Author's note: This is certainly the most risque of my plot bunnies (so far…). For a while I've wondered whether to make one M-rated version of this for both and AO3 or different versions (with the E-rated one on AO3) for each site. This is because I don't want to risk the story being removed from FF for its sex scenes. I do like the fact I can write more explicit stories now, but I also feel that means my FF readers miss out if they don't visit AO3 as well. Hmm… Maybe I should put up a blind poll on FF to see what you guys prefer…

Warning: PokerPair; Fem!Allen Walker; Dog!Timcanpy; Smut; Sexy lingerie; Smoking (which is extremely unhealthy – don't do it); Aged-up Characters; Flashbacks; A little bit of footsie (Guess who starts it~); Probable OOC-ness; Using UK terms despite setting the story in America; Some gratuitous Portuguese

Disclaimer: D. Gray – Man is never, ever going to belong to me.


One Step Short…

- xXx -

Looking through a window of Lenalee's apartment, Ellen spotted a yellow taxi cab pulling up to the front of the building. She was the last remaining member of that evening's party-goers; everyone else had either returned home or left for greener, liquor-fueled pastures. "It looks like my ride is here."

"It's too bad Kanda had to leave the party early," Lenalee said as she began escorting her friend from her apartment to the cab. "But I guess that problem with his latest landscaping project had to be dealt with as soon as possible."

Ellen barely repressed a snort of disbelief as they entered the elevator. "I wouldn't be surprised that Bakanda just took advantage of an excuse to leave without me," she disagreed. "After all, only Lavi's constant prodding had forced him to drive all three of us here. And I find it interesting that his client's call came right after Lavi left with Sachiko and as I was talking with Krory and Eliade about their upcoming wedding."

Lenalee sighed in exasperation as she watched the numbers for the floor levels descend at an even pace. Was it really too much to ask for Kanda and Ellen to not complain about each other, especially when not in the other's company? "A mere coincidence, Ellen," she gently reproached her friend. "Really, it's not as if Kanda just rushed out of the door once the call ended. He told both of us what was going on before he left. And he wouldn't have done that if you didn't have at least one way to pay for a ride back home on you. Surely that proves something?"

Ellen's lips pressed into a thin line as she gave that thought. Just as the elevator reached the first floor, the British woman broke the protracted silence by reluctantly saying, "Well… I guess he isn't truly thoughtless… though he can act like it."

"And just how much did it cost you to admit that out loud?"

"Oh, not much. Just a sliver of my soul."

The Chinese woman laughed at that last statement, which triggered chuckles from her white-haired friend as well. The laughter kept up as the two women left the elevator and crossed the lobby. It died, however, once Ellen opened the front door and shivered as the cold air from outside hit her.

Lenalee looked at her friend in concern. "Are you sure you'll be okay going home dressed like that?"

Instead of a pair of skinny jeans or dress pants, Ellen was currently wearing one of Lenalee's pencil skirts. She had originally arrived to the party in black trousers, but then Miranda accidentally spilled a substantial amount of wine on them. Because this happened right as the party ended, and Ellen didn't want to inconvenience Lenalee by staying overnight, she was forced to borrow one of the other's more conservative skirts.

However, that was only true due to the others being miniskirts with hems reaching mid-thigh. Add in the fact that Ellen was two inches taller than Lenalee, and the difference of length between the borrowed skirt and the others was just one inch – well, let's just say the final result had the British woman showing more skin than she was used to. And left her more vulnerable to the chill of the night.

"You could have also borrowed one of my pairs of leggings to wear underneath the skirt," the raven-haired woman pointed out while gesturing to her own skirt-legging combo. "They're better for the cold. Or perhaps you should just stay overnight, like I've offered before."

Ellen shook her head and smiled. "Thank you for your consideration, but I'll be fine. The taxi will be heated, so it's not like I'll have to walk all the home tonight," she reassured Lenalee as they walked towards the taxi, adding on, "Besides, leggings give me the worst case of camel toe. And I would rather risk that with a pair I own rather than yours."

However, Lenalee still pursued the topic. "You can always wash the leggings before returning them, you know. Which is what you've always done with the clothing I've lent you before."

"Ah… you're right, Lenalee," Ellen conceded as the two stopped right beside the cab. "But-"

Her response was cut off by the driver-side window rolling down and the taxi driver leaning out of it. He saw the two women and asked, "Is one of you Ellen Walker?"

"I am," Ellen confirmed, quietly happy that he had interrupted her response.

The driver nodded and settled back into his seat. The telltale sound of unlocking doors was then heard by the two. Ellen opened the door on her side and slid into the backseat, resting the plastic bag carrying her soiled pants in her lap. She closed the door and rolled down her window to look at her friend now standing in front. "I'll see you next week, Lenalee," she said with a smile.

"See you then, Ellen! Have a safe trip home!" Lenalee replied a smile of her own, still quite curious about what her friend was going to say. Oh well, it probably wasn't too important…

"Where to, Miss?" the taxi driver asked his passenger.

"The White Ark Apartments at 14 Gray Avenue, please," Ellen said as she rolled the window back up. As the taxi pulled away, she continued to wave at Lenalee from the back window who reciprocated in turn.

Once Lenalee was no longer in view, Ellen carefully sat back in her seat and faced the front. 'It's good that I'm sitting behind the driver,' she idly thought as one hand smoothed down her borrowed skirt.

'Accidentally flashing him is the last thing I want happening right now…'

- Earlier that day -

"There, all done," Ellen sighed out loud as she set the basket filled with clean laundry down on her bed. It was the last load she had done today, with all the previous loads piled up nearby and organized by variables like color or type of fabric.

'I really should have done this earlier,' she wryly thought as her gaze switched from her laundry to her alarm clock. 'Kanda and Lavi are arriving in less than an hour. I still need to take a shower, dress and do my makeup for Lenalee's party. That won't leave me enough time to fold and put everything away.'

'Still,' she amended as her fingers lightly twitched, 'I can't sloppily leave my laundry like this.'

Because her former legal guardian, Cross Marian, was quite particular about cleanliness and properly folded clothing, Ellen had formed the habit of putting away her laundry as soon as it finished drying. Which was far better than becoming a drunkard or chain-smoker, in her humble opinion. She still didn't know why he had been so adamant about her storing her undergarments in the top drawer of whichever room she stayed in, though.

Ellen sighed and glanced back at the clock. She could see that five minutes had passed during her inner monologue.

'...I guess it can wait until I'm out of the shower,' she ultimately decided. The young woman walked over to her empty hamper and started to strip. After dumping her clothes into the plastic receptacle, she then entered her en suite bathroom and closed the door.

Right after the gray doorknob untwisted and returned to its resting position, the bedroom door was gently pushed open by a wet nose belonging to a curious dog. His name was Timcanpy, a Soft Coated Golden who has been with Ellen since she was eleven years old. Yet despite his advancing age, the dog still retained the blithe energy of a puppy.

Timcanpy walked into the bedroom, twisting his head around as his nose worked hard in trying to find Ellen. He had just finished his nap and, as he already had his daily walk and didn't want to play with his toys, wanted her attention. But he hadn't found her in any of the other rooms in the flat. And he didn't see her here. So where was she?

That was quickly answered when he caught the sound of rain pelting the ground. As the skies were clear when he looked out the window earlier, Timcanpy realized that Ellen was getting clean behind the room's other door. He couldn't help but whine at that; whenever she got cleaned in that room, it meant he wouldn't see her for what seemed (to him) to be a long while. Which ultimately meant he had to wait for scratches and belly rubs!

Still, Ellen was always happy when he was patient and waited for her to finish whatever she was doing. She would smile and call him a 'good boy,' which meant lots of petting and treats. He loved treats! Especially those chicken bits dipped in gravy!

With that in mind, Timcanpy resolved to be a 'good boy' by waiting in front of the cleaning room door. That way Ellen would immediately see and praise him for being one!

But no sooner had the crossbreed sat down did he notice the smell of lavender in the room. He turned his head to pinpoint its source: on top of Ellen's bed. Now quite intrigued, he got up and trotted over to the bed and leapt onto it. He immediately found himself among piles of fabric. They were all recognizable to the dog: towels, sheets, those things Ellen wore over her chest, legs and feet because she had little fur…

Then Timcanpy caught sight of items he never saw around the flat, let alone on her. He sniffed one of them, but they simply smelled the same as everything else on the bed. So then he took the next step…

- x -

Ellen shut off her blow dryer and inspected herself in the bathroom mirror. Because her hair was short, the time taken to blow dry it was much shorter compared to other styles. Now for the finishing touches.

After unplugging the dryer and putting it away, she grabbed the hair serum and applied it in order to give her snowy locks shine. But just as she finished and was about to grab her makeup case, Ellen heard the sound of cloth ripping… coming from her bedroom.

'What on God's green earth?' Confused, the young woman opened the bathroom door and walked into her bedroom. She stopped dead in her tracks, however, once she caught sight of her beloved dog mauling a pair of emerald green polka-dotted boy shorts to death as he laid upon her bed.

"Timcanpy!" she screamed in horrified dismay. "What are you doing?!"

Timcanpy excitedly turned his head to look at Ellen as soon as he heard her voice. But when he saw the look on her face, he realized that something was wrong. That wasn't the look that meant that Timcanpy was a 'good boy.' It meant that he did something she thought was wrong; that he was a 'bad boy.' And instead of getting treats, he wouldn't get anything. Not even a single glance in his direction!

Realizing how badly he screwed up, the whimpering Soft Coated Golden leapt off the bed and ran out of the room with his tail between his legs. The ruined pair of boy shorts were still clamped between his teeth.

Ellen let him go, too shocked at first to even try to retrieve her mouth-trapped underwear. But soon she snapped out of her stupor and walked over to her bed to fully assess the situation.

On one hand, Tim had left most of her clean laundry unmolested. There was a little shed fur sprinkled about and faint impressions of paw prints; but overall her sheets, towels and clothing were fine.

On the other hand, however, there was one type of clothing that was utterly decimated by her dog: her knickers. Regardless of style or fabric, Timcanpy had subjected them all to his very sharp teeth. That last fact was especially upsetting, for that meant not a single pair could be salvaged; not even for rags. The damage was just too extensive.

Ellen buried her face into her hands and groaned. 'What do I do now?' she helplessly lamented to herself as she slid down to the floor in just a towel. 'Every single clean pair of knickers was ruined! Yes, I could try to wash the pants I have in the hamper – but the laundry room is in the basement, while I live on the eighth floor! It will still take time to get down there, wash and dry them despite whatever I save by taking the lift and selecting the small load setting.'

She spared a glance at the clock and winced. Thirty minutes had passed since she last looked at it, meaning that Kanda and Lavi will arrive in about twenty minutes. 'Oh, I knew I shouldn't have taken so long in the bathroom. The party is going to be at Lenalee's place with only our closest friends there, after all. I truly didn't need to use hair serum'

As Ellen silently berated herself, Timcanpy poked his head through the bedroom doorway. Seeing his favorite human kneeling on the floor in a slumped position brought out a whine from the terrier. Unlike the other times he whined though, Ellen didn't respond.

Despite the lack of a reaction, Timcanpy quietly padded into the room and stopped besides Ellen. There he placed the ripped and drool-soaked garment by her leg before nudging at her arm with his cold nose, trying to let her know that he was sorry about before.

Nothing.

Now he whimpered and whined, begging for her to do anything as he rubbed his head against her.

Still nothing.

Finally he laid down on the floor and rolled over, exposing his belly in the ultimate pose of submission and pleading with his large round eyes.

Not even a twitch.

Defeated, Timcanpy morosely rolled back onto his belly and laid his head down with a whimper.

As he silently stewed in his sadness, Ellen removed her hands from her face and chanced a look of her immediate surroundings. She saw the returned boy shorts, damaged beyond repair. But she also saw the guilt Timcanpy felt for his actions hover over him like thick London fog.

She sighed, then smiled and reached out to scratch him behind the ears. This startled the dog and he quickly turned to her with his head tilted in confusion.

"It's alright, Tim," Ellen soothingly said as she moved her fingers to under his chin. "I know you didn't mean to be naughty." She sighed and looked at her bed, specifically at the rest of her laundry. "If anything, I should have put them awa- oof!"

Ellen's self-critique had been swiftly cut short by Timcanpy excitedly jumping on her.

She giggled helplessly as he tried to drown her with slobbery, thank-you-for-not-being-mad dog kisses. "Tim!" she cried out. "Please, stop! I'm happy, too; so you need to calm down, okay?"

After a few more moments of enthusiasm, her dog finally settled down on the floor with merely a fast wagging tail. Ellen combed her hand through his fur before her mind returned to the most pressing matter: her lack of clean undergarments.

'It's too late to go buy new knickers,' she realized as she looked at the clock once again. 'It takes thirty minutes to walk to the nearest retail store and back. And that estimate doesn't factor in going into the store, selecting the pants, standing in a queue, and paying for my items!'

Ellen stood up and started pacing around her room, followed along by her dog. 'Public transport can cut travel time down. A taxi or Uber even more so. But theyeach have flaws. The first onewill add on time waiting for the bus, plus all the stops along the way to the store. The latter two – well, all of them, really – require me to leave my flatsans knickers. And I would rather much avoid that!'

There was a third option of asking Kanda to stop by the store before they leave for Lenalee's party, but the young woman wasn't even going to consider it. She was not going to owe him any sort of favor if she could help it! And trying to hide her reason for last-minute shopping would more than likely blow up in her face. Especially because Lavi, who was also coming along, was just too inquisitive for her current peace of mind.

Ellen's pacing took her by her drawers, whereupon she noticed that her top drawer which normally housed her knickers jutted out into the air. She moved her hand to close it, then noticed something curled up in a shadowy corner. So she reached in and pulled it out to take a closer look.

Her eyes grew wide when she recognized it. Held in her hands was a pair of lingerie knickers – part of a set she had impulsively bought a few weeks ago. Its style was quite different compared to her normal fare of boy shorts and bikini cuts. Instead the lingerie took the form of a purple G-string with lacy straps and sheer front and back pieces shaped as stylized butterflies, whose antennae and other details were illustrated by rhinestones and embroidery in one color shade darker.

But what made it especially risque was the blatant fact the G-string was crotch-less.

'I shouldn't be even contemplating this,' Ellen uneasily thought as she bit her lip. 'Wearing this to Lenalee's party… it's just too ludicrous for words!'

'Still, it is the last undamaged pair around. And I do plan on wearing trousers…'

She took one last look at the clock before making her decision.

'I hope I won't regret this…'

- Back to the present -

"Here we are, miss," the driver announced as the taxi cab pulled up and parked in front of Ellen's apartment building. "Your fare is twenty dollars and fifty cents."

Ellen retrieved her credit card, thankful for Lenalee's consideration in offering a skirt with pockets, and handed it to him. "Thank you," she said after getting back the card and opening the door, "and have a nice night."

"Same to you," the driver replied as she exited the vehicle.

As the taxi sedately drove off into the night, Ellen turned around and entered her apartment building. The white decorated lobby was devoid of people, making her acutely aware of every minor sound that occurred. She quickly made a bee line for the elevator, so as to avoid walking up the stairs and thus running into that one guy who creepily hung around the stairways late at night and leered at the female residents. It gave her chills just thinking about how he would react to her current situation…

Thankfully the ride up was taken in solidarity and she safely reached her floor. Soon she was at her front door, fishing for her keys. The young woman was dimly aware of Tim barking, but didn't give it much thought. She recognized it was his happy-to-be-playing barking, which was likely due to amusing himself with his toys. Then again, the neighbors might say something if he got too loud…

Ellen slipped the key in and swiftly unlocked her door. She entered the flat and walked towards the living room where Tim was most likely located. "I'm back, Tim," she announced with a smile. "Did you miss me while I was gone?"

"I don't know about him, but I certainly did."

Surprise wiped the smile off her face once she heard that all-too familiar voice. Her lilac eyes, which had gently shut as she anticipated Tim's enthusiastic response, now quickly snapped awake to confirm that he was actually in her flat.

And they did. There, dressed like a vagabond, nonchalantly sitting on her couch while playing tug-of-war with her dog, was Tyki Mikk.

Ellen reached down to pet her dog, who now realized she was home and ran towards her with excitement and furious tail-wagging, but still kept her eyes on her unexpected guest. "Tyki? What are you doing here at this time of night?"

"What do you think? I was in the area and wanted to see you, menina," the tall man replied as he dropped Tim's rope toy, got up and ambled towards her with a lazy smile.

"That vague statement doesn't exactly explain how you got into my flat, seeing as how I never gave you an extra key," the young woman sardonically stated. "Care to elaborate, Mikk?"

Tyki roguishly grinned before sticking his hand into his left pocket and pulling out the answer: a slender metal pick.

She fixed a blank look on the pick for a few seconds before heaving an exasperated, but amused sigh while rolling her eyes. "Are credit cards just too good for you, then?"

"They bend too easily," the older man shrugged in response. Then he glanced down at her skirt and looked back at her with a black eyebrow raised above his eyeglasses. "And it looks like I'm not the only one delivering surprises tonight, menina. Going for a new look?"

Ellen blushed and tugged the skirt's hem further down. "It's more of an unfortunate coincidence, really. Miranda tripped over a bit of carpet and spilled her drink on my trousers, so Lenalee let me borrow one of her skirts to go home in," she explained as Tim gave an interested sniff at said article of clothing.

"Hmm… well, she certainly has good fashion sense. You look good, menina," Tyki complimented her with a lazy smirk.

"Don't think flattery will make me overlook this instance of housebreaking, Tyki Mikk. You should have at least called me," she scolded him, though it was slightly undermined by the flash of amusement visible in her eyes.

"I would have done that, menina, if not for Timcanpy recognizing my scent from the other side of the door and started barking like mad. I had to calm him down before your neighbors complained," Tyki patted the dog in question on the head with one hand, "and once I saw the note about the party on your kitchen calendar… well, naturally I had to stick around for your return."

Ellen forced down the sudden impulse to smile at that excuse and started walking towards her hallway bathroom. "Oh, yes. That's exactly the rational response to not finding someone at home. I'll be sure to tell that to any bobby looking for you regarding future housebreaks."

But just as the young woman's fingers touched the doorknob, Tyki wrapped his arms around her waist and hugged her from behind.

"How disappointing, menina," the older man faux lamented, for she could clearly hear the teasing tone of his voice. "You have a long-time friend so eager for your company that he patiently waited with your dog for several hours, and all you do is shake your head and scold."

Ellen didn't say anything at first. Then, keeping her face away from his gaze, she responded with, "Someone has to keep you out of jail, Tyki. Otherwise I wouldn't have a friend to regularly beat in poker."

Tyki frowned and slightly moved back. "More like chea- Ooof!"

Ellen took the opportunity to ram her elbow into his ribs, forcing him to release her as he stepped back. Now free, she quickly entered the bathroom and locked the door, leaving Tyki to grimace as he tentatively rubbed the now forming bruise.

"Why did she have to use the left one?"

His muttered complaint was only answered by a tilt of the head and a soft woof from Timcanpy, who had watched Ellen and Tyki's strange interactions with total confusion.

- Meanwhile, in the bathroom -

Ellen dumped her stained trousers into the sink and turned the hot water knob halfway. As the young woman waited for it to fill, she looked into the mirror and frowned once she saw the blush hidden from Tyki still present on her cheeks.

'That didn't mean anything, Ellen,' she reminded herself, ignoring the memory of how his body heat managed to warm her back through both his and her clothing. She shut off the water once it was high enough and began to thoroughly soak the trousers. 'He was simply being his normal, touchy, exasperating self.'

Ellen grabbed her hand soap and started applying it to the wine-stained areas. Vigorously rubbing them together to create a frothy lather, she mentally added, 'Not to mention he called himself your "long-time friend". Aside from his compliment, nothing about his actions so far suggest any kind of change.'

'Just like all those other times…'

The rubbing slowed down until it stopped altogether. Ellen heaved a sigh as she put the trousers back in the sink and sat down on the toilet seat. The cooler temperature of the porcelain penetrating through the skirt reminded her of the fact she was still wearing the crotch-less thong. Which in turn reminded her of what the saleswoman had said once she bought the set last week at the mall.

"I guarantee you'll get anyone you want with this, Ma'am!"

At the time Ellen had just politely smiled back and thanked her for the help, but now she stifled a groan of frustration into her hands. 'If two years of trying to hint to Tyki that I would rather be more than friends hasn't worked, then how will a bloody lingerie set do the job?'

The young woman sighed again as she reflected on her friendship, crush, and so far unsuccessful pursuit of the older man. The friendship started when she, at age fifteen, walked by the then nineteen year old Tyki and his five year old niece Road at a park. Almost immediately upon noticing Ellen, the little girl quickly ran over and latched onto her waist. After trying and failing to remove Road, the other two settled on making small talk in order to pass the time before he and his niece had to return home.

Eventually poker came up among the more inane topics and Ellen, always keen for a game, suggested that they play for whatever money they had on hand.

Tyki had raised an eyebrow at her and said, "I don't play against kids, menina."

Ellen hadn't known a word of Portuguese at that time. However, she was no stranger to a prospective opponent dismissing her based on just one look. So she smiled back and innocently mused aloud, "So your ego is that fragile, is it?"

And with that challenge, Tyki consented to playing one round with her – which she won with a well timed royal flush. He was shocked, then asked for another round to get his money back. This started a cycling of Ellen winning and Tyki demanding rematches, until he was finally left sitting on the bench in his underwear and being laughed at by Road. But instead of being furious at Ellen, the nineteen year old smirked and teasingly asked, "Should I take my current state of undress as an indication of how attractive I am to you, menina?"

She snorted with wry amusement as she returned his clothing. "Don't flatter yourself. You're not the first man I've stripped down during a poker game, and you certainly won't be the last."

He nearly choked in disbelief at her response, then let out a round of genuine laughter. "And you're the most interesting girl I've met," Tyki replied, prompting Ellen to lightly blush.

By the end of that first meeting Tyki and Ellen had exchanged cell phone numbers, leading to the exchange of several text messages and hanging out whenever they could.

It was one of her more interesting friendships, given that the Portuguese college student had a fascinating duality about him. He came from a rich and well-connected family, but enjoyed slumming in low-class neighborhoods with his friends. He was very handsome and could dress well, but preferred wearing unflattering clothes and eyeglasses because they were comfortable. Several women and some men flirted with him whenever they were in public and he was dressed up, but he rarely accepted their offers and instead laughingly teased Ellen about the people who asked her out. Sometimes he was easy-going, other times he had a bit of a sadistic edge. All of his contradictions were strangely intriguing. Overall, she just enjoyed spending time with him.

Then, after over a year had past, Ellen realized something: she had developed a small crush on Tyki. At first she thought nothing of it; she'd had a few crushes before, and none of them had lasted long. So long as she kept in mind that he only saw her as a friend, the crush would wither and fade on its own.

Only it didn't. Instead it grew as Tyki spent time with her, teased her, jokingly hugged her…

So Ellen tried dating other people, but that didn't work either. She looked forward to meetings with Tyki more than her dates, and eventually stopped altogether once the guilt over using nice people in such a manner grew too much.

Then she continuously kept in mind the women Tyki did date – tall, elegantly dressed, hourglass-silhouetted beauties with a generous bosom and long luxurious hair. It hurt to think about how little she matched up to his type – Ellen was taller than the average woman and overall pleasant looking; but her hair was short; her waist was gently, rather than dramatically, curved; she had an abstract facial scar that started above her left eye and nearly ended at her jawline; and her womanly assets were… pretty modest – but said pain also served to reinforce just how doomed her crush was.

Especially when combined with the facts that she never saw Tyki date the same person twice, he most likely wouldn't appreciate the affections of someone four years younger than himself, and their state's age of consent was 18 – meaning that she could get him into legal trouble if anyone else misinterpreted the situation.

Yet, the only thing she didn't do was withdraw from Tyki's life. The lack of interaction would have helped kill her crush, yes, but she couldn't bring herself to do that. If she couldn't have his heart, she was certainly not going to give up his friendship.

That was how Ellen spent the next four years: hanging out with Tyki while making sure he never knew about her true feelings for him. She also took care not to let her other friends know about her predicament. Though judging by the looks she would occasionally get from Lenalee, Kanda or Lavi, she was less successful in the latter endeavor.

Honestly, had it not been for yet another fight with Kanda, she would have continued hiding how she felt. The exact details of how and why the fight happened were unimportant. Actually, it had no connection to Tyki or her unrequited crush whatsoever. But one of Kanda's crude statements, "Stop acting like you're still fucking sixteen years old, moyashi," struck a chord with her and made her later reflect on how she felt towards the Portuguese man and what she should do at that time.

Ellen's feelings might have started as a young girl's crush with a mysteriously fascinating older man, but what fueled and elevated them to a more sustaining level were those moments where she just saw him for who he was. Moments where he made her laugh. Moments where he made her hit him for saying or doing something ridiculous. Moments where they shared tales about their respective pasts. And moments where they just sat together, enjoying the other's presence. The young woman treasured every single one of them… and she wanted more. She wanted to create more with him, but as a lover rather than a friend.

And hiding said feelings was the right thing to do back when Ellen was a teenager. But she was a woman in her twenties now; an adult by most measures, especially in regards to consent. Besides, women these days didn't wait about and hope for their significant other to magically realize they were meant to be. No, they had agency; they put in the hard work and effort for their romantic endeavors to blossom.

Thus began her mission of letting Tyki know that she was in love with him. At first she decided to go for the direct approach: simply tell him how she felt and ask him out on a date. Unfortunately that attempt was badly timed, for when she arrived at his apartment early in the morning before he left for work, the door had been answered by a blonde woman. Who was exactly Tyki's type. And was wearing his shirt… and nothing else.

Seeing her, a person who appeared to have been recently intimate with Tyki and now was giving her a look of bored curiosity, greatly shook Ellen's newfound confidence. Then Tyki came out to greet her and the woman asked who she was. Thankfully she turned out to simply be his cousin whose attire was the result of a flat tire, nasty weather and the propensity of sleeping nude if not provided with some type of sleepwear.

However, while introducing Lulu Bell to Ellen, Tyki used the white-haired woman's nickname. A nickname that always bothered her once she had learned its English meaning. On that day, however, it did more than just bother her; it drove a spear of ice through her heart.

Menina.

Girl.

A child.

How could she expect Tyki to at least consider her romantic feelings, let alone accept them, if he didn't even think of her as an adult?

So Ellen ended up not telling Tyki anything that day and set aside the direct approach for another plan: subtly signal and convey that she was all grown up, then tell him how she felt. This new endeavor led to the young woman taking special care to wear outfits that would highlight her best attributes whenever they went out. Or sit nearly glued to his side in private, inviting the possibility for more intimate touches. She even wore a ballgown – picked out by Lenalee and approved by a quite giddy Road – and learned how to waltz in order to accompany Tyki to a formal event he had to attend, due to it being hosted by his older brother Sheril.

But none of that worked.

Tyki's eyes never seemed to stare at Ellen the way other people did – appreciative and lustful. The borderline cuddling did lead to side-hugging, but more of the friendly type accompanied with him teasing and messing up her hair.

And as for the formal event? Well, Tyki did dance with Ellen, but that was only to prevent her from losing patience with one extremely persistent guest who just couldn't understand the concept of a woman refusing his advances. Afterwards, they spent the rest of the evening sitting down while talking and sampling the finger food. Oh, she had enjoyed that experience as well, but compared to their waltz – during which one large hand rested on the small of her back, bringing their bodies close enough that she had to fight down a blush, while the other gently cradled her own; his golden eyes stared only into hers as he teased her, yet again – it wasn't the same, and the constant interruptions from one of his family members (particularly his brother) cut into the time she had with him.

'And so, two years have past with me no closer to my goals,' Ellen sighed morosely as she finished the inner-analysis of her love life. She got up from the toilet seat to check on her trousers. Once she saw the water had been dyed pink by the wine, she unplugged the sink and started rinsing the piece of clothing.

'Where do I go from here? It feels like no matter what I try, he can't see me as anything more than the fifteen year old he befriended years before.'

Ellen moved on to wringing them with her bare hands. Her current mood made her put far more strength into the activity than was strictly required.

'Just what will it take to get through his thick head that I-'

A short knock cut through her thoughts. "Hey, are you okay in there?" Tyki asked from the other side of the door.

She turned her head and said, "Yes, Tyki. I'm just treating the stains before I put the trousers in the wash."

"What did your friend spill on them, anyway?"

"Red wine. Luckily I prefer wearing black trousers, yeah?" she half-joked.

Tyki snorted in amusement. "Not to mention you know how to handle red wine stains, given who used to be your guardian."

"Don't remind me," Ellen groaned at that reference to Cross. But her lips couldn't help but twitch into a smile as she heard his responding laugh.

"Anyway," Tyki said after he finished laughing, "I wanted to let you know that I brought over some food for you earlier that I'm reheating right now."

That information certainly interested her. "Is that so? And just what did you bring?"

"Well, I was in a saudade mood, so it's mostly Portuguese dishes I picked up from the import store. You know, stuff like caldo verde, bifanas, frango piri piri, polvo à lagareiro, and pastéis de natas. And before you ask, I made sure to bring enough to fill your stomach."

A loud gurgling sound echoed throughout the bathroom. 'How did he get food into my flat without me catching the slightest whiff?'

"Heh… Sounds like you appreciate my effort, né, menina?" Tyki teased.

"Oh, belt up," Ellen grumbled in embarrassment, her face burning from her red-hot blush. Her only consolation was the fact he was on the other side of the door and thus couldn't see it.

Tyki laughed again and continued, "Anyway, the food will be ready in about ten minutes. Can you wait that long?"

Ellen rolled her eyes and opened the door wide enough for her to stick her head through. "I do have some patience, thank you very much," she huffed as she sent him a dry look.

Tyki grinned and ruffled her hair. "Great. See you in a bit, then," he said before walking back to her kitchen.

Ellen frowned and fixed her hair, but decided free food was worth not complaining about his immature action. 'Besides, I could use the time to do some impromptu washing'

She grabbed the trousers and was just about to exit the bathroom when she remembered her current clothing predicament. Then headed straight to her bedroom.

'… After changing, of course.'

- x -

Ellen sighed in contentment after swallowing the last sweet mouthful of a pastel de nata. "That was truly excellent," she happily remarked as she dabbed at her mouth with a napkin. Then she looked at the food containers on the kitchen table and winced; she had completely cleaned them out, save for the bits she gave Tim before he left to nap in the living room. "Are you sure you didn't want any of it?" the young woman asked her friend. "You had taken the trouble to bring all of these dishes here, after all…"

Tyki just shook his head. "It's okay, menina. I already ate earlier today. And I can't fault you for enjoying the food so much you licked the plates clean," he grinned while lighting up a cigarette.

Ellen blushed with embarrassment and swiftly changed topics. "So, has anything interesting happened to you this week?"

"Eh, not really," Tyki replied as he helped her clear the table. As they were moving the dishes, the young woman grabbed the black and white ashtray kept for Tyki and Cross's visits from a cupboard and handed it to him. He just placed the ashtray on the table before returning back to her side and opening the small kitchen window. "Road and Wisely dropped by a few days ago with a message from the Earl, but it wasn't anything important. I just had to help bail out Jasdero and Devit for joyriding and drag racing again."

Ellen absently nodded as she placed the last of the dirty dishes in the sink and started washing them. "Anything else?"

Tyki's glasses then took on a mischievous glint as Ellen passed him a dish towel so that he could dry. "Well… Clark, Momo and I were talking about going over to the Kirilenko casino later this month."

"And you were planning on leaving me out?" she frowned.

"Hey, we have to give the other patrons a fighting chance. If you come, everyone else will go broke after an hour of your swindling. Even the casino."

Ellen pretended to pout as she handed him a freshly-washed dish. "Like you all wouldn't cheat at the first opportunity."

"Yes, but we're not as merciless as you," Tyki countered.

"Oh?" Ellen questioned with a raised eyebrow. "Shall I remind you of that time you suckered in my friend Krory, who had never even heard of poker before then?"

Tyki involuntarily shivered as he relived that memory. "Was it really necessary for you to make us wait three hours in the cold before giving back our clothes?"

"Yes, because you deserved it."

"See? Merciless," Tyki teased, this time dodging the mock-jab to his side.

Ellen rolled her eyes at his subsequent chuckles before asking, "So I take it Clark and Momo are fine as well?"

"Yup," Tyki confirmed. "Eeze's doing okay, too. He wants to know when's the next time you can stop by."

Ellen smiled. Eeze was a sweet lad of eleven and Clark's younger cousin, forever following about the group of men as they roamed the city. She liked talking to him whenever Tyki brought her over to the younger boy's house. "Tell him I can visit two days from now, after I finish my shift at Jerry's. And I'll bring over leftovers from the restaurant for everyone."

"Alright," Tyki nodded as he added another clean plate to the stack on his right. "I just know that's going to make his day once he hears about it."

Ellen tilted her head with amusement, lilac eyes still locked on the casserole dish she was soaping up. "Oh? Am I really that entertaining a guest? Or will he be looking forward to the free food?"

The older man shook his head. "It's for a completely different reason, actually. Eeze… well, he has a bit of a crush on you."

Surprise nearly caused her to drop the dish. She hastily put it down and turned around to ask, "What? Really?"

"Yeah. You never noticed just how often he would stare at you and blush?" he asked.

Ellen sheepishly transferred her gaze to her feet, feeling a little foolish. "No…"

"Well, to be fair, his face mask hides most of the blushing," Tyki consoled her with a head pat. "But I wouldn't worry too much; it's just a crush from a menino, after all."

Ellen was now glad she was looking down, for she didn't want Tyki to see the brief flash of pain in her eyes. But then she took a deep breath, carefully schooled her features, and turned back to the sink. "Still, I should talk with him about it during my next visit," she said as she picked up the dish and turned on the faucet.

Tyki raised an eyebrow over his thick eyeglasses. "Are you sure? You don't have to go out of your way to do that."

"But I do," she countered while rinsing off the dish. "It would be disingenuous of me to just pretend I know nothing about his infatuation when I do. I have no plans to accept his feelings, of course; but I still have to acknowledge them."

Ellen handed it to Tyki and grabbed another dirty one. "I guess I'm a bit flattered, too. Eeze is such a kind, courteous and hard-working boy. Certainly the type of personality you would want someone who likes you to have," she softly laughed as she applied water and soap.

Tyki chuckled as he dried the newly cleaned dish. "And I can see the reason why he fell for you; your consideration for others would melt anyone's heart."

Ellen shyly smiled at the compliment – but that contentment quickly turned to embarrassment once Tyki joked, "Well, that and the 'older woman' angle. The latter's pretty much catnip for boys his age."

"Tyki!" the young woman screamed out as she whipped her head in his direction. Seeing him laugh at her expression, she scowled and splashed him with water before turning back to the sink.

"Aw, don't be mad at me, menina," Tyki cheekily crooned as he rested his head on top of hers and loosely wrapped an arm around her shoulders. The other arm was held away from their bodies, due to the cigarette now resting between his fingers.

Ellen continued her fierce scrubbing, too annoyed at the man to be flustered by his antics. "Hmph!"

"What can I do to make amends?"

Ellen paused in her scrubbing as a slightly eerie light entered her eyes. "Well," she calmly replied while fighting down a smirk, "there is one thing…"

- x -

"Eu deveria ter ficado calados, (I should have kept my mouth shut,)" Tyki grumbled to himself.

The two had finished with the dishes and were sitting at the kitchen table once more. Now their hands were preoccupied with playing cards; Tyki's personal deck, to be precise. They had already played a few rounds of poker – all losses for him, which left a neat pile of winnings by Ellen's side. Said pile included several items of his clothing. Cigarette smoke floated from the stick happily lodged between Tyki's lips to escape through the kitchen window.

Ellen simply smiled at him. How she loved playing against the Portuguese man. No matter how many times he lost, and even with the knowledge that the odds were against him, he never turned down a game with her due to his gambling compulsions.

'Plus, there are other benefits,' she couldn't help but think while discretely glancing at him over her cards. Since his shirt was among the items she won earlier, Tyki's bare chest was very nicely displayed for her viewing pleasure. A very lovely consequence of him continuing to play despite running out of money.

'Yet another reason why my crush didn't fade away…'

"And I'm quite glad you didn't, Tyki," she nearly chirped. "It's your turn to draw, by the way."

The Portuguese man sighed, but still discarded two cards and drew their replacements with a light smirk. "Careful, menina. I just might win this round," he lightly taunted as he exhaled smoke from an earlier puff.

"We'll see. Are you ready?"

At Tyki's nod, both of them confidently laid out their cards on the table. Tyki had four of a kind created by nines; Ellen had a jack-high straight flush.

"Droga (Damn)!" he groaned over his loss.

Ellen slightly smirked at her win. "You know what to do, Mikk," she quipped while covering her eyes with her left hand.

She heard Tyki's sigh, then his chair sliding against the floor and a zipper being undone. The young woman kept her hand over her eyes until she heard him place his pants on the table and sit back down.

"I guess we're done for today," she mused as she looked over at her massive winnings.

But Tyki immediately gathered up the cards and started shuffling them once again. "Maybe not; I'm still up for one more round."

"Oh?" Ellen raised an eyebrow and joked, "And just what would you bet? Because I have no use for your knickers. Or your coffin nails, for that matter."

"I was thinking more of a winner-takes-all, actually," Tyki clarified. "I win, I get all my stuff back. That includes every little cent I entered your apartment with."

Ellen couldn't help but roll her eyes at that. Really, Tyki made it sound like she never returned his things after their games… Well, she would return his clothing, cigarettes and cell phone. Money depended on what mode of transportation he was taking and whether Cross had dropped by with another debt for her to pay off. "And if I win?" she asked after pulling herself away from that mental tangent.

Tyki smirked and said, "If you win, then I'll do whatever you say for the rest of the night."

It took Ellen a few moments to process that proposal; once she did, her jaw dropped as she felt her heart skip a beat. "Are you actually being serious about that last part?"

"Why not? It means that we both have good incentives for winning." Tyki smirked as a mischievous look entered his golden eyes, highlighted by the reflection of his cigarette's burning end. "Unless, of course, you think you'll lose this time."

Ellen hurriedly closed her mouth and an affronted frown affixed itself on her face. "In your dreams, Mikk," she all but growled out.

"I take it you're in, then?"

"Yes. Now deal."

Tyki chuckled at her terse command and dealt out five cards for each of them. After they both gathered their respective cards, he quickly scanned his hand before asking, "Do you mind if I draw first this time?"

"Go ahead," Ellen replied, looking at her own hand. But then she flinched after she felt something brush against the side of her right leg. She placed her cards face down and checked underneath the table, wondering if it might have been a bored Timcanpy looking for attention. But instead of seeing her Soft Coated Golden, she instead saw Tyki's legs.

His long legs.

His long, bare legs.

And his boxers.

His form-fitting boxers that had an interesting outline of his-

"Is everything okay down there?"

Ellen jumped in response to hearing Tyki's question and nearly hit her head on the underside of the table. "I-I'm fine!" she rushed out before sitting back up and shielding her red face with her cards. "It's just that I felt something touch my leg and thought it was Tim."

Tyki raised an eyebrow as he glanced behind himself to search for the dog in question. "Seeing as he's still asleep, it probably wasn't him, menina."

"Yes," Ellen nodded as she agreed, "I realized that when I saw nothing except-"

Her eyes widened as she remembered one important fact: Tyki's legs were long enough that they could, theoretically, reach her side.

'Wait. Could it be-?'

She took in a deep breath before hesitantly asking, "Um, Tyki?"

"Yes?" he responded, eyes once again on his cards while his free hand flicked ash onto the ashtray.

"Did you happen to stretch out your legs earlier? And did one of them, or perhaps a foot… brush up against anything?"

The Portuguese man blinked in confusion before understanding came upon him. "Wait, that was you? I thought my foot bumped against a chair leg. Sorry about that."

'So that's what happened,' Ellen thought as she smiled. "It's okay, Tyki. It was just an accident, after all."

Tyki grinned and gestured to the deck of cards with his head. "Thanks, menina. Now, haven't you forgotten something?"

Ellen playful rolled her eyes at his unsubtle signaling, then examined her cards. She had the Ace of Hearts, two eights – one of diamonds and the other hearts, Seven of Clubs and Five of Spades. Not a great hand, to be honest, but still somewhat salvageable. She'd just have to draw the right cards…

The young woman discarded all but one card. But just as her fingers moved over to the deck, she felt another surprise touch… right on top of her knees.

"Eep!" Ellen squeaked in surprise. Her fingers curled enough to inadvertently grasp and draw cards as her arm jerked back. She stared at Tyki's wide grin for a few seconds while she tried to figure out what just happened. Once she did, the British woman blushed and slammed her hands – and cards – on top of the table while abruptly standing up. "What the bloody hell was that?!"

Tyki assumed an innocent expression. "What do you mean? I was just stretching my legs again."

"Oh don't play dumb with me, you wanker," an embarrassed Ellen glared at him. "Your foot happened to find its way to my knees? Just when I was about to draw a card?"

"Okay, so that might have been a dirty trick," he freely and nonchalantly admitted. Ignoring her responding eye twitch, the man stared at her long-sleeved shirt – specifically the sleeve covering the arm which drew the cards – and continued, "but it's not like you don't have an edge of your own."

Ellen's lips thinned into a terse line. As much as she hated to admit it, he was right. "Still, did you have to do that?"

Tyki shrugged rather shamelessly. "It was effective. Now, since you've drawn…"

The young woman barely held in an incredulous snort. "Seriously? You want to continue the game after pulling that stunt?"

"Might as well. Who knows? Maybe you got lucky earlier," he said, although the light twinkle in his eyes gave away his real motivation.

"Or," Ellen countered, moving to sit cross-legged in her chair so as to avoid any repeat offenses, "we simply redo this round with new cards."

Tyki groaned at her new tactic. "Aw, please, menina; let's just play our hands! What's the harm in taking risks?"

"Depending on the situation, a lot. You of all people should know that," she huffed, slightly amused by his borderline-pouting.

Tyki stopped slumping on her table and sent her a calculating gaze. "I would sweeten your end of the deal if you do."

Ellen paused the denial that nearly left her mouth and instead adopted an interested look. "I'm listening."

Seeing that she was playing along, Tyki offered while taking a slow drag of his cigarette, "I'll extend the time limit for doing whatever you want from just tonight to tomorrow as well."

She mulled over what he just said, then locked gazes at him. "Hmm… I don't know. One and a half days doesn't seem long enough to me."

"Three, then."

"And what about yourself?" she asked, because she knew he wouldn't be offering that type of bet without trying to sneak in something for himself.

"Me? Hmm, besides getting my stuff back, I'll just have the pleasure of finally beating you in poker," Tyki replied, eyes narrowed and mouth stretched in a smirk. The tobacco smoke now seemed to frame his visage. "Which is something I've been looking forward to for a long time."

Ellen snorted at his statement, then started to consider the new deal. 'It's a tempting offer, but still risky,' she counseled herself. 'I don't even know if my new hand is good or not.'

But before she could slowly raise her face-down cards to check, the young woman caught the cocky look on her opponent's face. It was practically daring her to take the easy way out; to reject the new bet and restart the round. And even though she would win, he would never let her live that perceived act of cowardice down.

'Don't fall for it, Ellen,' her rational side strongly warned. 'He's only trying to rile you up so that you'll do what he wants. Do the sensible thing and turn him down.'

"Of course," Tyki mockingly sighed out, "if you're too scared…"

And with that, pride trumped caution.

"Deal."

The Portuguese man's eyes flashed with delight at her snappily delivered answer, and he chuckled rather deviously as he spread out his cards on the table for her to see: a king-high straight flush, clad in spades.

"Your turn," he smirked.

Mentally kicking herself for being too hasty, Ellen sighed and peeked at her cards so that she could brace herself for defeat.

She stared at the playing cards for a few moments. Then calmly, without a hint of any negative emotion, laid them face-up.

Tyki's grin was quickly wiped off once he recognized her hand. Even his cigarette threatened to fall to the table.

Ace of Hearts.

Ace of Spades.

Ace of Diamonds.

Ace of Clubs.

And a Joker.

Simply put, a five of a kind; the highest hand possible in a game that allowed wildcards.

"You have got to be kidding me," he said with eyes glued to the thin slips of card stock, too shocked to do much else. "How the hell did you manage to get that?"

Ellen sat tall in her chair with a satisfied smile. "Just luck, I suppose. Now, what were you saying earlier about following my every command?"

Realizing that the tables had well and truly turned, Tyki groaned and covered his eyes as he leaned back in his chair.

The young woman outwardly chuckled, but actually felt nervous on the inside. What should she do now that she had won? Immediately give Tyki orders tonight until he has to go, or postpone it to tomorrow? Actually, what kind of orders should she make?

'Well, you could make him kiss you.'

Ellen straightened in her seat, taken aback by the stray thought of her conscious. 'What,' she mentally questioned, fighting to beat down her blush, 'do you mean by that?'

'Exactly what I said,' her conscious dryly responded. 'Have Tyki kiss you. Or just go up to him and do it. Either way would work, honestly.'

Her blush won the battle. 'Why?'

'What do you mean 'why'? You were just complaining earlier about him not seeing you as a woman. A kiss would certainly do the trick… particularly delivered on the lips.'

Now Ellen's entire face was going red. Her pulse was speeding up as well.

'But an even more effective tactic,' her conscious continued, 'would be telling Tyki that you love him.'

The young woman's heart leapt up into her throat. 'I-I can't do that!' she mentally babbled.

'Why ever not?'

'Because-'

'Because it would ruin your friendship? Don't give me that nonsense. You haven't wanted to remain his friend for two years now.'

Ellen discretely swallowed. 'But-'

'Oh, now you're going to make more excuses, eh?' her conscious ruthlessly cut in.

'It's not that simple,' the young woman retorted as she glared at her clenched hands in her lap. 'I tried the direct approach already and-'

'No, you didn't. You turned craven once he called you "menina" in front of Lulu Bell.'

Ellen physically flinched at the biting statement.

'I know that day was upsetting, and I can understand why you switched to indirect approaches,' her conscious continued, now using a gentler tone. 'But all of them have failed. There's only one way now, and you can't let your insecurities get the better of you once more.'

'… but what if it goes poorly?'

'Then at least you won't regret not saying anything, and will be able to move on.'

After that last comment from her conscious, Ellen chanced a peek at Tyki.

The Portuguese man was no longer leaning back in his seat, but neither was he looking at her. Instead he was taking another drag of his cancer stick, eyes fixated on some invisible point of her ceiling. He then moved the glowing stick out of the way as he released the smoke from his mouth, nicotine clouds exiting in a slow manner. Ellen was suddenly reminded of those vintage tobacco advertisements; how such a toxic habit was made glamorous by an elegantly put together man or woman. And despite his state of undress, Tyki's aura perfectly matched the mood those people projected for the camera.

After the last smoky tendril was exhaled, the older man sighed and returned the cigarette to his lips. Then he caught sight of Ellen's gaze and lazily smirked.

"Well, it looks like you won, menina," Tyki languidly sighed. "What's your first command?"

Ellen sharply inhaled at his question. The earlier comments from her conscious rushed back to mind.

"You haven't wanted to remain his friend for two years now."

"A kiss would certainly do the trick… particularly delivered on the lips."

The young woman released the breath unwittingly held hostage and whispered out, "Close your eyes."

Tyki raised an eyebrow as he failed to hear her. "What was that, menina?"

Ellen cleared her throat and repeated her previous sentence in a louder voice. "First, I would like for you to close your eyes. Please."

The Portuguese man raised a slightly confused eyebrow at her demand phrased as a request, but shrugged and complied with it.

"Alright, my eyes are closed," he said after inhaling and exhaling another smoke cloud. "Is there anything else?"

Feeling a bit more confident now that he couldn't see her, she got up from her seat and responded, "Stay where you are."

Ellen walked around the table and stopped right behind Tyki. Then she grasped the back of his chair and smoothly pulled it a few inches away with him still sitting down.

Tyki gave a low whistle, nonplussed at his younger friend's show of strength. "Impressive. Are you secretly a super heroine, menina?" he teased.

Ellen huffed in amusement as she moved in front of him. "You already know the answer to that, seeing as you do occasionally watch my sparring matches at the gym, Tyki." A small smirk unseen by him then made its way onto her face. "Or were they too lax?"

"Since when would slamming a person flat on their back after breaking free of an arm hold be considered 'too lax'?" the Portuguese man bemusedly shook his head, eyes still shuttered. "I think all your fights with Kitchen Knife have warped your expectations regarding the appropriate intensity for sparring."

"You might be right about that," the young woman conceded. "Kanda has never held back in a fight, regardless of whether or not his opponent is female."

"How like him to choose a slightly violent way to express gender equality."

Soft chuckles bubbled up in response to Tyki's dry quip, but quickly subsided once Ellen realized that she was in danger of losing her nerve if they continued to banter. So she willed her fingers not to shake as she gently pluck his cigarette from his lips and extinguished it.

Tyki frowned now that the familiar weight of the cancer stick was gone. "Menina, why-?"

"It would have gotten in the way," Ellen hastily explained.

"Oh?" he teasingly asked. "In the way of what?"

The young woman then gently took hold of his cheeks and tilted his face upwards. The man's usual air of laid-back ease gave way to surprise as he felt her softly brush his face with her thumbs.

Drawing up every ounce of courage she had inside, Ellen closed her eyes and whispered out, "This," before leaning down and pressing her lips to his.

The young woman felt a plethora of sensations as soon as she kissed him. The warmth of Tyki's lips against hers accompanied by delicious tingling. The scent of his preferred tobacco brand wafting into her nostrils with every inhale. Butterflies madly fluttering in her belly. Her heart's frantic beating fueled by the sheer fact that Ellen was doing what she had only dreamt of for so long…

And for a seemingly infinite moment, she waited for his reaction. Would he push her away in utter rejection? Would he break the kiss and ask why she did it, necessitating her to confess and thus nervously wait for his response? Or perhaps-?

Then she finally received an answer: a deep growl that reverberated against her lips, indicating that Tyki was the one producing it. Afterwards she felt his hands take hold of her waist and sharply tug her down to straddle him.

Ellen's eyes snapped open and she let out a gasp as her hands lost their grip on Tyki's face. The young woman froze once her posterior landed on his lap, and was too shocked to try to escape. But her bewilderment was soon swept aside once he, with a hand grasping the back of her head to keep it still, took control by thrusting his tongue in between her parted lips and into her mouth. The flexible appendage quickly seduced her own into feverishly intertwining. And rather surprisingly, the sharp taste of tobacco wasn't off-putting. In fact, it greatly complimented what she could only describe as his natural flavor.

The twenty-two year old whimpered as the sensual invasion replaced the earlier butterflies with quickly multiplying sparks of pleasure. She soon began instinctively rocking her hips while clutching at his tanned shoulders. Tyki seemed to appreciate her actions, given how his tongue stepped up its intensity and he was now fully crushing her to his body. She even felt something twitch, grow, harden and press against her groin. Only two layers of clothing kept them apart…

Eventually, and somewhat disappointingly, oxygen became too much of a pressing need and their mouths were forced to separate. Ellen let out a shuddering sigh as she rested her head into the crook of his neck. She listened to his breathing slowly recover from their prolonged lip-lock and felt him lay a hand – the right one – upon her hair. But instead of ruffling it up like earlier, the twenty-six year old man slipped his long digits between fine strands and began a series of slow strokes that tempted her to purr like a contented feline.

"Tyki… you weren't just following orders at the end, right?" the young woman asked with a sense of serenity flowing through her veins.

Tyki moved from carding his fingers through her hair to twirling a white lock around his index finger as he countered with a question of his own. "What do you think, menina?"

Ellen ignored that cursed nickname in favor of mapping out his right collarbone with her fingertips. "That you might view me as more than a friend. That you're physically attracted to me. That you… possibly even love me."

"Hmm…" Tyki hummed to himself before he stopped playing with her hair in favor of entangling his fingers into a grip that tilted her head up towards his face. The young woman inhaled a sharp breath once she noticed how his gaze focused upon every minute particle that made up Ellen Walker. All with an intense sensuality that made her very core tremble with need. "Which answer would you prefer?"

With a sudden rush of boldness overtaking her, she leaned in and whispered against his lips, "You mean the truth that I need. I'm in love with you, Tyki Mikk. My feelings deserve your honesty, even if I won't like hearing it."

Tyki let loose a low chuckle filled with mirth. "A verdade? Eu te amo, Ellen."

It took a few seconds for the young woman to mentally translate his confession.

It took a few more for her mood to transition from tense suspense to sheer joy.

Releasing a breathy laugh of relief, Ellen wrapped her arms around his neck and began showering his face with kisses.

"I take it you're happy?" Tyki grinned after the two shared a lingering one upon the lips that warmed both of their insides.

"Of course I am, you git," Ellen breathlessly sighed, lilac irises glowing from her happy tears. "I've been dreaming of you saying that for six bloody years."

The older man looked at her with surprise. "But that means-"

"That I was sixteen when I first started to fancy you? Yes. But because I was still considered a minor by state law, and you wouldn't have appreciated being labeled a nonce, I decided not to say anything in the hope it would go away." A slightly wry smile took up residence on her face as she added, "Though 'twas all in vain, as evidenced by the last few minutes."

The Portuguese man laughed and started caressing the length of her right side with his right hand as the other wiped away the remains of her tears. "Then what made you confess tonight?"

The young woman sighed and leaned into his touch. "Winning your bet. It gave me the perfect opportunity to demonstrate that I'm not a… menina – a 'little girl' anymore."

A thoughtful frown appeared on his face as he asked, "You thought I didn't see you as an adult because of my nickname for you?"

Ellen nodded and smiled at the older man, relocating his hand to her hip before wrapping her arms around his neck. "Yes, but that doesn't matter in the end," she reasoned while closing her eyes and leaning forward to rest her forehead upon his. "Not when you finally do from this moment onward."

Tyki silently digested her last statement."You know," the young woman heard him finally say, capturing her attention, "menina actually has multiple meanings…"

"What? But when I first looked 'menina' up seven years ago, it definitely translated to 'little girl'," the young woman said.

"Did you use Google Translate?" When she nodded in confirmation, Tyki laughed with amusement. "While that app can be useful for a word's literal definition, it's success rate regarding actual use in conversation is generally not as good. Such as in the case of 'menina', whose context radically changes when used in regard to a mulher."

Ellen's eyes widened. "How does it change?"

Deviously chuckling, the Portuguese man slowly pulled the British woman forward so that her breasts were molded to his front before letting both hands roam. Clever fingers teasingly worked their way up her spine and along the tops of her thighs. And despite her long-sleeved shirt and sweatpants preventing complete skin-ship, his proximity and caresses were causing a deep flush to rage across her face and her heart to flutter madly.

As Ellen tried to regain control of her senses, the man himself revealed, "If it's a woman the speaker isn't close to, then 'menina' would come across as belittling; even insulting, if used in Portugal rather than Brazil. However, if she is someone that the speaker adores…"

The young woman attentively waited with bated breath for him to complete that last statement. When it became clear he wouldn't, she gently grasped his chin and turned his head to face her. "If they adore her, then…?" she prompted, receiving a smirk in return.

"You already know how it ends, menina."

"I suppose I do," Ellen admitted while a pale index finger began exploring the rise of his lips and the smirking seam in between. She noted how golden eyes keenly followed her finger's movements, as well as the low, sensual growl emanating from his throat. An attempt from him at playfully biting the digit resulted in her withdrawing it to deliver a teasing finger-wagging. "Nonetheless, it would be quite pleasing to hear you say it out loud."

'And which would allow me to further learn about the progress of your own feelings,' the young woman confided to herself. She was immensely curious about the exact moment he went from seeing her as just another friend to falling in love with her.

Tyki, on the other hand, was less eager for conversation. "But wouldn't you rather take part in more pleasurable actions?" He cheekily went on to demonstrate what he meant by grabbing her hips and grinding his own upwards.

"Mmm…" Ellen moaned and arched her back in pleasure. His newly-returned erection pushed the fleece fabric of her black and white checkered sweatpants against her now-damp core, creating some rather delightful friction. "Unfortunately, I fear those actions will be limited by certain factors."

He stopped grinding and directed his gaze at one of the factors in question. "Hm…"

"Don't even think about it, Tyki," she asserted.

"Don't think about what?"

"Ripping my joggers down the middle with your bare hands so that you can get to my fanny."

"Now how did you come to that conclusion, menina?" he asked with an innocent look on his face.

In response, Ellen tapped one of his hands – both of which were tautly gripping the fabric of her sweatpants – and sent him a droll look.

The older man smirked. "It is the easiest option," he justified without any shame.

"Easiest for you, perhaps," she snorted. "But I'll be the one left with a ruined pair of joggers. As if the incident with Tim earlier wasn't bad enough…"

Tyki stole a look at Timcanpy – still sleeping in the living room – and arched an eyebrow in question. "Just what did he do?"

As the British woman explained what Tim did, Tyki's face switched from showing mild curiosity to brief shock… and finally settled on perverse amusement. By the time she was finished, he was outright laughing.

"It's not funny, Tyki!" Ellen hotly complained, pinching his right cheek. "Tim completely mauled every pair of knickers I had in that basket!"

"Sorry, menina," he continued to snicker, despite winching from the pinch. In a show of apology, he wrapped his arms around her back and rubbed it with soothing motions. "But you must admit, the story is quite humorous. And it's not as if your dog left you without any underwear. You still had whatever was left in your drawer."

However the young woman, instead of huffing or rolling her eyes in reluctant amusement, stiffened in his arms and stared at him with a wide gaze.

"Well…" she trailed off, looking down towards the ground, "in a manner of speaking, that's true…"

"What do you mean by that, menina?"

After chewing her bottom lip – and thus temporarily diverting Tyki's attention for its duration – Ellen began explaining, "I did have one pair of knickers left. However, it… was originally bought on a whim of sorts. What's more… it was originally designed with a very specific scenario in mind."

The Portuguese man bemusedly absorbed what he had just been told. That last statement was particularly strange. From what he understood, the underwear in question wasn't just a variety she herself avoided wearing everyday; it was the kind where daily use was far from its intended purpose. Like-

Golden eyes widened in sudden realization.

"You're wearing lingerie," Tyki stated in a surprisingly calm voice, given the rather intense look now occupying his face.

"Yes. The bottom part of a two-piece set, to be precise…" she confirmed with a nod. The blush staining her cheeks grew more vivid as she felt his erection twitch against her groin.

He wrapped his right arm around the young woman's waist and gave it a squeeze, further sealing their bodies together. And as his left hand placed itself on her hip and burrowed a thumb underneath her sweatpants' waistband, he crooned out, "What kind?"

"A… a crotch-less G-string, with butterflies trying to serve as some form of coverage."

Peaking from underneath her eyelashes, Ellen keenly observed how his entire body went completely rigid and his face adopted a blank look – temporarily, that is. Then a wide grin, accompanied by lusty fire burning within his eyes, quickly took over. "In that case…"

She let out a squeak as he abruptly stood up, forcing her to wrap her arms around his neck and her legs around his hips. His hand was now using the excuse of supporting her bottom to get in a cheeky squeeze. "Why don't we retire to a more appropriate location?"

The young woman blinked. "I must admit, I was expecting to be laid out on the kitchen table and thoroughly ravished after you roughly rid me of my joggers," she confessed in bemusement as Tyki began walking towards her bedroom.

"That tempting thought did cross my mind, menina," he acknowledged with a chuckle. "However, my plans for your body would be even better if the delectable confection hiding underneath your pants was joined by its friend up top." His grin grew even more salacious as he added, "Though once you change… you won't be able to leave your bed for a long time."

The hidden subtext was so blatant, a blind man stumbling about in the dark could grasp it.

But that didn't stop Ellen from eagerly looking forward to that scenario.

The twenty-two year old kissed her soon-to-be lover's jawline, sending an approving groan to leave his throat. "Is that so…?" she mused as they reached her bedroom door. "Then I have one more order for you, Tyki."

"What is it, menina?" the older man asked just as he twisted the doorknob and opened the door.

"That you won't be leaving my bed until I can. Unless that statement was just an empty boast."

"Oh, that wasn't a boast," he smirked. The last thing he said before they crossed the threshold to her bedroom and were cut off from view by the retreating piece of wood was "It was a fact."

- Sometime later that night -

Timcanpy was abruptly woken up by a sudden loud noise, and became quite confused.

It sounded like a human groan of sorts; not the type produced when a human was hurt or annoyed, but rather when their hormone and pheromone levels were elevated in response to meeting a potential mate. It was also lower pitched, in the range typically produced by a male.

That groan was then answered by a moan, which was also the kind produced by arousal instead of pain. But the moan's pitch was much higher than the groan's, strongly indicating it had been produced by a female.

Before the dog knew it, the previous silence hanging about the living room was mortally wounded by a strong stream of moans, groans, pants, whimpers – every type of noise a human could produce that could signal either pleasure or pain.

Now, the Soft Coated Golden was well acquainted with those kind of sounds. When Ellen was still the human version of a puppy, Cross had taken advantage of her being away at that building humans called 'school' to bring over attractive (by human standards) females to their current den. Many times the older man and his at-the-time mate would retire to his room for a long while, leaving Tim on the other side of the door; a bemused witness to their combined noise, as well as strong smells.

So Timcanpy wasn't fazed by exactly what he was hearing. But he was puzzled by why; after all, Ellen didn't have any mates – at least, none that she brought home with her.

And yet, several of those sounds had definitely come from her. Now that he thought about it, the male groans sounded familiar as well…

Then the dog scented the air and caught faint traces of human sweat, pheromones, hormones and other miscellaneous scents related to mating coming from the direction of Ellen's bedroom. Now brimming with curiosity, he leapt off of the settee and loped over to the source.

Tim ignored the noises interspersed with words – which ranged from pleads to demands to just monosyllabic shouts such as 'Oh!' – and instead lowered his head to scent the air coming from underneath the door. After a few inhales, he confirmed that Ellen really was mating in her bedroom. He also verified the identity of her new mate: Tyki, a male who she always had her eye on but never approached for a long time – and who, to Tim's knowledge via scents, returned the interest but also refrained from acting until now.

Satisfied that he knew all of the details, and happy that she got the one human she always wanted, the Soft Coated Golden returned to the settee and settled down to try to sleep. Its cushions weren't as soft as his bed in her bedroom…

… but, given the circumstances, they would have to do.

- … of Going Commando -


Cultural Notes:

Soft Coated Golden – Designer dog cross between a Golden Retriever and a Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier.

Flat – UK term for apartment.

Knickers & pants – Two UK terms for panties.

A queue – UK term for a line you wait in.

Trousers – UK term for pants.

Lift – UK term for elevator.

Bobby – UK slang for police officer. It, along with 'Peeler', derives from the name of the man who founded London's Metropolitan Police Service: Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel (tenure: 1841-1846). These two nicknames weren't originally given as compliments, however. Robert Peel wasn't particularly liked by many people (including Queen Victoria); not only due to his lack of social skills, but also because the other police force he founded (the Royal Irish Constabulary, which was eventually succeeded by the Royal Ulster Constabulary) was liberally used by absentee English landlords to quash Irish civil unrest and nationalism for 100 years. In fact, it was the Irish who came up with 'Bobbies' and 'Peelers' for the RIC; Londoners picked up the insults because they didn't see the new MPS as any better at first. But because the MPS had several rules and practices (couldn't vote in elections, needed permission to marry or even eat with civilians, had to wear their uniforms at all times, etc.) so that they could be held accountable, they were slowly able to win over the public.

The wash – Another way to say 'the laundry' in the UK.

Saudade – One of the most difficult Portuguese (and Brazilian) concepts to explain. It's like a mix of nostalgia, longing and sadness for past things or experiences that you can no longer partake in, but still think fondly of.

Caldo Verde – A green soup made with potatoes, collard greens, olive oil, black pepper and salt. Typically served at events like weddings and birthdays in Portugal. Originates from the Minho province.

BifanaTraditional Portuguese sandwich comprised of a light, crusty bread roll and pork strips seasoned with garlic, spices, and white wine. Has several regional varieties and is considered street food.

Frango piri piri – Grilled chicken (sometimes marinated)with piri piri chili sauce. Normally served with either rice or fries. Originates from Mozambique and Angola, two Africancountriesthat were once colonies of Portugal.

Polvo à lagareiroBoiled and baked octopus with mashed potatoes in a herbed garlic oil. Common throughout Portugal, though some claim it comes from the Beiras region in between the Douro and Tigus rivers.

Pastel de nataCreamy egg tart dusted with cinnamon. First created by Catholic monks of the Hieronymites Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jerónimos) in Lisbon before the 18th century. The treat was originally a way to use up egg yolks left over from when the monks did laundry using egg whites. After the Liberal Revolution of 1820, which led to many of Portugal's convents and monasteries being closed down, the monks started selling the tarts to a sugar refinery to make ends meet. Then once the HieronymitesMonastery finally closed down in 1834, the monks sold their recipe to the sugar refinery's owner; who would open the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém three years later. And guess what? The same family runs it to this day!

Belt up – UK phrase that means "shut up."

Four of a kind – A poker hand where you have four of the same ranked cards.

Straight flush – A poker hand where you have five sequentially-ranked cards.

Smokes, cancer stick,coffin nailOther words for cigarette.

Wanker – UK term for a jack-ass.

Five of a kind – A poker hand where you have five of the same ranked cards. Only possible with a wild card.

Nonce – British slag for paedophile.

Meanings of menina – Based on what I could find on the Internet (an admittedly fickle source at times), there are roughly three ways to use this word. Though even then, it can be tricky to pin down, depending on whether or not the speaker is Brazilian or Portuguese.First, it could mean a young girl or teenager. That's how Brazilians use it; the Portuguese would use rapariga to describe a girl. Second, it could mean a woman the speaker is attracted to or wants to get to know; like how English-speaking men might refer to women as 'babe'. This meaning is used in both Brazil and Portugal, but mostly in the former than the latter. That is because the final meaning of menina is… a prostitute. Actually, people in Portugal usually use its plural form (meninas) when they want to convey that final meaning. It's just like how the people in Brazil use rapariga… So, what's my final point? It all depends on context.

Jogger – UK/Ireland/Australian/New Zealand/South African term for sweatpants.

Fanny – UK slang for female genitalia.

- x -

The Kirilenko casino is named after the mine that Tyki and his friends were heading towards in chapter 42 of the manga.

Boy, did this one vex me! It took me sooo long to write out Ellen's confession – mostly because I struggled with how to write it without letting her come across as too sentimental. Then there was how context affects the meaning ofmenina… and how to reveal her underwear situation to Tyki… and the revisions… Did you know I started writing this back in April? It's taken over five months to complete! Which, along with this fic's word count, greatly contradicts what I originally intended DGM Plot Bunny Round-Up to be – a place to quickly dump the stray story ideas that plague my brain…

Oh, who am I kidding? That was never a viable option at any point of time. I just can't help adding details. And for all the moaning I just did, I really am proud about this chapter. I even have ideas for sequels~

Sources used – Wikitionary; Historic UK; Wikipedia; Reddit (r/Portuguese, u/Matosinhoslover, u/Cariocecus); Cambridge Dictionary; WordReference Forums (user: pfaa09); Quora; Portugalist and any other websites I used to look up Portuguese cuisine but now have forgotten.

Please leave a review! Constructive criticism helps me to improve my writing. Which, in the long term, will improve your reading experience! Everyone wins!

Stay safe!