The cool water surged in all around Mimi as she sank beneath the spring's surface, wiping away the desert heat all at once. Mimi's blonde hair, freed from its tails, spread out in soft waves around her head.
Her short legs kicked, bringing her back up to the surface for a gasping breath.
Beside her, Sami did the same, the Miqo'te's white hair now sopping wet and draped down over her face. Mimi's lips twitched at how ridiculous it looked. Sami's ears had lost all their fluff, too.
"I'm a big bad merkitty," Sami said. She lifted her hands up out of the water, curling them into claws. "I eat pirates for breakfast, lunch, AND dinner! Grrrggllllgrrowr!"
Mimi put a hand to her mouth, stifling a giggle. "What do you eat for dessert?"
Sami's lip curled downward for a moment, her hair still hanging over her eyes. Then she bared her teeth, showing the feline fangs that were already starting to grow. "I don't get to eat dessert cause I'm real bad."
"Last chance, Sami," Kahga called from the side of the pool, dressed in her performing suit. "Lohre and I are leaving now. Your mother is expecting all of us. She's going to be disappointed not to see you there. I'm going to have to tell her you didn't want to come."
"Okay! Bye! Tell her I didn't want to come! Cause I don't!" Sami shouted from the water. She dunked her head under, resurfacing with her hair out of her eyes.
"Be good for Mrs. Mare! I had better not find you ran off when we get back!" Kahga leaned in toward the Lalafell, softening her voice. "Thank you for doing this, really, I'm not sure what we would have done with her had we not bumped into you. I can drag her along if it's too much trouble."
"It's no trouble," Mamare said, waving Kahga off. "I'm just glad I can be of use on this trip. You just focus on the performance. I'm sorry I can't be there! Tell your wife I said hi!"
"Miss you already, little sister," Lohre said. She had already given up her swimsuit for a formal suit, making her the spitting image of her mother (even if Lohre was not going to be playing). "Gimme a kiss."
Sami stuck her tongue out, but she paddled over to the edge of the pool where Lohre was, grabbed the rock where Lohre was crouching, puckered up, and launched herself upward. Her aim was off, and it wasn't much of a kiss - more of an affectionate (if wet) headbutt that smashed Sami's nose into Lohre's cheek - but Lohre seemed satisfied all the same.
As the older Nelhas left, Cocoa whooped in victory from the deeper part of the pool, holding up her arms with five colorfully painted wooden rings dangling from her hands. The metal weights around the bottoms clinked together in her grasp. "I got five!"
"Aw, no fair!" Celes squealed, holding up her three rings. "I was really close! Come on, we have to do it again!"
"Okay, but I'm just gonna beat you again~" Cocoa tossed her rings into the air, watching as they splashed down into the clear blue water and sank to the bottom. "Okay, you ready?"
Celes followed suit, then nodded as her rings sank away. "Uh huh!"
"Okay, on three! One... two..." Cocoa sucked in a breath.
"Cocoa!" Hahane's voice interrupted the count, making Mimi perk up. Mom wasn't even going to be here today! This was a nice surprise!
Cocoa's chest deflated. "What, Mom?"
"I have wonderful news. A goldsmith from the tribe agreed to talk to you about a possible apprenticeship! As it happens, she's based in Ul'dah, and she's only visiting family here. So since she's free, and she knows the shop, she wants to talk to you while we're here!"
"Um, okay," Cocoa said. She turned back to Celes. "One... Tw-"
"Which means you need to come get dried off and get dressed." Hahane held up Cocoa's work apron and a towel. "She's a very busy woman, and we're lucky that we caught her when she had some time. And I have my own meetings to get to, so I won't be able to take you if you wait."
Mimi piped up. "Mom? You're not staying?"
"I'm sorry, honey, but this is a work trip, so I have to work." Hahane gave Mimi a slight smile. "I have to talk to the people here so they can sell me the things for people to buy, so that we can get money!"
"Oh..." Mimi sank down lower in the water. "Okay... Yeah..." Mom kept doing things to get money. How much money did they need, anyway?
Cocoa paddled to the side and hoisted herself up onto the rock there, sitting with her feet dangling into the water. She kicked her feet irritably, splashing water into Mimi's face. "I want to swim with everyone else."
Hahane draped the towel over Cocoa's shoulders, using it to dry the girl's hair. "I know you do, sweetheart, but this is a big opportunity for you!"
"Who cares?" Cocoa asked sullenly. "We're just gonna move to Gridania, aren't we? For Kiki. And then I'll have to find a new goldsmith to learn from... And there probably aren't even any there..."
"That is not decided yet." Hahane let the wet towel drape down, squeezing her daughter's shoulders. "It's a possibility, but so is the possibility that we'll stay right here in Ul'dah and you'll become this woman's apprentice. As long as you go and talk to her, that is. Now, come on."
Cocoa blew out a dramatic sigh, clambering to her feet. Her bare feet slapped against the hot rocks as she followed her mother, sneaking one last peek at the pool and her sisters. "Whatever... Seeya then."
"I'm sorry," Kiki called. She stood at the shallowest part of the pool, holding Pichi's hands while the tiny girl determinedly kicked. "I hope your interview goes well!"
Cocoa didn't turn back to look at her.
Awkward tension settled over the pool, the only sound the splashing of Pichi's kicks.
It didn't last long.
"Cannonball!!" Sami had climbed out and now sprinted for the water with her arms held out behind her in a ninja run, her feet slapping across the stone all the way.
Mamare called out without looking. "No running, Sami!"
Sami didn't even hesitate. She launched herself into the air, curled her arms and tail around her legs and plunked down hard, making a gigantic wave crash down over Mimi.
"Aaahhh!!" Mimi covered her head and splashed back as soon as Sami surfaced, grateful for the distraction.
Sami spit out a mouthful of water. "Wanna see me do a flip underwater?"
"Mrs. Mare, wanna see me do a flip?"
Mamare looked up from her knitting. "Let's see, Sami!"
Sami ducked under the water, her arms wheeling unevenly and her legs kicking in the air. Her flip was more than a little lopsided, but it was a greater feat of aquatic acrobatics than Mimi had ever done, and Sami was mostly upside down and then was back upright again, so Mimi clapped delightedly.
"Very good!" Mamare called, her attention already drifting back down to her needles.
"I wanna do a flip too!!" Pichi squealed.
Kiki squeezed her hands. "You have to keep practicing a lot more before you can do a flip! Blow bubbles for me."
Pichi put her face down into the water and blew, the water's surface churning all around her head. She lifted her face again, her eyes sparkling.
"So good!" Kiki cooed. "You're going to be a swimming pro in no time!"
Mimi drifted over to watch the swimming lesson. Kiki was so cool. She knew basically everything, and she could talk to the earth and the wind and the water. "You are, Pichi! Especially with Kiki teaching you!"
Sami's head bobbed over next to Mimi's. "Do the waves again, Kiki!"
"Yeah, more waves!" Mimi bobbed next to Sami, matching the Miqo'te's movements.
Kiki's lips twitched, the beginnings of a smile. She lifted Pichi out of the water, setting her on one of the rocks lining the pool. "You girls want more waves?"
"I don't know... You really think you can handle more waves?"
"Okay... You asked for it!" Kiki grabbed her conjuring rod and dipped its tip into the water. Ripples spread outward, tiny ones at first... but they quickly swelled to be bigger than Sami's head, crashing against the rocks on the other side of the pool and doubling back.
"Thar seas be stormy today, Pirate Miru," Sami said, narrowing her eyes.
"Yarr, Cap'n Nelha!" Mimi said, making her voice as gravelly as she could while frantically treading water.
"It's because there's a... Sea monster!!" Sami dove underwater, grabbing Mimi's ankle and dragging it up to the surface, sending Mimi upside-down in the water. "Groar! I'll have this pirate for lunch today!"
"Nooo! Don't let the sea monstpbbblubb!" Mimi's cry dissolved into bubbles as water flowed into her mouth. "Ugggh!! It got up my nose!!"
"Wanna get the rings with me, Mimi?" Celes asked, floating over to Mimi.
"Not right now, the sea monster got me!" Mimi kicked her leg, trying to shake off Sami's grip. "This might be the end for Pirate Miru!!"
"But her knight in shining armor comes to rescue her!" Celes wrapped Mimi in her arms and pulled her away from Sami. "Aren't you gonna kiss me for rescuing you?"
Mimi wriggled in Celes's grasp, trying to keep her head above the waves. "No! There's no knights in a pirate ship!"
"Can I be in the pirate ship?" Pichi asked, standing on the rock beside the other three and shivering with her arms wrapped around herself.
"Okay. You're the booty," Sami said. "We're bringing you back home for a snack."
Pichi squeaked and ran off toward her mother, leaving a trail of darkened, wet rocks behind her wherever she dripped.
Mimi had finally managed to break free of Celes, now that the waves were beginning to settle. "Don't eat Pichi or we won't be friends anymore!"
"You can't tell me what to do!" Sami shot back. Her wet hair was now plastered over one of her eyes like an eyepatch. "I'll eat both of you and have room for dessert still!"
"Girls, it looks like that storm over there is getting closer," Mamare cut in, beckoning. "Come get your towels. We'll go back to the inn and play games and have ice cream while we wait for everyone to come back, okay?"
"Yes, Mama," came the chorus of voices. (Along with one reluctant "Fiiiine" from Sami, who seemed mollified by the prospect of ice cream despite her blue lips.)
By the time the storm hit, the girls were safely huddled in their towels in the inn room, slurping noisily on ice cream as the winds howled and raged outside.