Ron Stoppable felt as if his back was about to break any second now, being bent over the edge of the swimming platform a hundred feet from the nearest shore of Lake Wannaweep in the middle of the night. Though, he had more immediate problems, what with his head and upper body presently held underwater by two immensely strong, taloned hands that were clutched around his throat. Looking up through the lake surface into Gil Moss' leering features that were a horrible combination of half-human and half-fish, Ron futilely clawed at the scaled wrists of his former fellow camper that had been changed by toxic waste into a piscine creature that called himself Gill.
With the roaring in his ears and his dimming vision both clear signs of oxygen starvation, Ron despairingly thought the nightmare face that had just arisen over Gill's left shoulder was simply a final hallucination before his life ended.
A moment later, Ron was yanked out from the lake, only to be instantly let go by Gill. Rolling onto his side on the swimming platform, the teenage boy concentrated on getting fresh air back into his lungs, ignoring close by him the sounds of angry snarls and savage blows being landed. It wasn't until the whole swimming platform shuddered, accompanied by a loud THUD! that Ron finally looked up, and at once yelled in pure fright.
From where another fish monster was standing and glaring down at Gill crouched on his knees, this terrifying newcomer turned his scaled features to look at Ron. Gill instantly took advantage of his foe's distraction, clasping both hands together and swinging a brutal double-fist clout right into the stranger's stomach. This was done hard enough to lift that combatant completely off his feet and hurl him off the platform in a graceful arc, all while bent over and groaning with pain. That agonized sound ended with an immense splash into Lake Wannaweep a dozen feet away, followed by choking and spluttering that suggested the defeated fighter had just swallowed several gallons of lake water.
Disbelievingly watching all this, Ron then saw the new fish-man had landed right in one of those drifting pools of pollution in the lake that was the result of illegal disposal of toxic sludge over the years. Completely coated with this foul stuff, the other water creature flailed around for a few seconds, until it suddenly sank below the surface.
Ron's attention concerning this was promptly diverted when a clawed hand once more grabbed him by his throat. Effortlessly lifting his struggling captive with one arm, Gill smirked at his detested rival, and then hissed right into Ron's paling face, "Okay, squeeb, where were-"
In a majestic dolphin leap, the other fish-man shot up from the lake surface next to the swimming platform, ascending twenty feet into the air, and then it plunged with unerring accuracy right onto Gill.
Ron was nearly knocked off the platform then by that totally unexpected event when Gill hastily let go of his prisoner and again became involved in a vicious fight. As for himself, the sidekick to a red-haired girl only kept from falling into the polluted water by dropping his entire body onto the surface of the platform and desperately holding onto the edge of this floating dock. Even during all this, Ron refused to look away from the battle going on next to him, and he was ultimately rewarded by seeing the other fish-man grab Gill by his throat with one clawed hand and with the other hand curled into a fist, deliver a colossal punch directly into the face, right between that jerk's eyes. Instantly knocked unconscious, Gill limply collapsed onto the platform after being disdainfully let go by his victorious opponent.
Gazing in sheer awe at the out-cold body of Gill, Ron then slowly lifted his eyes to where the other fish-man was staring down at the boy. There seemed to be a look of actual puzzlement slowly growing in the bulbous eyes of that creature of the seas. A second later, Ron flinched in his lying position, as the fish-man suddenly grabbed his own scaled throat and started to shudder violently. The teenager's apprehension only increased further at then witnessing how the fish-man himself clumsily collapsed onto the swimming platform's planks, resting upon his back as his entire body began to convulse.
Any thoughts of getting away were immediately disregarded, as Ron gawked at seeing what happened next. Incredibly, the fish-man was beginning to transform, his body shifting and changing, with that person's scales, fins, and other seagoing animal attributes starting to become absorbed into newly-appearing pink flesh. An astonished Ron was never sure afterwards how long it took, but eventually there was another genuine, one-hundred-percent human there. This was a dark-haired guy, that couldn't have been more than a year or two older than Ron, and who was now looking at him right in the eye.
In a grating voice that suggested serious disuse, this complete stranger managed to stutter, "K-kid, you owe me one. Pay it off by keeping your mouth shut about this, and hide me from everybody. NO authorities, NO press, NOBODY!"
"But I-" protested Ron, only to close his mouth when the stranger's eyes rolled up and then he passed out. This guy then started to snore loudly, which at least reassured an increasingly-glum Ron that his new acquaintance hadn't died on him. Not that the whole ludicrous situation in which Ron had just found himself in had particularly improved.
Cautiously getting to his feet on the swimming platform, Ron looked around the moonlit lake, and then he regarded the two insensible people lying at his feet. An instant later, the teenager hastily glanced away, only to irascibly mutter to himself, "Hey, buddy, I know how easy it is to lose your pants, but couldn't you have at least kept your underwear on?"
Cheerfully ignoring his bruises from last night, Ron sent an amiable wave across the distance between them, to where Gil Moss was sullenly glowering back at him. Right after that, the water-filled globe that was holding the fish creature captive this morning finished getting loaded into the large armored truck. The rear door of this vehicle then closed, with the Global Justice security transport pulling away, taking into custody his former bunk buddy. Hopefully, the big brains at the main headquarters of this crime-fighting organization would eventually figure out a cure for Gill the piscine monster that would change him back into the human named Gil.
Feeling a momentary twinge of actual unkindness, Ron muttered sardonically to himself, "I hope that it involves lots of very long and very blunt hypodermic needles for him."
Behind Ron, a throat was meaningfully cleared.
Turning around, the teenage boy sent a happy smile at where a beautiful and extremely fit girl with auburn hair was standing, fists resting upon her trim hips in the cargo pants she was wearing, and giving him a vastly disapproving look. Before this young lady could actually say anything, something poked a pink head out of the right front pocket of her trousers, and sent its own reproachful gaze at where Ron was beaming at them both.
"Okay, now that we're alone, would you like to change your totally unbelievable story?" frostily inquired Kim Possible.
Instead of answering, Ron took a quick glance around. Yep, everyone else there - the cops, scientists, and workers from Global Justice - were all busy at their own jobs or watching the guys in the hazmat suits testing the lake waters. Nobody was paying attention to where Ron and Kim (who was beginning to slowly tap the toe of her booted foot, a clear sign of dangerous impatience). Bringing back his attention to the person who knew him like nobody else and still managed to miss how much he loved her, Ron respectfully nodded in acquiescence, and then he jerked his head towards a direction that lead away from Lake Wannaweep and anyone else there.
Kim allowed a flawless eyebrow to rise in mild bemusement, to then look down and see how Rufus the naked mole rat riding in her front pocket was examining her with that intelligent little animal's bright eyes.
"Eh," shrugged the hairless mammal, indicating he had no idea what was going on either with his owner. Rufus then pointed at something beyond Kim, who now looked up to see Ron casually strolling away, all while maintaining a flawless air of absolute innocence perfected over the years against parents, teachers, and other authority figures. The teenage girl nodded in real appreciation at witnessing such a first-class performance of pure sneakiness, but as Kim followed after Ron, she vowed to herself that his story had better be really good, or he was somehow going to pay.
Fifteen minutes' walk later, the pair of young people found themselves in a lakeshore clearing on another, bigger body of water that was Lake Wannaweep's neighbor. Nobody had polluted this calm lake, with its clear blue waters reflecting the bright sky and the trees surrounding the clearing.
Kim frowned at Ron standing before herself, who hadn't spoken at all during their hike, and who was now worriedly glancing around the clearing as if there was something missing from this place. Kim did her own check of the open surroundings with a few low boulders scattered among the short grass, and while it was a peaceful enough scene, she couldn't see any compelling reason for stopping here. Rufus left Kim's pocket then, scampering down her leg and then scurrying along the ground to climb onto the top of the nearest boulder, peering around in all directions with honest puzzlement while sniffing the air, all to no avail.
At that exact moment, something burst upwards from fifty feet out in the lake, rocketing towards the sky and then curving over to head directly to where Ron and Kim were in the clearing. The instant that this attacker landed easily on his feet right in front of the pair, Kim instinctively leapt at the unexpected foe, her right boot snapping forward in a fierce kick targeted at the bare chest of the guy in his bathing trunks.
A horrified Ron opened his mouth, about to shout in a futile attempt to get Kim to stand down, only to have his mouth hang speechlessly open when Kim's surprise opponent flipped up a palm with blurring speed. This was done just in time to have the sole of Kim's boot hit the front of his hand with a whip-crack sound of SMACK!
The guy didn't budge an inch from this impact, but Kim rebounded in mid-air, swiftly turning her flight into several back flips, until the red-haired girl regained her footing and halted for a second, before making another dash forward. Now that she knew she wasn't facing a pushover, Kim's beautiful face was utterly intent, fists clenched and ready for striking at any possible weaknesses, as she flung herself into combat.
Ron absently shut his mouth, as he watched in complete fascination everything that next occurred. What really reassured Ron, during all the girl's ensuing blows, punches, and kicks, was the ear-to-ear grin presently borne by Kim's adversary, as he nonchalantly blocked, ducked, or dodged everything that came his way. It was all perfectly defensive by him, without the slightest act of violence done against his growing-exasperated challenger. That guy's wide, delighted smile only became bigger when Kim abruptly came to a standstill, fists angrily perched upon her hips, her gorgeous features bearing an extremely annoyed expression, as she yelled right into that dummy's smirk, "You're supposed to fight back, idiot!"
"Are you kidding me? Wils would deliver the most serious Resolve Face ever if I took a single swing at somebody who could be her cousin!" happily declared the guy in the faded swimsuit scavenged last night by Ron from one of Camp Wannaweep's abandoned cabins.
A stunned Kim just gawked at the person who'd said such a baffling statement, until another, much more familiar voice from behind herself sheepishly announced, "Uh, Kim, this is Xander Harris. Xander, meet Kim Possible, my best friend."
A minute later, they were all seated together upon one of the boulders in the clearing. Xander managed to keep a straight face, but he felt an inner flicker of amusement at seeing how quickly the Kim girl had protectively put herself between him and the Ron dude. Looking at their expectant faces, Xander became a bit more somber, as he cleared his throat to tell his listeners, "Sorry, it's not that I don't trust you, but my friends have their own secrets that I can't spill. So, I'm gonna have to be kinda vague at times, okay?"
Seeing the others' reluctant nods of acceptance over what he'd just said (including that really funny-looking pet perched on Ron's shoulder), Xander began his story:
"A while back, the coach of the swim team at our high school was desperate for a winning season, so on the sly, he started slipping to his guys some weird drugs that gave them the abilities of a fish, including swimming faster and breathing underwater . We - me and some friends - got suspicious about this after seeing a couple of guys in the team acting kind of strange, and I joined the swim team to find out what was going on. Unfortunately, I got dosed with the coach's stuff too, all without knowing this. It wound up with the other guys changing into real fish people, except because they'd been on the drugs longer, they also started to lose their humanity, becoming especially vicious and crazy."
Xander paused to wince at the bad memories this brought back, before continuing the explanation to his fascinated audience. "That last part got demonstrated pretty messily when our group tried to shut down the whole thing. Uh, the coach- Let's say, he overestimated how much control he had over the people he'd just turned into freaks, and the guy paid for it with his life. After that, what we called the gill monsters made a break for it, escaping down the school sewers into the ocean nearby. Once I saw that, there was no other choice for me except to go after them."
At seeing the others' baffled expressions then, Xander shrugged, "Trust me, it would've turned out really nasty if they'd gotten clean away. Think of them being like intelligent sharks, if that helps."
"Ugh," shuddered Rufus.
"Yep," nodded Xander. A beat later, this young man then sent a truly incredulous stare towards the small rodent looking back at the human and clearly waiting for him to go on. Giving himself a somewhat disbelieving shake, Xander started talking again. "Anyway, after a chase in the ocean, I caught up, and…dealt with the problem."
Those last words were delivered in a very cold voice that was matched by Xander's face becoming iron-hard. Seeing this, both Kim and Ron uneasily glanced at each other, but they did nothing else except to return their attention back to where Xander was sitting. Satisfied that nobody was going to make a fuss or ask any uncomfortable questions, this older teenager resumed his story.
"Unfortunately, that wasn't the end of it. See, I thought that I'd escaped what happened to the other swim team guys because I didn't get the full dosage of drugs that they did, though I was beginning to show some side effects. Not outwardly, just little things like being able to hold my breath longer and swim faster. I never considered that once I went swimming in the ocean, the changes might be accelerated by being in the specific environment that the drug was designed to work in, which was salt water. Well…by the time I got back to dry land, I was another gill monster."
Xander sighed at seeing the horrified expressions upon his listener's faces, as he then assured them, "At least I managed to stay in control of myself. I got in touch with my friends, though Bu- I mean, one of them in particular wasn't too thrilled at seeing how I appeared now. Gee, maybe if I'd kept my hair and slathered this with a bucketful of mousse, she wouldn't have been so quick with Mr. Pointy." For some reason, Xander's voice turned extremely sour during that last puzzling comment. Kim and Ron had no time to wonder about this, as their companion went on.
"Well, the gang started researching how to change me back, and while that was going on, I had to stay out of sight. I mean, it wasn't like I could actually attend classes at school or go back home; that might have been a little bit conspicuous, even for my hometown. I spent the next week or so hanging around the ocean and the sewers, getting more and more depressed every day that went by with me still stuck looking like an Universal horror movie creature targeted for the teen market. It didn't help my morale either that one of my friends sheepishly admitted that nobody else besides them seemed to have noticed at all that I was gone."
An angry expression flashed over Xander's features, as his tone then became harsh. "Finally, I go the news that I'd been waiting for, and I knew it wasn't gonna be good right off the bat, when I saw how they were behaving there in the school library, where we hung out. Totally glum, not happy at all, nobody wanting to open their mouths. Yeah, it had to be dragged out of them, their complete failure. Nobody had found any way to cure me, and there wasn't even the faintest possibility of this in the future."
Sympathetic looks were given by the trio from Middleton at someone evidently relieving one of the worst memories of his life. Xander husked, "I, uh, didn't deal with that too well. I took off right away, heading to the ocean, and then I just kept on swimming, not caring at all where I was going. After that…well, I'm not sure exactly how long I did nothing but feel sorry for myself, out there in the water. The only time I snapped out of this was earlier this week, when I made myself actually useful."
"The Rocky Point rescue!"
That sudden exclamation had burst from Kim, who up to then had been completely engrossed in Xander's story. Seeing the startled looks from the others surprised by her unexpected interruption, the red-haired girl excitedly explained to her friend, "Ron, didn't you see the e-mail from Global Justice? It was in their regular monthly review of strange and odd incidents worldwide that might have been caused by one of our supervillains!"
Looking blank, Ron just shrugged, "I don't really pay that much attention to GJ's stuff, Kimster. After all, when a hundred-foot-tall purple robot stomps through Middleton in order to rob a science lab, that's kinda enough of a hint that Dr. Drakken or Professor Dementor or whoever is being a very naughty boy."
Shooting Ron an exasperated glance, Kim was distracted by Xander's loud sniggering that showed this person's former glum mood had now greatly improved from what it had been before mere moments ago.
Thoughtfully eyeing this chuckling male, Kim tried again, "Ron, a few days ago during a storm at sea, a sailboat holding a dozen family members of all ages hit a reef off the coast about a hundred miles away from here. The boat sank, but everyone managed to get into life rafts, except they were still in the storm that could have capsized these at any moment. However, the life rafts were then grabbed by something underwater that pushed them to safety all the way to the nearest harbor. None of the rescued people saw what did this, aside from an eight year old girl in one of the rafts, who kept insisting that the Creature from the Black Lagoon saved them."
"Good to know that the classics are still appreciated," smirked Xander, whose grin only became wider at seeing the others' dumbfounded expressions. He genially admitted, "Yeah, it was me who did that. I have to say, that finally got me out of my funk, so I started thinking of swimming back to Su- Uh, my hometown, and while I was considering it, I passed by the mouth of the river that drains the lake out there." Xander idly waved a hand at the sparkling waters in front of the clearing, and then the older teenager continued his gesture by tapping the side of his nose with a finger several times.
Both Kim and Ron blinked at seeing that odd action, but their confusion was quickly cleared up when Xander enlightened the duo. "See, my sense of smell got really good when I changed into a fish guy, which meant I picked up right away the scent of another gill monster coming from the river water that was flowing into the ocean. That surprised the hell out of me, since I was positive I was the only one of those things around now. Anyhoo, I swam up the river to the lake, following the scent all the way, and then I managed to track over the ground the smell that lead me to the other lake. That's when I showed up and found you, dude, right in the middle of losing your fight with Mr. Scales." Rising an inquiring eyebrow, Xander finished, "Well, that's my story, folks. What's yours, Ron?"
Kim didn't bother listening to what next came out of her friend's mouth. After all, she'd been there for most of it: their cheerleader team stopping at Camp Wannaweep, Ron's grousing about his stay there years before and his encounter with a younger Gil Moss who traded swim time in the polluted lake for Ron agreeing to take his arts and crafts classes, which resulted in the eventual change of this other boy into a fish monster that attacked their school group while using sticky goo from the lake to keep Kim, Rufus, or anyone else from helping Ron.
Regarding the latter, Kim was seriously considering her choices and options. There was the responsibility of her work with Global Justice which recommended informing that worldwide crime-fighting organization about discovering somebody who possessed superhuman powers. On the other hand, this Xander guy had obviously saved Ron's life…
It wasn't until that boy himself told about the aftermath of his nighttime exploits, confessing to hiding an unconscious Xander in one of the camp's most remote cabins and then calmly lying to the authorities about how he'd captured Gill entirely on his own, producing this hogtied monster (it's truly amazing how much you learn making a camp lanyard) as proof of his triumph, that Kim started paying attention again.
Abruptly drawn from her conflicting thoughts, Kim glowered at Ron absently patting his mole rat that had both his front paws despairingly placed over the little animal's eyes. The incensed girl snapped at her friend, "Ron, why on earth did you do all that? Have you any idea of how much trouble you're going to be in, if anybody ever finds out you lied to everyone?"
"Hey, Kimmie," Ron protested, "At least I'm alive to get in trouble! Yeah, it was that close, and I totally owe it to him!" With those last words, the Jewish boy jerked a thumb over at where Xander was sitting on the boulder and looking modest.
Overriding any possible rejoinder by his best pal, Ron's next words rushed out, "Maybe if at the end of the fight, the strange fish monster had just taken off after decking Gill, I'd have mentioned it to the Global Justice investigators. But, that didn't happen. Instead, I had to repay the guy who saved me, and who was on the swimming platform with me, out cold, and human again!"
"About that," Kim frowned at Xander, who returned a deadpan stare. The redhead pointed out to him, "You said before in your own story, that your friends couldn't change you back from what you'd transformed into, one of those gill monsters. So, why'd you switch back into your former shape right then and there?"
"Kiddo, the only reasonable explanation I can come up with is what happened during the fight, after I got sucker-punched by Ron's enemy and went into the water," gravely replied Xander. Grimacing as he continued, "I gulped down by accident some of the stuff that was floating there, and let me tell you, that was a serious yuck factor. Not to mention being covered with the goop, too. I was too mad to pay all that much attention to how I felt then, but after I'd clobbered the G-dude, I started feeling really crummy, and then I collapsed and started changing back. Which means-"
An awed Ron interrupted, "That toxic waste turned Gil into a fish-man in the first place, so since you were already one, you got turned back into a human!"
"Not quite, Ron" grinned Xander, as he hopped off the boulder to stand by that geological feature, with the man now bending down to put both of his flattened palms against the sides of this rock.
All of this was watched in utter confusion by Kim, Ron, and Rufus, who then simultaneously yelped and grabbed hold of each other, as with the sound of the biggest tooth extraction ever, Xander yanked the boulder free from the ground. Easily straightening up, Xander smirked towards at the wide-eyed trio still perched on the top of the stone that had to weigh as much as a pickup truck, yet it was nevertheless being held effortlessly in the older teenager's arms, without him showing any signs of strain whatsoever.
In fact, Xander now informed in his most cheerful tone the Middleton native still clutching each other, "I got turned back into looking like a human, but I kept all the other stuff from the gill monster - the strength, speed, senses, ability to live underwater, the whole nine yards."
After saying that, Xander gently replaced the boulder back into its former position in the ground, without disturbing the slightest those who stayed in their seated positions upon the rock. Straightening up once more, Xander beamed at Kim and Ron, and then he chuckled at seeing Rufus wiping his minuscule brow with sheer relief while still on Ron's shoulder after letting go of his tight grip on his owner's ear.
Kim spent a few seconds to pry off Ron's hands from her left arm, while she then imitated Xander's earlier act of hopping off the boulder. Standing in front of the older teenager, to look up with utter seriousness into this guy's inquisitive face, Kim demanded, "So, what're you going to do now?"
Xander tilted his head to the side in bemusement at the girl's intensity, but he replied with all the honesty he could put into his own voice, "Go back home, and help my friends, of course."
A solemn expression appeared upon Kim's features, as she pressed further. "You're not going to use your new powers for evil?"
"What?" yelped a shocked Xander, who then spluttered, "NO, no, no! I've been fighting evil ever since I was your age! It's always been the Big Bads on one side and Xander Harris on the other side! I might not have been able to do anything except lending a hand to the other Scoobies when I was just a normal kid, but now that I've got all this cool new stuff, I can really be useful!" Pausing in his fervent declaration, Xander then shot Kim a somber look, as he said more softly, "Plus, I'd never behave in such a way that'd let Jesse down. He always rooted for the real heroes, no matter how hard it got for them."
There was a long moment of silence in the lakeside clearing, as Kim and Xander unwaveringly regarded each other. Finally, with the unmistakable signs upon the girl's countenance of an important decision having been made by her, the redhead stuck out her hand while firmly saying, "Okay."
Ron sighed with relief at seeing how Xander's face immediately blossomed into a wide grin, as that young man's own paw was held out to trade a firm handshake with the other boy's best friend. However, once that gesture of coming to an agreement was over, Kim stepped back and she bestowed a stern glance at a startled Xander, declaring to him, "Just remember, if you do cause trouble, you'll have to deal with Kim Possible!"
Hearing that made Ron quickly scramble off the boulder to take his proper place next to his leader, all while shooting a dumbfounded Xander a rather apologetic look, but still adding his own announcement, "And her loyal sidekick, Ron Stoppable!"
There was then a short pause, as a speechless Xander blinked at the two young people standing there, tall and proud, and with the male of this pair having upon his shoulder a hairless rodent that was determinedly holding up a tiny clenched fist as his own avowal of allegiance.
Eventually, Xander managed to choke out, "Right, got that. Um. Say, you do know about your names…"
The older teenager had to trail off in whatever he'd intended to say at seeing the puzzled looks now being given him, along with the simultaneous chorused "What?" from the confused Middleton humans.
Sighing, Xander reassured Kim and Ron, "Never mind, it's not important- Hey, what's with him?"
That last question was the result of Rufus on Ron's shoulder abruptly hopping up and down and cheeping loudly. Once the little animal was sure he had the others' attention, Rufus started to make numerous gestures. First, he waved a front paw at an empty space next to Xander, and then the mole rat put both hands up before his mouth, with the teeny claws pointing down to resemble fangs. Next, Rufus leaned forward and worked his arms to imitate a swimming motion, before straightening up and opening and closing his mouth soundlessly numerous times. Last of all, the pink-skinned rodent pointed right at Xander, a worried look now evident upon Rufus' miniature face.
It was Kim who first got it, with an equally concerned expression then becoming apparent on her own features. She hastily addressed the others about a forgotten loose end, "Uh-oh. Even if us guys here agreed to keep quiet about Xander, there's still someone else who knows about him: Ron's former campmate, Gil - however you spell it with one el or two ells - is sure to blab about him, and then Global Justice will come down on us like a ton of bricks."
A truly relieved air suddenly appeared around Ron. In a voice of absolute confidence, he told the others, "That's not gonna happen, Kimbo. I hung around when Gil got questioned by GJ, and while he was more than happy to brag about everything else he did, once the interrogation got around to our fight, he promptly shut up. Knowing how long he can hold grudges, by now, Gil's probably convinced himself I somehow rigged things so that he lost. Even if he has no idea who actually wound up beating him, there's no way he's ever gonna admit a squeeb humiliated him. That means we can relax, guys."
The others of the small group in the clearing carefully considered this, to in the end deciding to take Ron at his word, knowing that he had the most experience of them all concerning Gil Moss. Brightening up at this good news, Xander again thrust out his hand for a cheerful leave-taking handshake with everyone there. Which naturally included Rufus, as Xander gently pinched together his thumb and index finger to grasp that little mammal's right paw in a cautious goodbye grip and waggle. Smiles and last-minute thanks for saving lives and agreeing to keep quiet about it were traded among the humans, and then Xander walked towards the shoreline, leaving Kim and Ron behind in the clearing.
Stopping at the water's edge, Xander turned to flash a final grin and give several people he'd come to like very much a farewell wave, then the teenager turned to face the lake. An instant later, Xander shot up into the air in another immense leap that took him a hundred feet out in the lake, where he plunged into the waters in an expert dive that left only the merest ripple behind.
For the next few moments, Ron, Kim, and Rufus continued to watch the spot where Xander Harris had vanished. The red-haired girl was the first to recover, as she then hooked her right arm around Ron's left arm, and decisively pulled him along, with the boy stumbling at first until he recovered and matched Kim's strides. As they headed back to Lake Wannaweep, the young adventuress firmly told her friends, "C'mon, guys, Coach Barkin and the rest of the cheerleaders must've given their stories to Global Justice by now, and they've got to be waiting for us so we can all leave here. Or do you really want to hang around a little longer at your old camping grounds, Ron?"
"No way!" fervently declared the only son of Mr. and Mrs. Stoppable, picking up the pace a bit. As Kim smirked at her best friend at her side, she saw a puzzled expression appear on his own face. In a musing voice, Ron confessed, "I gotta say, there's one thing I haven't figured out, which was something Xander said. Like, what's so strange about our names?"
Kim thought about that for the next few steps, until she shrugged, and answered, "No idea, Ron. Besides, he was a fine one to talk, what with his own name. You can't tell me that 'Xander' deserves to be lumped in with every Tom, Dick, and Harry."
"Yup!" cheerfully chimed in Rufus riding on his owner's shoulder, as the trio headed out of sight on the trail.