A shrine as large as Mori-jinsha had a lot of seldom-used equipment and decorations, and all of it had to be stored somewhere when not in use. That place was the storage room, a bedroom-sized space at the back of the shrine, just next door to Hebi's workshop. The old oak door remained closed and forgotten for most of the year, especially back before Akari moved in and the shrine became operational again.
But now, on a chilly October evening, that door was open wide to let in fresh air. Akari and Neko had just spent a solid eight hours cleaning and reorganizing the room, and they weren't even done. Once the sneeze-inducing dust settled, Akari planned to do some additional sorting and labeling so that they could actually find and use the supplies stored there. For example, there were at least two easy-to-assemble wooden stalls that would have saved the shrine some rental expense during the grand opening festival, had anyone known they existed.
After all that sweaty work, Akari and Neko went straight to the bath. Scrubbing all the grime from their skin was a top priority, but so was soaking their sore muscles. As Akari had already seen from exercising with Inu, even major spirits got tired and sore after a hard workout.
"Ugh, I can still taste the dust," Neko grumbled as she splashed a bucket of water on her head. She was nude and sitting on a stool next to one of the bathing room's faucets. With her black hair soaked and flattened, her triangular ears stuck out very prominently on top of her head.
"Me too," Akari said from her own stool a few feet away. She tried to keep her eyes forward and off of Neko's amazing body, but it was hard.
Neko had no such concerns. She openly looked Akari's way, took in her naked form, and didn't make a big deal of it. "There's still a big smudge on your back, between your blades."
Akari reached for the spot with her lathered puff, then flailed awkwardly at it. Her joints and muscles were too stiff to reach it properly. She did manage to get some soap and water near it, but the grime, a combination of sweat and ancient dust, didn't budge.
"Nope, missed it. Want me to get it for you?" For once, there wasn't a hint of sexuality in Neko's offer.
"Sure. And thanks."
"What are friends for?" While Akari chuckled at that, Neko continued, "Other than doing dirty, sweaty, hard work for zero pay."
As a warm and a foamy washcloth touched Akari's bare back, she said, "Thanks again for your help today. You were amazing and I don't even know how much time you saved me. Especially with the big stuff I couldn't have moved myself. I owe you one."
Behind Akari where she couldn't see, two feline tails flicked in satisfaction and a cat-like grin flashed across Neko's face. Then it vanished as quickly as it had appeared. "Yeah you do. If I'd known how much work I was signing up for, I would have asked the others to help."
"Already did," Akari said between aching moans; in addition to sweating and collecting dust as she worked, Akari's back held a lot of tension, and Neko's scrubbing felt divine. Then she continued, "They were all busy with their own 'Operation Reconnect Inara with Humanity' missions."
"Are you really calling it that? Also, I'm done if you wanna rinse now."
"Only in my head. And aloud just now, I guess," Akari answered, feeling a bit embarrassed by the whole situation. She cooled her flushing cheeks by splashing a bucketful of clean water on her head. When she next looked up, Neko had already slipped away and into the steaming water of the bath.
I'm surprised she didn't make that whole interaction sexual, Akari thought. Goddess knows that most anime would have done it. Wait. The phrase 'Goddess knows' doesn't work here. Inara-sama doesn't know much about anime. But she seems curious about it. Maybe we could watch some together some time?
Neko's eyes were closed in relaxed bliss, so Akari didn't feel the need to cover herself as she crossed the tile to the bath. She was getting used to being naked around other women, but it was harder around Neko; her body was just amazingly perfect, like a model's. Or a porn star's. Seeing it sent Akari's mind bouncing between feelings of inadequacy, envy, and attraction.
Akari lowered herself into the bath, jolting a little as her most sensitive spots were submerged. Then, with a lot of help from the hot water enveloping her body, she pushed all those conflicted thoughts aside and started to relax. Bathing had always been one of Akari's favorite things, and she loved just relaxing in warm water and tuning out the world, but she'd grown even fonder of it since moving to the shrine. Knowing that her new family could all take part in the same calming activity made it a little more special, somehow.
"Hmm?" Akari hummed, her eyes still closed.
"Got anything else you'd like help with? Maybe an itch that needs scratching?"
Akari opened her eyes and looked across the bath at Neko. There had been a seductive tone to Neko's questions, and the look in those green eyes confirmed it. They were alive and sparkling with curiosity, and with lust.
Akari felt her cheeks grow hot and shook her head. "No thanks."
She'd been getting used to turning down Neko's advances. They were never forceful and she never felt pressured, even now when she clearly owed Neko a big favor. For Neko, sex wasn't a bargaining chip. It was a personal passion that she wanted to share, like a chef making her favorite recipe for her friends, or a musician giving the gift of music.
Akari was willing to let that moment pass and return to her relaxation, but then she remembered something. "Um, actually. I could use some advice, uh, regarding sexual stuff."
Neko lit up, her tails flicking playfully. She also sat up, lifting her impressive breasts, D-cups at least, fully out of the water. "You're asking the right gal. Whatcha wanna know? How to woo and wow women? Tongue exercises to take your game to another level?"
Akari turned even redder and shook her head. "No, it's uh, something else." Then she went quiet.
Neko tried to be patient, her tails flicking back and forth like a pendulum. Then she said, "Well, spit it out, babe!"
Slowly, Akari managed to say, "Uh, I like Inara. A lot. I love her."
"Yeah, and the sky is blue. Tell me something I don't know."
Akari took a deep breath, then blazed forward. "She seems to want… to take our relationship further. Physically. She flirted with me, in her four-tail mode."
Neko bounced excitedly. "Ooh, that's my favorite Inara. Too rare though. I haven't had many cracks at 'er yet."
"But I think I'd just let her down."
Neko didn't answer. She just glared until Akari caved to the pressure and elaborated.
"Twice now, when she handed me her tablet, there were pictures of women, with, uh, dicks. I think she likes male parts."
Neko's eyes sparkled with excitement. "Is that all? Humans have a lovely little invention to solve that problem. Maybe you've heard of it? It's called a strap-on."
Akari opened her mouth to respond, but Neko continued, "And, you ever think she mighta been showing you those pics for a reason?"
Whatever Akari had been planning to say was gone. "Huh?"
"Damn, you're way too innocent. Think about it: she happened to show you pictures of chicks with dicks, twice. She also happens to be able to transform her body. She's testing the waters, my gal, tryin' to check if you want a meaty member or not. That's how she bones Inu, right?"
At that thought, Neko gazed into the distance, licked her lips, and shivered.
Akari blinked vacantly, then said, "Oh."
Neko returned to reality and said, "So, do ya want the D? You seem like a girl's girl, but there was that shitty ex-BF of yours."
Akari shook her head more forcefully than even she'd expected. "No, I'm… I can be romantically attracted to men, but I'm not into the male body."
"Totally opposite me, then. Two hundred years without fallin' in love, but I've slept with all sorts."
"Two hundred?!" Akari blurted. She knew that age wasn't rare for a major spirit, since Usagi and Hebi were even older than that, but it didn't fit with Akari's understanding of Neko, or her personality. She was more like a young 20-something, and a horny one at that.
Neko smiled. "The last 40 were the best though. All that kickin' music you humans make! And gadgets for music on demand! The right song can be great foreplay, and a sick soundtrack can even make sex better. Oh right, I was supposed to be giving you tips about sex?"
Akari nodded. "Yeah, you already did… And I think you were right about Inara-sama. I bet she was just trying to see what I wanted. So what do I do now? Tell her I prefer the female, uh, form?" Akari could barely finish the sentence. For Inara's genitalia to matter, that meant actual physical intimacy. That meant having sex with a goddess. It was unfathomable.
Neko bobbed her head from side to side in thought, then said, "Sure, but I'd take a more direct route. I'd say I want to eat her out, then describe how I'd devour her luscious peach top to bottom, inside and out."
After that, Akari went completely still with a vacant look on her face. Neko waved a hand and even shook her sizable breasts at Akari, but there was no response.
"Ah damn, I broke you," Neko said with an unrepentant grin. "Well, you ever want to learn how to please even a goddess, just hit me up. I can even give you a personal demonstration…"
With that, Neko climbed out of the bath and sauntered away, humming a tune and flicking her forked tails playfully. She crossed into the laundry room, planning to towel off before magicking up some clothes, but her tune cut off abruptly.
"Hello, Neko," Usagi said. She was clearly on her way to the bath since she was naked with a towel over her front and her long golden hair was loose around her shoulders. There was also a sour expression on her face, barely above a frown.
"Yo," Neko said cheerfully. "Akari's in there, but she won't be much of a conversation partner. I think I broke her."
"Oh, I heard that part," Usagi said with barely restrained venom. The corner of her mouth turned up in an unpleasant smile and she added, "So, no luck with Inara?"
Neko ignored the hostility and grinned. "Not yet, but Akari's getting there. I'm rooting for her."
Without responding, Usagi pivoted and walked away. Neko watched her go, eying her curvy hips and fluffy tail, until the glass door to the bathing room was closed once again. Then Neko resumed her humming and dried herself off.
It didn't take long for Akari to recover. She didn't have enough experience to properly fantasize about what sex with Inara would be like, and the mental images she did conjure were clunky and awkward, like an amateur play with only two actors, no director, and a lot of nudity. She returned to Earth from her daydream to find Usagi washing off nearby.
Akari splashed some water on her face, then said, "Oh, hi Usagi. How are you today?"
"Been better. You?" Usagi's tone was almost friendly; she kept her jealousy on a tighter leash when it came to Akari.
Akari thought about it for a few seconds, then said, "Really good actually. Things have been working out with the commissions, and we got a lot done today in the storage room."
Usagi's nose twitched at that, recalling the centuries of memories associated with that room, mostly of dust and sneezing. Then her ears twitched in surprise at what Akari said next.
"I'm sorry you aren't feeling great. Was it anything I did?"
Usagi turned and saw Akari's purple eyes peeking over the edge of the bath. The rest of her was submerged in the steaming water. It was adorable, in a frustrating way. "No, it's not your fault. I just have a hard time when Mistress Inara focuses on others. I'm just selfish that way."
Those big purple eyes blinked. "But aren't you in a relationship with Hebi t—"
"Yes, I know I'm a hypocrite," Usagi interrupted. "And knowing that only makes me feel worse."
"It's not your fault. I already said that."
"But I'm still sorry. I want you to be happy, Usagi, but I don't know how to talk to you."
Usagi raised an eyebrow. "You're talking to me now."
"Barely. It's kinda hard when, uh, my eyes keep wandering."
Usagi glanced down at herself. Unlike Inara, she didn't have a bombshell physique, and she didn't have Neko's supermodel slim-and-busty look either. She didn't have Inu's strength or Hebi's striking slenderness. When Usagi saw herself, she saw a short, squishy, jealous mess.
One of Usagi's ears quirked up. "Are you trying to cheer me up through flattery?"
"Yes, I'm trying to cheer you up," Akari answered, "but not like that. I guess my head's just in a weird place. Sorry."
"I heard part of your conversation with Neko. Inara really came on to you?"
Akari shrank back from the edge of the pool. "Uh, yeah?" she said, warily.
Usagi turned away and went back to washing herself. "It's fine, I'm not angry. In fact, I hope things go well for you. Mistress Inara needs all the love she can get."
"Is that what you want?" Akari asked.
Usagi glanced back over her shoulder. Akari was at the edge of the pool again, peering up at her. "Huh?"
Akari explained, "I've been trying to figure out what you want, so I can provide it. I'm not good at relationships, so I try to be useful. But I never could figure out how to be useful to you." She took a breath, then said, "And what you want is for Inara-sama to be loved and happy?"
"Yeah, I suppose so," Usagi said as she rinsed the soap from her body.
Akari jumped to her feet so abruptly it splashed water all the way to Usagi. "Then that's what I'll do. I'll do everything in my power to make Inara happy, and I'll make sure to leave room for you to do the same. I don't want Inara all to myself, and I know I couldn't handle that. I'm just a weak human, but I care about her, and I'll do my best."
Usagi stood as well, and a worried look appeared on Akari's face, like she was a little afraid. But the rabbit spirit just walked over to the bath and climbed in. Once she was settled in, a few feet from Akari, she said, "You and I are a lot alike, Akari. A hell of a lot alike."
The room was silent for a moment, then Akari tried to restart the conversation. "Did you hear that Inara wants to add personal growth to her domain? The shrine's going to be dedicated to self improvement."
"Huh. I could use some of that."
Akari smiled at her. "Me too. Want to work on that together?"
With a chuckle, Usagi responded, "Then it wouldn't be self improvement, would it?"
Akari giggled. "Touché."