraid.

"Mommy, please don't hurt Daddy."

At such simple words, Akane let her hand fall limp; her daughter being her only master. Ranma watched in awe at the power Aoki held over his wife. He saw Akane muster the most false smile he had ever seen her sport. Then she knelt, took Aoki into her arms, and picked her up, and abruptly left the shop, breaking the barrier of people at the doorway and letting the murmurs wash over her. The three teardrops that sparkled from her left eye did not go unnoticed. Without thinking twice, Ranma stood from his seat and ran out of the shop, calling his wife's name desperately.

:…:…:…:

"Akane, wait!"

She didn't stop to listen. She wouldn't. Couldn't. Not after hearing thousands of excuses before, her heart couldn't take it. So she kept running, calmly telling Aoki "it's going to be alright, Ki-chan" despite the panic she felt rising within herself. She prayed that her speed would save her today, for she never wanted Ranma to see her tears. So she pushed harder and harder, her breaths becoming smaller, quicker.

Please, she thought. Let me make it home before him. Let me run into my room, lock it, and not see his face for the rest of the night.

So Akane ran forward, with Aoki in her arms, blindly forth in search of their house.

She skidded past people, whispering a hurried "excuse me" every so often, her voice doing nothing to hide the cracking that her tears had created.

:…:…:…:

Ranma had never felt so disoriented. As a martial artist, he should know how to react, when to react; his reflexes that he had trained with all these years were so useless when it came to matters dealing with Akane, even after two years of marriage. Why didn't he train in the Understanding-Akane-In-Every-Second-Of-Her-Life-Martial Arts?

Heh. That would come into handy. I need to develop that one day.

In his moment of thinking, Ranma ran straight into an angry, cross-armed young man with a yellow and black bandanna wrapped around his forehead.

"Ryoga," the pig-tailed boy muttered reluctantly. "I seriously ain't got time for this today…"

"Ranma!" the lost boy declared loudly, grabbing the collar of Ranma's shirt. "I'm gone for two days—"

"Two weeks, man."

"—and I come back to see Akane-san running through town, crying? Don't you have any sympathy? If I married her, she'd be smiling all the time, with a bouquet of roses in her arms every second of the day!" His grip on Ranma loosened, and a blush formed on his nose. Ryoga stared off into space, daydreaming. "If Akane-san and I were married…" he whispered longingly.

Ranma frowned. And gave him an uppercut straight into the stomach. "Cut that out! You an' her ain't ever gonna get married, got that?"

Recovering quickly, Ryoga put on a straight face. "So what did you do to her this time, Ranma?"

Ranma wiped a hand down his face. "Why's it always gotta be me who does everything wrong?"

Ryoga stared at his rival-friend and crossed his arms. "That's because it always is you who does everything wrong."

Ranma sighed. "Ukyo came onto me, and Akane happened to walk in. At the right exact time Ukyo was k-kissin' me."

"And that's not your fault? I would see why Akane is mad…"

"No, that's just it! It was Ukyo that came onto me, not the other way around. I didn't start it!"

Ryoga shook his head. "It doesn't matter who started what. Did you try to stop Ukyo?"

Ranma looked shocked. "Whose side are you on, man?"

"Most definitely not yours. Well, did you try to stop her?"

Ranma sat on the concrete below him, his eyes downcast. "I—I couldn't think straight. It all happened so freakin' fast…I…I couldn't react. I just…stayed there." He looked up at his standing friend. "But that don't mean that it was my fault! If Ukyo didn't try anything, nothin' woulda happened—"

Ryoga sat down on his backpack and set his umbrella down. Then, lifted his pointer finger and spoke sagely. "Think of it from Akane's perspective, Ranma."

"What?"

"What if it had been you who walked in on Akane-san, and she was the one kissing someone else?"

Ryoga blushed, wishing the 'someone else' was him for once in his life. Shaking his head free of the selfish thoughts, he looked back and Ranma. A red glow seemed to radiate off of him as the pig-tailed man stared past Ryoga, determination lining his features.

"I'd kill him."

:…:…:…:

"Goodnight, Aoki." Akane tucked her daughter into bed and kissed the crown of her head. "Sleep tight."

"Mommy?" she called out quietly, right as Akane grabbed the doorknob of her door.

"Hm? What is it?"

"Are…are you okay?"

Akane gave her best 'Kasumi' smile, wiping the bit of tears left. "Mhm. I'm fine, Ki-chan. Don't worry. Your father and I are going to be okay."

Her daughter nodded, her black pigtails bouncing cheerfully, then lay down to sleep.

With one last look over her shoulder, Akane stepped out.

When she stepped out of the room, she nearly ran into Ranma's chest. She looked up at him with narrowed eyes, pulling the door behind her shut.

"What do you want?"

Ranma flinched at her tone.

"Akane, we have to talk—"

"All we ever do is talk, Ranma." She whispered, turning towards the guest room. "Good night. I'm going to sleep."

A look of horror filled his face and he felt the bile rose in his throat. He gulped it back down and whispered anxiously: "Where? In there?"

"Yes." She muttered. Anywhere away from you.

Ranma felt his pigtail animatedly lower. The thought of sleeping alone, having those nightmares of Jusendo, and waking up, not being able to assure that his wife was beside him, racked him of his sanity. He shook his head to rid of the thought and reached his hand out towards her, only to see her already a good five feet away.

"I—you know I can't—I can't….sleep without you, Akane." He choked out, hating the vulnerability in his voice, the admittance of how much he needed her even just to sleep.

She said nothing as she entered the room. Abandoning all common sense, he followed the wrathful, fuming Akane into the darkness of the room.

"Go away, Ranma."

He knew better than to counter her. He knew better than to disobey her, to make her even angrier. But he wouldn't let her sleep away from him. He had to explain what happened at Ukyo's shop, even if it killed him. Even if she killed him.

"I…I won't. Not until you hear my side of the story, Akane."

"I don't want to hear it. I want to sleep."

He moved towards the bed. "I will sleep with you then."

He saw the outline of her figure jerk upright into sitting position from the bed with a loud: "No!"

Akane scrambled from the bed and nearly rammed him aside, running out the door they had come in.

"Where are you going now?" he couldn't help but feel that it was as if they were children, playing tag. But looking at Akane's stomping figure walk down the hall, he knew that this was not a fun kind of game.

"To our bedroom."

"What?"

She stopped at their door, and without turning to him, placed her hand on the doorknob and whispered brokenly: "You can sleep anywhere you want as long as it's away from me."

"Akane…"

Her name trailed on the air behind him as he followed her to their bedroom. With no plan, and realizing Ryoga's little pep talk did not aid him much at all in what he should do in this situation, Ranma walked into the room with only one thing in mind:

This wasn't my fault, Akane Saotome. And I'm gonna make sure you understand that.

:…:…:…:

"So…you'd murder the guy kissing Akane?"

Ranma blinked. Twice. "Well, yeah. Of course I'd fight him. It's kinda my thing, Ryoga."

"Well, what I was trying to get at was how Akane felt when she saw you."

"She wants to kill Ukyo?" Ranma scratched his head. "I hope those two leave me out of it."

"Idiot!" Ryoga pulled him to his feet. "Akane feels hurt right now! And it doesn't matter if you think you started it or not, you have to apologize to her! Saotome, go right now and tell her sorry or I'll make you pay!"

:…:…:…:

He grabbed her waist, and with all of his strength, tackled her onto their bed.

Way to go, Ryoga. He thought sarcastically. I already knew I have to apologize to her before I ran into you…

"Let go of me, Ranma!" She beat his back and struggled to kick his abdomen. He defended himself, nearly pushing all of his weight onto her body so that she could not move.

"I'm not letting you go." He answered calmly, grabbing her wrists and pinning her down, sitting upon her stomach. "If you just listen, there's nothing to be mad about!"

Struggling and squirming, she narrowed her eyes and gritted her teeth at the sight of him. "I hate you!"

Ranma let out a 'tsk,' annoyed with her stubbornness. Why is she so mad over something that wasn't his fault anyways? Why was she always mad? He fought back with the only tactic he knew: making her even angrier.

He leaned forward, a few inches from her face. "I don't care what you say; you're jealous."

"I am not jealous, you egotistical jerk!" It was the phrase she said often, but this time, Ranma could almost feel the scorch in her voice. "What you do with Ukyo is none of my business!"

"Then quit bein' mad at me!" He grunted when her knee made contact with his hip. "Ow, Akane!"

"You think that that is going to work on me? You've got it all wrong, Ranma!" She screamed, tugging her wrists and kicking in an attempt to escape. He held on tightly, and, with a small prayer asking for good luck (for his lack of a plan), leaned forward, and pressed a kiss to her lips.

If I just shut her up, then maybe she'll stay quiet enough to listen…

She let out a surprised whimper against his lips, then quickly jerked her face to her left, pulling away from him.

"Stop it, Ranma!"

Making sure that he had his hold on her still, he followed her, trying to kiss her again. She jerked to the right, letting out an irked growl from her throat.

"I said to stop!"

"You ain't the boss of me." And he leaned down again, following her lips with his own.

"Don't, Ranma, or you'll be sorry!" But by the time she had finished her threat, she felt her husband's soft lips upon her own. Not in a kiss, but just a covering, just sitting on the surface of her lips, afraid to proceed.

The instant she felt his lips brush against hers, Akane couldn't stop the tears from flowing down her cheeks.

…She had never felt so weak, so vulnerable, so ashamed, in her life. She stared at the man she was wedded to above her, his eyes shut tight and his nose against hers, his lips against hers, and a warm breath fanning against her cheek. She suddenly found herself wondering, when did I start being in love with him this much?

So much that I can't even…can't even threaten him with divorce.

No matter what he's done, I don't even have the will to hurt him back.

When have I ever allowed a man to have this much control over me?

Feeling wetness against his own cheek, Ranma, startled, pulled away without a second to spare. Insane panic began to surface in his eyes.

"H-hey, A-Akane, why are you—am I hurting you?" He loosened the grip on her wrists but didn't let go, and rose his hips above her own so that he was no longer pressing his entire weight upon her stomach.

The weird thing was, Akane had no sobbing sounds coming from her lips. Silent tears cascaded down, spilling from her core.

She turned away from him, ashamed. "I'm not hurt."

"Idiot, Akane feels hurt right now."

Ranma stared absently, always speechless when it came to her crying.

"So go and apologize…"

Are you really taking things this hard, Akane? Ranma wondered. Isn't it obvious that I married you—not Ukyo, or Shampoo, because I…I lov—love—

And it hit him. Hard. In the two years of marriage, ever since the incident at Jusendo, Ranma never once told Akane out loud how he had felt about her. Even when he had chosen to propose to her, he had nervously shoved the small box with the ring inside and stuttered out "j-just m-m-ma-marry me Akane, and get our dads off of our backs…". Not once had he made it clear that he loved her.

…but didn't he show her his love for her? These two years, he had grown a lot since their engaged years. He was able to hold her hand, kiss her nose when he was done with work, hold her, touch her, in ways he could only dream about when they were engaged.

…was that not obvious enough?

…Did she still think, that after all of these changes he had undergone for her, that they were just 'forced' together?

Her whimpering brought him back to reality. And suddenly, Ryoga's stupid conversation made sense.

Akane is hurt. And when she is, so am I. I need to fix her. I need to tell her that I love only her.

I need to fix her. I need to fix myself.

I need to be a better husband.

"I'm not crying!" Akane shouted. "Nothing you do hurts me. I don't care. Whatever you choose to do is your choice alone. We came into this marriage knowing that we were forced; we do not relate as husband and wife. I accepted that. And this is what I choose. It's my choice alone."

The tables turned. Ranma felt his heart twitch at that, no longer feeling the pain and panic he had experienced seconds earlier. He frowned. "Are you saying that you don't care at all 'bout our marriage?"

She looked up at him, in all her tearful glory. "None whatsoever."

He grit his teeth.

Liar. I ain't gonna let you think that we went through all this for nothin'. You're not gonna win this fight, Akane…I'll prove to you that we…that we love each other…that I love you…

"Then tell me why you're crying when you saw me with Ukyo. Tell me—I dare you—that you don't care about me."

He stared down, challenging her to say what they both knew was a lie. But that didn't stop insecurity to form doubt in him; didn't stop the quivering of his hands that held his wife down beneath him; didn't stop the perspiration from forming to align his brow. It had made sense earlier; Akane felt hurt and betrayed—Ranma understood that. So why is it now that she's acting all tough? And why is everything now unraveling, not making any more sense? Why is it that now he didn't know what was what anymore, whether or not she loved him, whether or not she was hurt, whether or not he was being a good husband in the first place?

But he knew one thing for sure. If she doesn't love him…

Say it…say you don't care…

With a burning fire lighting her eyes, her tight lips opened, she took in a gulp of air, and screamed her love for him.

Say that you don't care…and I'll…

"I don't care one bit about you, Ranma Saotome—!"

I'll…

Ranma pushed out the breath he did not know he was holding, and shut his eyes to stop the sudden burning. His heart finally burst open, an old pain that had been stitched with marriage, only now to reopen and bleed harder than before. He roared her name and fell forward, slamming a kiss onto her open mouth, wishing he had done so a few milliseconds earlier to block out her confession.

I'll die.

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A/N: Wah, just something I've been thinking of for a while. I'm making this a 2-3 chaptered one-shot, just to get back into the groove of writing. I haven't written for a while; man does time fly by! But I think I'll only be writing these long one shots for a bit before returning to older fics, since my creativity wears down after writing a story for too long.

I feel as though my writing really has degraded; this piece felt choppy and unclear, but I was unsure how to fix it and did the best I can. I appreciate any deep feedback and/or criticism; an artist's one true desire is to perfect his/her craft. I am grateful for all readers who take the time to tell me what I did wrong and what I did right.

Please R n R! And thanks for stoppin' by. My update will be, at most, 3 weeks from now.