With the Winter Olympics coming to Japan next month, it surprises
me that no one's trying to write anything for Ranma to do at Nagano.
True, he's a martial artist, and that sort of sport only comes into
play (if even then) in the Summer Games. Still, he's a premier
athlete, and probably would do well in any event he entered.

Assuming, of course, he wanted to.
And therein lies this tale...

With heartfelt appreciation and apologies both to Rumiko Takahashi
and Jules Feiffer.

NagaNO!

A Ranma1/2 fanfiction
by Ukyou Kuonji


It had been twenty-six years since the Games had been held here, and
while Japan never in its collective dreams expected to clean up as
far as the medals went, it had hoped to put in at least a respectable
showing. And this time around, the Japanese thought they had a
fighting chance. They had a young man, a martial artist, who by all
accounts was considered the greatest athlete in Japan... and who
knew? Maybe even the greatest in the world. His name was Ranma
Saotome. In Japan, he was famous enough to have a manga series
dedicated to his exploits. Surely, this talented fellow could fight
for the honor of Japan at the Nagano Olympics.

There was one small catch, though...

He didn't want to.

***

A member of the Japanese Olympic Committee dropped by the Tendo dojo,
where Ranma was known to be staying. He was greeted at the door by
a brash young woman with her red hair tied back in a pig-tail who
introduced herself as Ranko Tendo. "He's not here, and I doubt
he'll be back until you leave."

There is a price to fame, folks, and the price 'Ranko' paid was the
fact that she could be recognized for who she was, no matter whether
in normal or cursed form. The committee member produced a thermos
of warm water and dumped it rather unceremoniously on the girl's head.

"Oh, I think you'll be willing to hear me out, Mr. Saotome." the
official smiled as 'Ranko' transformed. "I'm sure you're well aware
that the Olympics are coming to Japan, and we would like to do
respectably in the competition. We're well aware of your skills,
and expect you'd be honored to represent your country at the
Games."

"Oh, I don't think so, sir. At the risk of seeming a little selfish,
what's in it for me?"

"Why, think of the fame your triumphs would bring. The endorsements
you could do afterward would make you a billionaire. And..." the
official sidled up to him and gave him a conspiratorial wink before
whispering "...think of the women you could have, man! Women
*adore* athletes. They'll be hanging all *over* you."

Ranma's mind had started to warm slightly to the idea at the mention
of fame and fortune. True, he was ridiculously famous already -- the
fact that the official had seen right through his 'Ranko' guise was
proof of that -- and thanks to his fame, the Tendo dojo was doing
bang-up business. So he had a comfortable level of both already.
But hey, a little bit more wouldn't hurt, he thought. Maybe, just
maybe, this might be nice...

But at the mention of women, Ranma blanched. No, he had enough of
them already. More than enough. MUCH more. The idea of bevies of
women flocking to him scared him to the core.

He turned to the committeeman. "Uh... thanks for thinking of me, but
the answer's still no. It's just not worth it." He put his arm
around the official, and began to walk him firmly toward the gate,
talking all the while so that the official couldn't get a word in
edgewise. "Since you've obviously heard of me, I'm sure you're
aware that I'm the heir to the Anything-Goes school of martial arts.
Now, I'm sure that most of the competitions in the Olympics --
especially the winter ones -- don't have much martial arts involved
in them, and at any rate, they've probably got more rules than I'd
prefer to deal with. Besides, non-combat sports don't pose a
challenge. Not like teaching these kids," and he jerked a thumb
toward the dojo, where Mr. Tendo was leading a class of grade-
school children, "how to become artists of my caliber. So you'll
forgive me, I'm sure, but I'm not interested." And with that, he
pushed the man out the door, slamming it behind him.

The man stared for a long time at the Tendo Anything-Goes Martial
Arts School. Particularly, at the closed door. Finally, he spoke:
"We aren't going to take 'no' for an answer, Mr. Saotome. We aren't
giving up this easily." But he walked away, nonetheless.

Ranma, at the same time, returned to the house.

"Who was that, Ranma-kun?"

"Nothing to worry about, Kasumi. Just a fan." Kasumi nodded sagely.

***

Shortly thereafter, the Japanese Olympic Committee held a press
conference regarding the difficulty of drafting Ranma Saotome for
the Games. Upon hearing of his recalcitrance, there was much
muttering about "the nail standing up", and the Japanese press
corps vowed to bend this upstart to the will of the people.

***

RANMA SAOTOME WON'T PLAY THE GAME, read the headline of the Asahi
Shinbun. An editorial ran inside, stating that "anyone who refuses
to play the game is against the game, which means he is against fair
play, which means he is against our very way of life!"

Genma nearly choked over his paper that morning, and as a result,
his son wound up with an extra-large breakfast.

"Hey, thanks, Pop. I can use the extra energy for my test this
morning."

"Do you realize what sort of firestorm you've started, boy?! You've
dishonored the Anything-Goes School by running away from this
challenge!"

"I didn't run away, Pop. I walked away. I just wanna be left in
peace for a change, okay?"

"Peace? PEACE?!" Genma thundered. "Well, that's the *last* thing
you're going to get now, boy! Mark my words!"

***

For once, Genma Saotome was absolutely correct. The Tendo dojo was
besieged with a crowd of angry people protesting the fact that Ranma
had refused to participate in the Olympic Games. "Iconoclast," read
one placard, while another quoted the old proverb "The nail that
sticks up will be hammered down." And they were indeed hammering
at the gate of the Tendo residence.

Things were still reasonably calm inside. Kasumi had seen to that.
Considering the damage that certain individuals had done to the place
in the past trying to get at Ranma, this crowd was really quite
mannerly. They could handle it.

Well, not quite everybody. Soun, in particular, was sobbing his
eyes out. "My dojo! The awful shame on our reputation! We'll
never recover from this!"

Nabiki was patting him on the shoulder and shaking her head in
frustration at his outburst. "Oh, daddy. No one's called to
withdraw from their classes. The fact that Ranma's even been
asked should actually *add* to our reputation. Remember, he's
the one who got this place back on its feet. And now, think of it!
He's so dedicated to teaching, he's going to give up all the glory
and fame and money... that winning at the Olympic games..." Her
voice started to trail off as she mentioned the word 'money,' and
soon faded out completely. She turned to look at Ranma, and her
face was a mixture of a glare and puzzlement. She left her father,
who was by now beginning to dry his tears, and walked over to
Ranma. She grabbed him by his collar and dragged him off to
another room.

"Okay, Saotome, start talking. What *is* the big idea, anyway?"

Ranma grinned at her sardonically. "You're not concerned about the
honor or the prestige, are you?"

She shook her head. "You know me better than that, Ranma. Still, I
know money isn't what drives you -- I'm not *that* wrapped up in it
to not notice. But I'd really like to know: why *did* you say no,
anyway?"

"I don't want any more than what I've got, Nabiki. Too many people
-- too many women, to be honest -- know who I am, and I worry that
this is just gonna make the problem worse, okay? Sure, a little more
fame, a little more money would be nice, but there's gonna be a point
where I'm never gonna be left alone anymore."

"You aren't left alone much as it is, Saotome."

"My point exactly. And I wanna keep what little peace I've got."

She jerked her thumb over her shoulder to indicate the throng outside.
"If that's your idea of peace, Ranma..."

He pushed her aside, and started for his room. "Just shut up and
leave me alone, Nabiki."

As he walked by the kitchen, Kasumi's voice drifted by: "Oh, Ranma,
there's a gentleman from the Diet to see you. Something about the
Prime Minister's Council of Athletics, I think. He's in the living
room."

Mumbling "Why'dja haveta tell me that, Kasumi? I coulda just walked
past and ignored him," Ranma headed for the living room. The Member
was sitting at the table, chatting amiably with Soun and Genma.

Upon seeing Ranma, the MD turned to greet him, face lit up like a
fireworks display. "Ah, so here he is! Our reluctant champion!"

Ranma was having none of the MD's lightheartedness. With a surly
expression, Ranma plunked himself down at the table. "I ain't no
one's champion, got that? This whole thing ain't my idea, and I
don't wanna do it."

"But think of it, son! The honor of Japan is at stake here!"

"The honor of Japan is a crock, you'll forgive me. We don't pull
down a whole lot of medals at any Olympics; why does everyone think
I'm gonna change that? It's never been a problem before."

Soun and Genma virtually fell over at Ranma's impertinent outburst.
The MD's face went grim, but he managed to maintain a thin smile.
"Perhaps you should come with me, Ranma. There's someone who
wants to meet you."

"Yeah, whatever."

"My limousine is in the rear of the dojo," the Member smiled again,
this time more broadly, "How else do you think I could get past all
your visitors?" He stood up. "Mr. Tendo, Mr. Saotome, I thank you
for the pleasure of your company. Mr. Tendo, please extend my
thanks to Kasumi as well. She is a marvelous cook, ne?" Soun's
head bobbed up and down proudly. "And now, Ranma, if you would
join me..." and he walked out.

Ranma shrugged his shoulders and followed the Member out of the dojo.

***

As Ranma climbed into the sleek limo, the Diet Member muttered a few
words to his driver. The driver's eyes widened momentarily before he
nodded and started up the vehicle.

As the Member got inside, he couldn't help smiling as Ranma's
amazement. The young man was looking all around at the many
gadgets and fixtures inside. "So this is how you government bigshots
get around, ne? And to think I always haveta *walk* everywhere *I*
wanna go. I'm impressed."

"I can tell. And I'll wager you'll be even more impressed when you
meet your biggest fan today."

"Biggest fan?" Ranma gulped miserably.

The Member noted his reaction, and moved to assuage his fears.
"It's nothing to worry about, Ranma Saotome. You merely have...
admirers... in high places. That's all. So we're going to meet one
of them. Maybe *he* can persuade you..."

Ranma fell silent. The Member's assurances had done little for him.
Who was it they were going to see? And what kind of 'persuasion'
might he use? He thought about how Akane, when she used her mallet,
was at least kind enough to aim for his head, so that less damage
would be done to his fighting skills. He shuddered to think of the
effects of a mallet to his legs or ankles. Despite his near-
deification through Ms. Takahashi's manga accounts, he was as
human as anyone else. He could be crippled just like any other
person...

He was shaken from his reverie by the Member announcing, "We're
here," and he stepped out. Ranma followed...

...and found himself at the gates of the Imperial Palace.

***

Ranma's own arrogance could only carry him so far. Now that he
stood before Akihito, the Emperor of Japan himself, he really had no
idea what to say or do. And he was far too nervous to just stand
still. So, he simply emptied his mind and started practicing katas.

The Emperor smiled as he watched the nervous young man. "That's
more than sufficient, Ranma Saotome. I didn't request your presence
for you to give me a demonstration of your skills." Shaken from his
zen state, Ranma stopped and stood quite still before the Emperor.
Akihito continued: "I, too, am quite familiar with your abilities
and exploits. Oh, by the way, when *are* you and Akane going to
get together, anyhow? All of Japan is wondering about it. At this
point, you know, it could be the social event of the year..."

It hadn't occurred to him that the fame he had achieved meant a
loss of privacy in this area, too. Dammit! Even the *Emperor*
knows about my love life! This is just *too* much! He held up
his hands. "Uh, please.. your Highness, er.. your Imperialness..."

The Emperor smiled. "Call me Akihito." Even the courtiers gasped
at this informality. It was not unnoticed by Ranma, who decided
not to do so -- yet.

"..er, yes sir. Could we not discuss Akane or the others? I haven't
really been able to sort that out for myself, and I really don't
wanna think about it at the moment."

"Very well, Ranma. I'm sure you're well aware of the real reason I
had you brought here." Ranma lowered his gaze as Akihito leaned
forward in his chair Not this *again*... "Ranma Saotome, I'm sure
you're aware that our economy is in the doldrums. People just don't
have that much to celebrate about these days. What with the
Olympics coming to Japan, we need a hero that could brighten
the mood of this country, a champion to heighten national pride
on the world stage. Ranma Saotome... we believe you could be
that champion.

As Emperor Akihito went on, Ranma's mind began to wander. So, he
was to be a placebo for the nation's troubles, was he? Didn't he
have enough of his own without that kind of responsibility? And this
had nothing to do with his honor, after all; it wasn't even martial
arts, so he wasn't as if he could necessarily be expected to win.
Not that he had any doubts about his ability to do so..

"...So... will you represent Japan at Nagano? As a favor to me?"
Ranma jerked his head up at the Emperor's question. He hadn't
been paying attention, of course, but he already had has answer.
First, however, he had to find out one small detail..

"Can you force me to join the Olympic team?"

A sad smile appeared on Akihito's face. "You're confusing me with
the yakuza, Ranma. Force is not generally something employed in
government. I take it that you're still unconvinced of the benefits
of representing Japan in the Olympic Games, then."

"Oh, no. I'm fully aware of the benefits. But you see, I've got
many of them going for me already. You know, fame, fortune -- in
modest amounts, of course. And I'm also aware of the downsides
of those so-called 'benefits:' everybody knows who I am, though I
haven't a clue about them; I get absolutely *zero* privacy; and well...
you already asked me about Akane. What about Ukyou? Or Shampoo?
Or Kodachi?" Ranma's face gradually contorted into a mask of pained
irritation as he rattled off his suitors' names. "What happens when
I get famous enough for proposals to come in from all over the world?
I can't make up my mind about what to do about the relative few
fiancees I already have. And if more show up, I just know Akane's
gonna kill me. It's just not worth it, okay?"

"You mean... you want us to lose?" The Emperor was aghast.

"Is that all you're worried about? What's wrong with losing? For
someone to win, someone else has to lose. Why is that so horrible?
Besides, Japan's not exactly a athletic powerhouse. Why should that
be such a problem?"

"I see." The Emperor stood up. "Well, if I cannot convince you,
then I will not attempt to waste your time. I suggest, however, you
take some public transportation back to your father-in-law's dojo,"
Ranma winced at this reference to Mr. Tendo, "and find out what the
common man thinks of your refusal. I warn you, son, it's not pretty
out there..." and with that, he left the audience chamber.

The Diet Member, who had kept silent throughout this discussion,
now turned to Ranma and spoke up. "It is a good thing for you that
the Emperor is a reasonable man. Unfortunately, not everyone is
so reasonable.."

Ranma didn't like the tone of the Member's voice. "Uh, if it's all
the same with you, I think I'll go now. Which way's the exit?"

"Follow me..."

"No offense, but I'd rather not, thanks all the same." Ranma's head
spun around furiously, looking for another door by which to leave
the room and hopefully, the building. He darted for the door that
Akihito had taken, in the opposite direction as the MD was walking.

Within a half hour, he had found a side exit, and slipped out of the
Imperial Palace. There were protesters gathered at the gates,
noisily demonstrating that Ranma be required to compete at the
games.

Public transportation, my ass. I'm gonna haveta go from rooftop
to rooftop just to *avoid* the 'common man'... With one almighty
bound, Ranma leaped onto the roof of the Palace, and bounced off in
roughly the direction of Nerima. If I'm spotted, I'm dead meat.

***

Once inside the dojo, Ranma discovered that things weren't any more
peaceful...

"Is this my son? Is this the boy I raised to be a man among men?
Then why do the papers say this about you?!"

"I told you, Pop, I don't want any part of --" Genma had shoved the
paper in his son's face.

RANMA SAOTOME - CHICKEN, read the headline.

Something inside of him snapped. *Nobody* calls Ranma Saotome
'chicken.' He'd show them.

He stalked outside to face the angry crowds and reporters that were
congregated outside the dojo.

"All right," he announced to the forest of microphones that were
shoved into his face. "I'll play."

An enthusiastic roar went up from the crowds. Ranma held up his
hands for silence, and slowly, it was given to him.

"On one condition..."

"What's that?" called one of the newspaper correspondents.

"That in every event I'm required to enter... I go last."

The JOC members looked at each other. Could they do that? Usually,
the order was arranged by lot. They would have to take this up with
the International Olympic Committee. One of the members clutched
his hands in a gesture of warding as he spoke: "We shall try our
hardest to accommodate your request."

Ranma nodded in agreement. Now that the interruption had been
resolved, the crowd resumed its enthusiastic roar.

***

Genma Saotome heard the cheering of the crowds and broke into
uproarious laughter. Soun Tendo charged into the living room where
Genma sat. "Saotome-kun! What is the meaning of this?"

"D'ya hear the cheering, Tendo-kun? He's going to do it."

"What?!" A somewhat perplexed smile grew on Soun's face. "But how?"

"My son has two weak spots, Tendo.."

"Cats, yes, I know about. But the other one is...?"

"...Chickens." Genma crossed his arms, triumphantly smug. He looked
very much like Buddha himself.

"Chickens, Saotome? Ranma isn't afraid of chickens..."

"Did I say he was, Tendo? I said it was a weak spot of his. He
will not tolerate being *called* a chicken. On the other hand, he'll
ignore me if *I* disparage his cowardice..."

Because you've got more of it than he does, Soun thought, but kept
it to himself. Why jeopardize a friendship over something petty like
that, ne?

"...so I got someone else to do it." And he held the newspaper aloft
for Soun to read.

Soun's eye twitched in anger. "The Asahi Shinbum has called him a
coward... FOR ALL JAPAN TO READ?! And YOU put them up to this??!!"

Genma waved his hands in front of himself. "No-no-no, nothing like
that, Tendo. Take a good look at that headline, would you?"

Upon closer scrutiny, Soun could see that the insulting headline was
a layer on top of the regular newspaper. Gingerly, he removed the
label the headline was printed on to reveal the true headline:
"Saotome Holdout Enters Third Week."

"You see," Genma continued, "Our press isn't nearly the tiger that
the Western tabloids are. No one here would dare say that sort
of thing about my boy. They're just too damn polite to do that.
Especially when there's the possibility he might knock their block
off." The elder Saotome grinned. "But Ranma doesn't know from
polite; rude and insulting is the way to spur him to action." The
grin faded, and a more thoughtful expression replaced it. "Actually,
now that I think of it, it could have spurred him to any kind of
action, some of which might not have necessarily been good. But
what the hey..." as he stood up, "all's well that ends well. Ranma
is going to Nagano!"

Soun Tendo clapped an arm around his old friend's shoulder as they
walked toward the kitchen. "I've got to hand it to you, Saotome...
you're one sly fox. This definitely calls for a celebration!" He
opened the refrigerator and rooted around. "Can I get you a beer?"

"Sure thing."

"Kirin?" Soun stood up, holding a bottle. Images of the Prince of
Pickled Vegetables filled both their heads. As one, they chuckled
ruefully and shook their heads. "Definitely not Kirin."

"Y'know, neither of us is ever gonna drink that.."

Soun nodded. "Might as well get rid of it, ne?" He walked over
to the kitchen window, opened it, and hurled the beer bottle out.
Meanwhile, Genma resumed their search through the refrigerator.

In Rumiko Takahashi's manga world, that bottle would inevitably end
up conking some poor Jusenkyo victim, and turning them into their
cursed form. This being real life, things don't always work out so
neatly. It *did* so happen that Ryoga Hibiki was walking by,
muttering his usual veiled threats at Ranma when the rejected
bottle of Kirin beer came sailing from the Tendo's kitchen window.
Ryoga *was*, in fact, struck on the head, knocking him unconscious.
However, the bottle did *not* break and turn him into P-chan --
trust me, beer bottles are stronger than all that. The worst thing
that could happen now for Ryoga would be that Akari might happen
by and conclude he was some kind of lush. Judging from the
substantial lump on the back of his head, even Akari wouldn't be
likely to arrive at that conclusion.

"Sapporo, then..." Genma looked over his shoulder at his friend
before reaching for the bottles.

"*Much* more appropriate, Saotome-kun," Soun nodded.

Genma pulled two bottles out and handed one to Soun, who tore
the bottlecap off with his bare hands and raised the open bottle in
salute: "To the Nagano Olympics!"

Genma responded in kind: "To the Japanese Olympic Team!"

"And to the greater glory of the Tendo-"

"-Saotome-"

"-TRANING HALL!!" they chorused, and once again burst into raucous
laughter.

***

As the crowds, pleased with the result of their continuous protests,
began to filter away, Ranma turned and headed back into the house.
No sooner had he crossed the threshold when he was once again
accosted by Nabiki, who slammed him against the wall with surprising
force.

"Hey, what'dja do that for, Nabiki?"

"What're you trying to do? Ruin me?"

"What'd I do now?"

"Look. I figured you'd be sticking to your guns about not
participating. So I decided I'd at least be able to make money off
of that, if you're not gonna enter and grab all those endorsements.
I bet some of the others at school that you wouldn't cave in and
go to Nagano." From the look on her face, it was pretty plain to
Ranma that she'd placed quite a bit of money on his integrity.
She had every right to be pissed.

Ranma's eyes rolled. "Oh, geez. I can't win around here, can I?
Look, Nabiki. Since I might as well make up for the damage to the
dojo, lemme clue you in on how to bet on me..." And he leaned over
to whisper in her ear. Nabiki's face turned sour, even perhaps a
little crestfallen, at the news of Ranma's plans for the Olympics,
but then began to brighten as she considered the remoteness of
the odds...

***

Okay, gang...

I think I've finally gotten this story together. It's nowhere near
perfect, but it's about as close as it's gonna get, seeing as I'm
running outta time to get it out, ne?

As always, comments are begged for, as I wanna get this right,
don'tcha know. Send mail to

ukyoukwnji@aol.com

Lokkin' forward to it! And now, let the Games begin...

***

February, 1998 rolled around. After much wrangling and arm-twisting,
the Japanese Olympic Committee had gotten the permission from the
IOC for Ranma Saotome to compete last in any event he participated
in, as he had demanded of the JOC. They had managed to convince the
IOC that the inclusion of their world-renowned favorite son would
make for exceptional box office, and the IOC ultimately relented, but
not without some muttering about how this would set a bad precedent
for future Olympics.

The concept of Ranma-chan, however, was one that the committee was
not prepared to deal with; having had to deal with East German 'women'
with questionable ties to their alleged gender, the IOC was far too
skittish to permit an admitted male to compete as a female, regardless
of how unmistakably female his body could be at times. Besides, they
argued, if this Saotome is the powerhouse athlete his press releases
claimed him to be, it would simply be that much more unfair to unleash
'him' against women athletes when he supposedly would be able to
defeat male opponents so handily. The JOC accepted this decision;
after all, as long as Ranma Saotome was competing, why should they
get bent out of shape about the 'male-only' restriction?

***

The day of the opening ceremonies arrived with all the customary
pomp and ceremony attendant upon these sorts of events. Doves
were released, and the Olympic flame was lit by Midori Ito, figure-
skating veteran of several previous Olympics. Ranma had been asked
to light the torch, but still smarting as he was from being goaded
into competing, demurred that honor to Ms. Ito, stating publicly
that it would be bad form for a current competitor to do the honors,
and thus set himself above the others right from the start. The JOC
agreed to this, but managed to get Ranma to acquiesce to a five-
kilometer stretch of the torch relay in rural Honshu, where, they
assured him, he wouldn't be seen... much.

Standing amongst his fellow teammates, Ranma cringed as he recalled
the run. It was about two weeks before the games, and the torch was
wending its tortuous way through all four major islands of Japan.
Ranma's run was on the leg of the journey carrying it north to
Hokkaido from its arrival at Narita Airport a day or two previous.
As an additional nod to his privacy, he'd managed to wangle a
nighttime run. Not that things would be all *that* tranquil, anyway:
Akane, Shampoo, Ukyou and Kodachi had all insisted on accompanying
him as bodyguards. Which would have been all well and good, if only
he hadn't felt the need to have bodyguards to protect him from his
bodyguards...

It was about one o'clock in the morning when he arrived at his post
on Route 6, just north of Isohara, to receive the handoff. While
the girls slept in the JOC-provided van, Ranma prepared himself for
his mission by stretching out and jogging a bit in place. Despite
the cold and the dark, he was starting to sweat a bit. It's been
a while since I ran like this. This feels kinda good. He was
actually starting to look forward to this by the time his predecessor
appeared over the hill, complete with motorcycle escort.

"Ranma..? Is that you?" That voice sounded familiar.

"Sentaro?" The runner nodded. "Hah! Strange not t'see ya on a
horse, man. What brings you here?"

"Well..." Sentaro panted, "it's safer this way. Horses have a
tendency to run away on me.."

"You mean *under* you, don'tcha?"

Sentaro grinned ruefully. "Something like that. Anyway, it's good
press for the Daimonji Dojo, too. Any tie-in to the Olympics is
good business. True, the Olympics don't have much to do with tea
ceremony, but..." By now, Sentaro had arrived, and handed the torch
to Ranma. The two of them began to jog in place for a moment as
they continued their conversation: "Anyway, I understand that
you're gonna be the Great Wet Hope."

"Very funny. As a matter of fact, the IOC put the damper on my
participation as a female. Which is fine by me. Did you know
they've entered me in *eight* events?"

"Yeah, I know... hey, I read the papers, too. My heart bleeds for
you, you know that? All that publicity, all the glory that could be
yours..."

"...and all the headaches I get for bein' so damn famous. Will you
stop with the sarcasm already? It sounds like a lotta fun, until
you've got it. Even before I was famous, all the kids at --"

"Sumimasen, honored torch-bearers," the policeman on the motorcycle
broke in, "but we have a schedule to adhere to. If you wish to
continue this conversation, might I suggest you do so as you run?"

"Oh. Yeah, sure. Sorry about that..." It suddenly occurred to
Ranma that if they kept quiet, and pretended nothing was out of
the ordinary, he could leave the girls behind and save himself a
*lot* of trouble. "C'mon, Sentaro. Keep up with me, now..." The
two former rivals jogged side-by-side as Ranma continued to complain.

"Where was I now? Oh, yeah. The kids at Furinkan. I mean, they
useta mob me even when I first arrived; everybody either wanted to
kiss me or kill me -- and some'a then wanted to do both, I swear!
And all this other publicity's just made it worse. Sure, the dojo's
doin' well, and I guess I'm happy for that, but I've got no private
life anymore. I'm just hopin' that this'll finally get people off my
back. Kinda like, 'Okay, I'm out here, I'm competing. Now, will
ya let me be?'" He waved his free hand around to punctuate his
words. Occasionally, he would even forget himself and swish the
torch around.

"Hey... take it easy with that firestick, will ya?"

"Oh... sorry about that. You okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine... but *you* don't seem to have your head screwed on
straight. You compete, and all Japan's going to expect you to win.
And if you don't, they'll come down on you like a ton of bricks."

"You think I don't know that? But hey, winning these events is gonna
be a piece of cake..."

"And if you *do* win, you're still young, you know; they're going to
recruit you for Salt Lake City."

"I think I'd rather go to Sydney..."

"I wouldn't say something like that if I wanted to be left alone like
you do."

"Don't sweat it, Sentaro. I think I've worked out a way to uphold
my honor and still be box-office poison for next time."

"Well, you sure aren't box-office poison yet." As they crested a
hill, the taller boy saw it first, and yelled at Ranma: "Kami-sama!
Get a look at this!" The road in to the little village of Ueda was
lined with people holding candles, standing vigil, waiting for...

"Ranma-gami! He's coming!" the crowd shouted as one. The entire
populations of Ueda, Onohama & Taira had turned out, and probably
others had come the hundred-plus miles from Tokyo and Yokohama,
to get a glimpse at Japan's athletic superstar.

"Kuso..."

***

Back in the van, Akane was becoming aware of a nasty crick in her
neck. Oooh, that's gonna hurt in the morning. I'm going to have
to see Dr. Tofu about this... All at once it occurred to her *why*
she had such a pain; she had been sleeping slouched over in one of
the van's captain's chairs. She looked across at the driver's side
chair, and realized that Ranma wasn't there.

For once, Akane considered giving him the benefit of the doubt.
Okay... so maybe he's outside warming up... But not completely;
she opened the passenger's side door and slid out to check for
herself.

There was no one. She squinted as far as she could in either
direction, but there was no sign of Ranma or the torch. Akane
scowled. He'd ditched them all!

Well, she'd show him. She opened the driver's side door this time,
threw herself into the chair, and turned the key that had been
hanging in the ignition all this time. She stepped on the gas,
hard, and the machine rumbled and roared to life, waking up all
the other girls in the process.

Ukyou was the first to clamber to an upright position. "Hey,
sugar... whaddya think you're doing?"

Akane had a death grip on the steering wheel as she gunned the
engine. "I'm going to *kill* him! Leaving me behind like this! Why
won't this damn thing MOVE?!"

Ukyou slipped into the passenger's seat. "Gotta take it outta 'Park',
sweetie." Ukyou gently took hold of the transmission lever and set
it in 'Drive'. The van lurched forward, throwing the girls around
like dice in a cup, and causing Ukyou to wonder whether that had
been such a good idea, after all.

***

During their journeys through China, Genma and Ranma had found an
abandoned automobile outside of Chengdu. With a little tinkering
and a lot of luck, they had managed to get it running, and it carried
the pair most of the way across the Qinghai-Sichuan highway before
breaking down for good just south of Jusenkyo. A pity, really... they
could have used the old beater to get away from Joketsuzoku in a
hurry. As they travelled, Genma took the opportunity to educate his
son in the art of driving. It was Ranma who had driven the quintet
to the Isohara checkpoint -- luckily, the girls had been awake and
squabbling the whole trip, so he didn't have to worry about falling
asleep en route.

Akane had no such luxury. Life in Tokyo, even in a neighborhood as
far removed from downtown as Nerima, didn't require automobiles, as
a rule. And a good thing, too -- the price of an auto is prohibitive,
even in the best of times. So she had no idea what she was doing
behind the wheel, only that she would catch up with Ranma and
demand an explanation for leaving her behind like this!

Which proved more difficult than it looked; the accelerator and the
steering wheel were far more sensitive than she had anticipated
(or maybe her anger made her that much stronger). As a result, the
vehicle continued to careen all over Route 6. And while this posed
some danger for the occupants of the van, who were still bouncing
around like popcorn, at least at two in the morning, there wasn't
anyone to worry about colliding with... until they crested that hill
and saw the road lined with people.

So far, Ranma and Sentaro had simply been jogging through the line
of people, the candles they held serving as a runway upon which they
were travelling to the next checkpoint. Suddenly, they heard screams
from behind them. Turning around, Ranma was startled to see the
JOC van coming towards him, but veering from one side of the road
to the other. The people holding vigil were dropping their candles
and running, lest they would be hit by this maniacal driver. Sentaro
gaped. "Masaka... at least a horse isn't as capable of doing that
much damage..."

"Akane..." Ranma groaned to himself. "It's got to be." He
handed the torch to Sentaro. "Could you hold this for a second?
I guess I've gotta deal with this." He began running toward the
out-of-control van, leaving Sentaro dumbfoundedly holding the torch.

Inside the van, the girls were screaming too. Everyone was yelling
at Akane to stop the thing, and Akane, having long since forgotten
about Ranma, was shrieking back that she would, but didn't know
how. All at once, a humanoid form came running at them, glowing
blue.

Ranma didn't actually have a formal technique for this, but he
figured if he released enough chi energy into the van, it could
stop it cold. Waving people away from the edge of the road, he
got to the van and touched the front grill, releasing his energy
burst. There was a loud crackling noise, a thunderous clunk, and
Ranma hopped onto the hood of the van as it coasted to a stop
several yards off the road. Once it had stopped, he leaped off the
hood again, and ran back to the road to inspect his handiwork.
The entire engine block had completely fallen out, and the van
had simply run over it on sheer momentum. He watched as the
engine continued to emit steam into the cold winter air.

"Well, this wasn't part of the plan, but it doesn't hurt..."

***

Of course, this didn't make him any less popular with the public at
large; indeed, he had been hailed as a hero on the spot. The JOC,
on the other hand, was not amused. Nor, for that matter, was Nabiki.
"Do you realize the JOC's forcing us to buy the van because of the
damage? What's the matter with you, Saotome?"

"Hey, don't look at me. It's was your sister driving the stupid
thing. I had to stop her somehow, or people woulda gotten hurt.
Besides, you can sell the parts for scrap... they're all in fine
condition and working order."

"That's not the point... I've been doing nothing but losing money
on you ever since you agreed to go."

"Well what're the odds they're giving you on me, anyway? That
oughta bring in a hefty return, ne?"

"Well, yeah, my bookies are giving me 1,000 to 1 odds against you
pulling off what you say you're gonna. In each event. That's as
close to zero-odds as they'll go. But when they see me putting
money down, they get skittish. They've limited me to 5,000 yen
per event."

"So what's wrong? I make one event, and we've paid for the van
straight up. No problem."

"Yeah, well... if I bet on you like this, and you really pull it
off, someone's gonna think you threw the event."

"If by that, they think I'm doing it deliberately, then they're
right. But I'd do it regardless of whether you were betting on me
or not. And your bookies know what I'm planning, right?" Nabiki
nodded, reluctantly. "Yeah! And they're *still* giving you those
long-shot odds. Just keep a low profile, and they won't mess
with ya."

***

As he approached the room that would be his throughout the course
of the Games, Ranma was once again besieged by reporters wanting to
know more about him, his reputation, the story behind his reluctant
entry, and so on. Ranma leaned heavily against the door, and waited
until the hubbub of questions died down, and then addressed the
media for what he intended to be the one and only time.

"Gentlemen (and I use that term *very* loosely)... when I was still
holding out, I heard phrases bandied about to the effect that 'the
nail that sticks up will be hammered down.' Well, congratulations.
You've got your nail hammered down; I'm here, I'm competing. But
when a nail gets hammered into a piece of wood, it more or less
disappears into the woodwork, you know? And that's all I'm going
to say. You guys hounded me into this; I really don't see why you
need anything more from me. Besides, I've got to get ready for
the competitions." And with that he walking into his room, and
closed the door. The reporters could hear the click of a lock being
turned. It looked like an interview was going to be out of the
question.

This didn't stop all of them, though. One enterprising young
journalist decided to interview his fiancees, on the assumption
that they would be able to paint a reasonable up-close-and-personal
look at the phenomenon that was Ranma Saotome.

Kodachi Kuno described her Ranma-sama in glowing and florid prose
as a knight in shining armor, capable of etching his name in Olympic
history both here and at Sydney. Ukyou Kuonji agreed about his
athletic skills, but her Ran-chan was a reasonably ordinary guy, a
likable if occasionally insensitive young man who really was quite
shy and thoughtful deep down inside. Akane Tendo, when asked what
kind of person Ranma was, merely boiled over as she began thinking
about his three other fiancees, and eventually wound up chasing the
reporter from her room with a mallet. And Xi'an Pu and her great-
grandmother Khu Lon stunned him with the pronouncement that Ranma
would be competing for the People's Republic of China by the time
Salt Lake City rolled around. The journalist decided that most of
this information might not set too well with the reading public, and
dropped the story entirely.

***

The very first active day of the Games found Ranma splitting his
time between the downhill run in the morning and the 5,000-meter
speed-skating event in the afternoon. He arrived at the slopes to
the news that an Olympic record of 1:45.37 had been set.

"You've got your work cut out for you, Saotome..."

"Don't worry about it, Nabiki. I can handle it." The timer in the
starting house beeped. It was time to go. Ranma tore out and dug
his poles through the snow to start himself down. He then crouched
into position, reducing his wind resistance to the barest minimum.
The crowds of onlookers cheering Japan's greatest hope were no
more than a noisy blur as they passed by him at some seventy miles
an hour. He could sense the line approaching and stood himself up
ever so slightly. Then he shot past the line, and he snowplowed to
a stop, staring at the timer: 1:45.37 exactly.

A roar went up from the crowd. He had matched the Olympic record.
True, he had not won outright, but he had proved himself as good as
the best athletes in the world

***

After a somewhat rushed ceremony, Ranma and the others hopped a
transport to the speed skating rink. He sighed as he sank into the
passenger's seat, relieved that this was going to be the only multiple-
event day. As long as he could get through today, everything else
should be easy.

Indeed, once on the ice, Ranma was making this look easy -- after
all, it had been a few years since the Golden Pair debacle. He'd had
plenty of time to polish his skating skills. And they were impressive;
he was leaving his French competitor in his wake. All he was racing
against, really, was time.

"Ladies and gentlemen, it appears from the unofficial results that
we have a *tie* for first place. With identical times of six minutes
and forty-two point three eight seconds, Thomas Koenig of Belgium
and Ranma Saotome of Japan!" As they had at the downhill races,
the crowd thundered its approval of its favored son.

In the stands, Nabiki shook her head in wondering disbelief.

***

That night, the skating rink was filled to capacity as the medals
were presented to Ranma and his fellow medalists. Both Ranma and
Koenig mounted the platform for first place finishers, while a Korean
athlete stepped onto the third-place tier. The crowd rose politely
as the band struck up the Belgian national anthem, but with the
strains of the Kimigayo, the crowd began to sing along...

Kimigayo wa chiyo ni...

There were tears in people's eyes, tears of pride. How long had
Japan waited for this moment? Even Ranma could feel the surge of
emotion throughout the crowd, and he too joined in the song. *This*
was what he had come to do. He would not let his people down.
They would hear these strains again, he vowed.

But only on his terms.

***

His terms, as it so happened, were repeat performances of his first
medal ceremony every other night. Oh, there were changes; he never
stood alongside the same competitor twice, and there was usually a
different anthem that preceded the Kimigayo, but the ceremony always
ended with a rendition of the Japanese anthem, and the crowd's
singing grew lustier with each repeat performance. As irritated he
may have been at being drafted for this, he was glad he came, glad
he competed, and as glad to hear the Kimigayo as any other person in
that auditorium. By his third ceremony, he'd gotten into the habit
of clasping his podium-mate's hand and raising them into the air
in a gesture of mutual victory, a gesture that met with approval
from both the Japanese and foreign crowds alike.

***

The final speed-skating run was the 10,000 meters, the longest one
of all. And as luck would have it, Ranma had been paired against
Thomas Koenig: the Belgian who shared the podium with him on the
5,000 meter race. The crowd assembled, knowing this was going to
be a good race. There was going to be no *way* for Saotome to tie
on this one.

Not that he wasn't trying. For the first full lap, the two matched
each other perfectly, stride for stride. But one of them would be
forced to back down for the crossover. Ranma slowed his pace
as the rounded the turn into the crossover, and once the maneuver
was smoothly accomplished, he merely picked up his pace and caught
up with Koenig, once again matching strides as if in a precision
drill. One half-expected the two to pull a simultaneous double
axel at any given moment.

Going into the final crossover, Ranma once again gave his competitor
the nod. But this time, Ranma was moving into the outside lane. He
was putting himself at a distinct disadvantage. If the Belgian went
into that final turn leading by any margin, there was going to be no
way for Ranma to pull it out of the fire. They went into the turn
neck-and-neck. It was going to be Koenig's race to win or lose --
or was it? Despite having to go farther to do so on the turns, Ranma
was managing; the two were still neck-and-neck as they came out of
the turn. The crowd grew louder. Ranma could win this one outright!

But it was not to be. After the enormous effort of keeping up on
the turn, Ranma settled back into matching the Belgian's every
step, identically. They crossed the finish line looking as if they
had been welded together. Even the photo finish analysis could
not determine the actual victor. Once again, it was announced
as a tie, and a new world record of 13:18.56 was to be shared by
the two of them.

Nabiki mopped her brow. To avoid raising too much suspicion among
her bookies, she had chosen to merely bet on Ranma to earn gold.
This had been way too close. "From now on," she vowed, "I'm gonna
put my money on something safer... like junk bonds."

***

And so it went. By this time, the JOC was furious with Ranma for
what they considered his refusal to win outright. The medals he
earned by tying the marks set on the slalom and giant slalom turned
out to be, upon Nabiki's inspection, merely the silver medal dipped
in gold paint.

"Geez, they're too cheap to get 'em electroplated, even?"

"That, or too pissed off at you, Saotome. That last speed-skating
run, you looked like you should have blown Koenig away. I'd lay
odds that they'll be accusing you of throwing the matches."

"What's the matter, Nabiki? I got the gold, for crying out loud.
Well..." and he eyed his painted silver medal, "...for all intents
and purposes, anyway..."

***

Eight events. Eight ties for first place. Six gold medals and a
couple of ersatz golds. And... a summons to appear before the
Japanese Olympic Committee:

"Ranma Saotome, you were not giving it your all! You're a disgrace
to Japan, and a disgrace to martial artists everywhere."

"Wait a minute, wait a minute. Who says I wasn't giving it my all?
I sure as hell *was*."

"Then why didn't you win?"

"And who ever said winning *takes* my all?" The committee was
thrown into confusion. "*Equalling*, now *that* takes my all. Do
you realize how hard it is to complete a race in a specific time,
down to the hundredth of a second? *That*, gentlemen, was a real
challenge. I wasn't sure I could do it.

"But once I proved I could, the rest were easy. Besides, you'd
already gotten into enough trouble trying to accommodate me. I
didn't want to dominate the Games or anything. This way, the
international community get a gold medalist, and Japan gets one,
too. Everybody wins. Of course, if you choose not to see it that
way, then I can do nothing to convince you gentlemen. You'll
excuse me..." and he left the room.

A stunned silence filled the room behind him.

***

Thomas Jefferson once stated that "all men are created equal."
George Orwell amended that statement: "...but some are more equal
than others." Sport, as a rule, has as its object to determine how
much more equal some folks are than others. By refusing to play that
game, Ranma had effectively alienated the sporting establishment.

And so everybody from then on left him alone. Which was just the
way he wanted it.

Well, *almost* everyone...

"Ranma-sama, you were magnificent! Standing up for yourself before
that vindictive committee!"
"That took some guts to pull off, Ranma honey. I'm proud of you,
sugar."
"(sigh) Ai ren have much courage. Now can be alone with Shampoo!"
"Ranma! What are you doing, encouraging these.. these.. "
"Hey, hold on, Akane! I'm not encouraging nobody! Just let me--"
"Ranma no hentai!" WHAM!

Oh, well...

*****

Author's notes:

I'm curious to find out how many of you out here are familiar with
Jules Feiffer's "Harold Swerg," the quintessential reluctant athlete.
That was sort of the springboard for this story, but as usual, things
sorta snowballed -- eh, heh-heh... -- on me. Swerg, of course, is
a one-off character for the particular story, a bit of a cypher,
really, whereas we all know and love (?) what Ran-chan is like. So
I had to adapt the story to fit him (though it worked a bit better
than I'd expected), and adapt him somewhat to fit the story. Not
sure about the result, but I'd like to think you all've been enjoying
it to have gotten this far, so that's really all that matters, ne?

By the way, now I know why nobody else has tried to fit Ran-chan
into the Olympics. This deadline stuff is HARD, lemme tell ya!

C&C, as always, can be sent to me at ukyoukwnji@aol.com.

Itsu mo,
Ucchan ^_^

(who's recovering from a broken ankle: Take my advice, sugar --
NEVER use a spatula as a luge...)