The moment had finally arrived. Akari's heart was pounding. Her face was flushed. She was grinning from ear to ear.
"I'm going on a date with Inara," she sang to herself as she danced around her bedroom. "A Christmas date with Inara~"
Akari had picked out her outfit the day before, but she still spent over an hour getting dressed and fussing over the details of her hair and makeup. She had never been that girly or fashionable, so she only wore makeup for special occasions, and this was the most special of occasions. Except maybe for something like a wedding, but that was getting too far ahead of herself.
Akari was dressed in a white blouse under a lightweight red sweater, with a dark grey skirt and white leggings for warmth. Her purple hair was pinned back above her ears to show off her eyes, which had been accented with a touch of mascara. She had thought about adding a bit of rouge for rosy cheeks, but the cold air would probably manage that just fine.
After one last look over herself in the mirror, making sure that not so much as a single hair was out of place, she jogged to Inara's bedroom door.
"Miss Inara?" she called out after knocking. "Are you ready to go?"
The door opened and Akari's heart nearly stopped. Inara was standing there, not in a regal kimono like Akari had expected, but in a long sleeveless dress that faded from forest green at the top to a deep royal blue when it ended at her ankles. It was slit up one side, showing a lovely and daring stretch of bare leg. A sheer white shawl covered her shoulders, and she held a larger coat in one hand for venturing outdoors. Her red-orange hair was pulled back into a french braid that cascaded nearly to her waist, and her ears and tails were already hidden away with magic.
Akari opened her mouth, but she found herself speechless. Inara spoke instead. "You look positively lovely, Akari."
"Y-you look amazing too, Inara," Akari mumbled in reply.
Inara reached for Akari's cheek, but stopped short to not smudge her makeup. "I love the way you've highlighted your beautiful eyes."
With Inara's hand so close, Akari couldn't help but notice the striking blue-green nail polish the goddess was wearing. Dammit, I forgot to put on nail polish! Akari grumbled internally. And after I trimmed and filed them and everything. But that thought vanished like a wisp of smoke in a hurricane when Inara's hand dropped down along Akari's arm and gently took her hand.
"Shall we? You said the reservation is at eight, and we've got quite a walk ahead of us."
Akari could feel the goddess's warmth flowing through her hand, and also through their spiritual connection. Inara had chosen her, she was Inara's chosen one, and it felt amazing. And the night was far from over.
The walk down the forest trail into town was like a dream. Everything was peaceful and quiet, as if the entire outside world was frozen in place beneath a layer of snow. Akari held Inara's hand tight, and together they safely made it down the sometimes-icy path without losing their footing. And when they emerged through the wooden torii gate at the bottom of the hill, it was like they had passed through a portal from the past into the future.
Shimmering lights and neon signs sparkled in the crisp night air, cheerful tourists and locals mingled in the pathways, and couples out on dates clustered together on every bench and around every romantic shop.
Akari was so caught up in the moment, in the bliss of being on a date, that she didn't so much as wonder about what others might think about two women walking hand in hand on Christmas Eve. Thankfully, back when she reserved a table at the sushi restaurant, she'd had the foresight to ask for one off by itself.
"We have a reservation." Inara's voice pulled Akari back down to earth. "Under 'Mamori', I believe."
"Of course. Right this way," the waitress said. She led them past the crowded main room, through a narrow hallway, and to a small room behind a traditional sliding door. The floor was made of tatami mats, and two small black cushions had been placed on either side of the low table. "Will this do?" she asked.
"This will do wonderfully. Thank you," Inara said with a smile so warm it seemed to brighten the small space and warm it several degrees.
The waitress bowed and left, leaving Akari and Inara alone together in the cozy room. Even though other people were nearby, just on the other side of the thin walls, it somehow felt even more private than inside Inara's room at the shrine. Like their own little haven.
"Um, here's a menu," Akari said, holding out the slender folded board. The menu was minimalist, just a list of names and prices in increments of 100 yen.
"Thank you, dear," Inara replied. "It's been long enough since I last had sushi that I may need your help." She glanced over the names and looked back up with wide eyes. "Okay, I definitely need your help. I've never heard of half of these dishes. What's an avocado roll?"
"Have you never had an avocado?"
Inara shook her head.
"Well, they're a weird, soft vegetable that's been available in Japan for a while, but using them in sushi only caught on recently. Apparently Americans love doing that."
Inara nodded slowly. It seemed even America was relatively new and mysterious to her. Then she smiled and said, "Let's just go ahead and order one to try. And pick out anything else you think I might like." She winked and added, "I'll deal with the bill and Hebi's wrath."
After deliberating for a few minutes, Akari ordered a selection of sushi and sashimi, and one bottle of hot sake. She made sure to keep the alcohol order small so that Inara wouldn't risk losing control of her goddess aura. Multiplying everyone's romantic desire when it was already sky high was sure to cause trouble.
After the waitress returned with their order, the first couple minutes of conversation were all about the delicious food, whether Inara liked the new developments in the world of sushi, and general chatter. Then the topic switched to the shrine.
"I'm excited for the new year," Inara started. "It had never been that important to me before, but it's so perfect for my new domains. A time for looking forward, for moving on from the past, and for making new commitments to yourself. You've heard of new year resolutions, right?"
Akari nodded. "Yes, even if I'm not great at keeping them…"
"Well this coming year, I plan to commit myself to the shrine more than ever, and even reveal myself to our loyal worshippers."
Akari felt her jaw clench. "Um, are you sure you should do that? Most humans fear supernatural things."
Inara tipped her head questioningly. If her tails had been visible, a solitary one surely would have been fwipping curiously behind her. "That's why I said I'd keep it to the loyal few, those who would be more accepting." Inara frowned. "It's not like you to be this cautious, Akari. Where's the girl who followed a trail of mysterious carvings into the woods all alone? The girl who performed on stage at a festival with animal spirits in miko outfits?"
"Ah, I, well…" Akari frowned. "I… I think I just don't want to risk losing you. To fame, or to trouble with humanity…" She trailed off, but her thoughts continued, Or to someone else.
"Ah, jealousy," Inara said, not unkindly. "Do you know why I have nine tails?"
"Huh?" Akari had no idea what that had to do with anything, but she answered as best she could. "Um, because you split yourself into nine pieces to keep your powers under control."
"But why nine pieces?"
Akari blinked. "I… don't know."
Inara smiled. "Don't feel bad for not knowing. I've never really spoken of it." She took a sip of sake, then said, "It's because there are nine competing ideals that I strive for, nine ways I believe a woman should aspire to be." She raised her hands and counted off, "Curious, dominant, submissive, fertile, caring, wild, passionate, innocent, and powerful. Those words aren't perfect fits for my aspirations, but they're good enough."
"Okay… I guess I knew that list already, from your various moods. But what does this have to do with me being jealous?"
"Jealousy isn't one of my ideals," Inara answered. "I don't believe there's anything to be gained from nurturing or tolerating jealousy. It doesn't look good on Usagi, and it's quite unflattering on you as well, my dear."
Akari wilted. "Oh. I'm sorry for ruining things."
"You have ruined nothing. Jealousy is a foe we all must do battle against, and to fight properly, you need to first understand your enemy. So if you would like, we could talk through your feelings and identify where this jealousy is coming from. It need not be right now, of course."
Akari took a deep breath. "I do want to work through that, and I'll take you up on that offer, but… not tonight. I want to enjoy my time with you to its fullest."
Inara nodded. "Of course. And how would you like to spend that time?"
Akari looked down and realized they had finished off most of their sushi and completely drained the little bottle of sake. "I'm not sure, actually. I wanted to keep the evening flexible so we could do whatever we thought of in the moment."
Inara nudged her empty sake cup around the tabletop with one finger. "Well, I would love to go bar hopping with you, but I don't trust myself to keep my aura in check if I drink any more."
"How about we take the bar home with us, so you can safely cut loose? We can visit a liquor store on the way home, retreat to your room, and look up mixed drink recipes on my laptop."
"Now that sounds like a lovely plan."
The plan was more successful than Akari had anticipated. They had purchased only a couple bottles of liquor, since they'd have to carry them a long way uphill to get home, but their selection produced some delicious results even with zero mixologist skills between them. After a few drinks while lounging around the small heater in Inara's room, something changed in both of them.
Inara, who had long ago shed her disguise and limiting dress in favor of a loose and comfy kimono, also started to abandon any sense of modesty. Her kimono was open to her navel, and the soft curve of her breasts tempted and teased from within that excessive cleavage.
Akari had stopped pretending not to stare. Inara was truly breathtaking, more beautiful than anything she'd ever seen. Akari wanted her like a desert wanted rain, like a weary worker wanted rest, like a magnet wanted iron. She decided to get what she wanted.
Akari shed her sweater, her skirt and leggings, then even her blouse. Her bra and panties were a matching set, both silky and snug and the same lovely purple as her hair. Then, as Inara watched in puzzled amusement, Akari climbed onto Inara's lap, inserting herself between the goddess and her own kimono. She wrapped her arms and legs around Inara's bare skin, and smiled proudly.
"I know that you said there's nothing to be gained from jealousy, but just for tonight, can I have one little present?"
Inara giggled. "I suppose that depends on the present."
"I want to be the only one in your thoughts."
"Already done, my love."
Akari blinked, emotion welling in the corners of her eyes. "Love? You love me?"
"From the bottom of my heart."
Akari kissed Inara then, again and again. She kissed as the goddess held her tight, she kissed as she felt deft fingers unhook her bra, and she kept kissing, their lips clinging together out of need and love and lust, even as Inara tipped herself backwards and pulled Akari with her. Inara's hands slid down Akari's back and her thumbs hooked into the elastic band of the purple panties.
"No," Akari whispered. "Let me show you my love first."
Maybe this is the real reason I put all that effort into my nails, she thought, maneuvering her hand lower and lower along Inara's soft stomach. Inara's panties, apparently just conjured fakes, helpfully vanished. And Akari set to work.
For what felt like hours, everything was perfect, magical. Akari was in pure bliss. She gave and she received and the pleasure built and built toward a crescendo until Akari started to lose her grip on reality. In all the world, there was only her, and Inara, and the rising ecstasy of the goddess's touch. There was no shrine, and there were no housemates to compete with. No humans or spirits, and no divide in between.
There was no past to dwell on, only this moment. Only this moment and the future.
Her thoughts seemed to stretch and slide, pulled like taffy nearly to its breaking point before being pulled back and folded over itself again, reforming the consciousness called Akari with a bit of new insight, with a little glimpse of the infinite threads of fate that formed the grand tapestry of time. But as Akari crested the apex, as her body bathed in endorphins and passion and love, her gift of foresight took over…
As she came, her mind went.
"Oh yeah?" Inara whispered into Akari's ear, her fingers unslowing.
"In one-hundred years or ten-thousand, the distance is irrelevant. It approaches, and it cannot be stopped."
Inara went still. "Akari? What are you saying?"
Akari's eyes snapped open, wide and blank. Tears dribbled down both cheeks, steadily, unstopping. Her breath was ragged and fast. "I can see it all. I can see voices, left alone in the dark. The last of humanity, though they are barely human. They've given so much."
Inara held Akari's trembling body tight in her arms. "Shh, it's okay, dear Akari. Everything is okay. It's just a vision. It can't hurt you."
She pressed her forehead to Akari's and closed her eyes. Beads of exertion formed on Inara's skin, then ran down to join the cold sweat that had coated Akari's body. "You aren't strong enough for this yet. I will take this burden from you."
Inara's muscles clenched and her eyelids flickered. Her fox ears went rigid and all nine tails splayed out behind her in an array. Each moved independently but in cooperation with the others. They were all needed for this.
Inara's body began to glow, and Akari's breathing finally slowed. "It's okay, my love. I see the vision now. I have taken it from you, and you may rest."
Akari didn't respond; she had already passed out. Her body was limp, but her chest rose and fell steadily. She was asleep. She was safe.
Inara managed to contain the vision, to withstand the infinite, just long enough to place Akari safely in bed before her knees gave out.
"How?" she muttered, panting hard. "How did little Akari stand this as long as she had?"
The goddess held her head in her hands and steadied her breathing using the meditation techniques she had learned from a passing monk centuries ago. Then she sat upright, legs crossed, body bare in the dim candlelight. She closed her eyes, and braced herself. Then she opened her mind to the vision, and witnessed the end.
When it had passed, an unknowable amount of time later, Inara rubbed her temples and groaned. "Well, that's… not good," she mumbled to herself. "But it's not urgent. No reason to let it ruin our holidays. I'll bring it up with the girls after Hatsumode."