Finding a Home

A Yu-Gi-Oh! Arc V one-shot

Summary: Shinji and the Whirlwind Brigade were making their rounds one rainy night when they run across an unusual swarm of Sector Security combing through the area. At first, Shinji thought it to be a simple rescue operation, but he ends up finding what he's been longing for. Guardianshipping (Crow-sama x Shinji). Pre-Arc V timeline.

Commons – Section B64

How Shinji could see in the torrential downpour and in the dark was still a mystery to him, and he was more than grateful that his outfit was, more or less, waterproof. He still wished, though, the Whirlwind Brigade had picked another night to do random patrols through the streets, hunting for Sector Security.

"Oi, Damon," Shinji shouted over his shoulder to his fellow D-Wheel rider on his left. "Would it have killed you to look at the forecast beforehand?"

Damon laughed as he made his way next to Shinji on his D-Wheel. "The newspaper said clear skies, Shinji. I don't know what else to tell you."

"Tch. Fine, whatever. Everyone, be careful. I'm not fixing any D-Wheels that skid," Shinji announced. His three other companions laughed as they rode along the cracked and empty streets, something that Shinji was grateful for. The people of Commons generally liked to stay off the streets after about 7 p.m. or so because that was when Sector Security liked to do their daily rounds. For the most part, 7 p.m. was prime time to get off the streets unless you wanted to be arrested for no reason.

As Shinji and his crew rode along, however, they heard an inordinate amount of Sector Security D-Wheels and cars, and Shinji, being most familiar with all the sections of Commons, instantly recognized Sector Security's direction: they were heading towards the A block of Commons. If he remembered correctly, most of Sector Security's arrests involved people living in that area.

That meant someone there was in trouble, and Shinji felt his stomach grow knots.

"Should we chase after them?" a raucous voice inquired, whom Shinji instantly recognized as Mihael's, one of his friends from his Facility days, along with Frederik, who was also part of the brigade. He was the one, in fact, who suggested the creation of the Whirlwind Brigade, a gang devoted to the protection of Commons from Tops and Sector Security, in the first place.

Shinji smirked to himself. "We sure should," he answered. "And it looks like whoever's on their radar really needs our help."

"But, Shinji, "Damon spoke up, "what if it's actually a dangerous criminal they're after? What then?"

The appointed leader of the Whirlwind Brigade sighed. It wasn't the first time Damon had brought that up, and it certainly wouldn't be the last either. While the man understood Damon's concern, especially since none of them could take any dangerous criminal on in a fist fight, one criminal isn't the same as an oppressive system designed to tear you down.

"You gotta give our fellow Commons the benefit of the doubt, Damon," he replied. "If it's a dangerous criminal they're after, we'll back off. But how many of those are in Commons? Believe in our comrades."

"Yes, Shinji!"

Commons – Section A?

Shinji, Damon, Mihael, and Frederik rode into Section A of the Commons area, their ears greeted by the blasts of sirens coming from the Sector Security D-Wheels and cars. Shinji raised an arm as a signal and the four of them split into different directions. Taking this opportunity, he assessed the situation as best he could in the downpour. Tens of D-Wheels, one Sector Security officer holding a megaphone. But Shinji still couldn't see who the unfortunate victim of Sector Security's bias was. Not that he wanted to be too close unless he wanted to risk blowing the entire operation. So, he drove onward slowly, inching closer and closer to the excitement of the night for Section A.

At last, his eyes caught sight of Sector Security's unfortunate victim of the night: a young man who appeared to be slightly younger than he was with orange hair that reminded him of fire and a face marred and tattooed with several criminal markers. Shinji couldn't stop his mouth from hanging open. How many times had this guy gone to the Detention Centre? And what on Earth for to get all those marks on his face? Maybe Damon was right. Maybe this guy was out of their league for their rescue operation, even if he did look to be shorter than Mihael, who's the shortest of the four of them.

Shinji was about to turn around and call off the patrol for the night when he looked at the heavily marked man again. He hadn't seen the first time, but he could then see the man was gripping a small child close to his body, as if his life depended on it, while being down on one knee. Shinji's initial emotion was sympathy for them, as in a "well, that sucks, but nothing I can do" kind of way, but, the more Shinji looked at the two of them, the more his heart burned. It wasn't sympathy he was feeling.

No. It's.

It's jealousy.

And it's eating him from the inside out, from his heart to his stomach.

Family units were extremely rare in Commons, so whenever Shinji saw one or a few, it also gave him immense distress. He could make all the friends he wanted. That wasn't hard for him. But, in the end, he couldn't consider any of them family. The emotional commitment was something he had been afraid to take on, and yet, that relationship, that closeness, that bond was something he had always desired, deep down. So, seeing a man with this child – it was a hard sight for Shinji to stomach. Here was someone who possibly had something he'd always wanted.

That man . . . he wasn't a criminal who was going to harm him or his friends. He deserved to be safe and free from Sector Security's clutches as the rest of them. If not even more so.

And Shinji wanted what he had. He gripped the bars of his D-Wheel tighter as he made his way toward the commotion of the Sector Security officers closing in on their targets. Hopefully, the other three would be able to hear him over all the rain.

"That's as far as you go!" Shinji shouted, catching the attention of all the officers as well as the man holding the small child. He maneuvered his D-Wheel to topple Sector Security D-Wheels to the side, distracting them. The whoosh of arrows could be heard, followed by the yells of other officers behind him. Good. His pals had heard him. He needed the distraction if he was going to get the man and the kid to safety. But, the man had to trust him first.

Shinji took off his helmet and placed it on his D-Wheel and made his way over, the man watching him carefully all the while. He had a feeling this wasn't going to be an easy operation, but it was the right thing to do, regardless.

"Security after you?" he asked, immediately regretting the question. That was stupid. Of course they were.

"Ye-Yeah," the man muttered loudly enough that Shinji could barely hear him as he readjusted his hold on the child with him who, Shinji now realized, was either passed out or fast asleep. Well, at least he gave the question the dignity of an answer.

"We can't stick around. My buddies'll take care of Sector Security while you, the kid, and I escape and take you to where you live," Shinji explained. Then, glancing in front and to the sides of the man, he inquired, "Got a D-Wheel with you?"

"No . . . I left it," was the reply.

Oh boy, Shinji thought. Yeah, this definitely wasn't going to be easy. He could only smirk. He had a feeling he knew the answer to his next question– especially considering that the man knelt to the ground as if he had an intense injury – but he asked anyway, "Well, can you at least walk?"

The other nodded no, and Shinji couldn't help but laugh. He knew it.

"Didn't bring a D-Wheel, can't walk. Amazing Security didn't catch you already!" Shinji exclaimed, being unable to contain his laughter. Unfortunately, the man didn't seem to be in any mood for joking around by the frown on his face. Not that Shinji could blame him, but it would help if he lightened up a bit.

"You gonna help me or not?" the man retorted, causing Shinji to stifle the rest of his laughter. "I got to get this little squirt home. And two other kids are waiting for me." At the mention of the other kids, Shinji's urge to laugh dissipated completely. Not just one kid, but he's taking care of three? Most families Shinji knew of only had one kid, and they had trouble taking care of the one as it was. But, here this man was, saying he had three kids to take care of as if it was no problem.

Shinji wanted to know more about him, about how he lived and took care of the three kids. It was just mindboggling. But, they had to get away from the commotion. First thing's first, though.

"Only after you tell me your name."

There was a period of silence between the two of them, with the pouring rain and the screams of Sector Security officers being attacked by Shinji's comrades' Duel Monsters being the only sources of noise.

"Crow Hogan," the man replied.

"Shinji Weber. Let's get goin' before Security gets us." Shinji started to make his way toward his D-Wheel, but he noticed the man not moving, and, instead, glancing at him, at the kid he was carrying, and then back to him.

"But, there's only room for one person," he said. "How's this gonna work?"

Shinji smirked as he put on his helmet and mounted his D-Wheel. "You're Commons, aren't you? You figure it out."

Crow looked at the D-Wheel again and sighed. Adjusting the small boy and bringing him closer to his chest, he slowly got up and walked – or rather, shuffled - cautiously towards the insect-shaped motorcycle. Then, leaning on Shinji for support, his bicep firmly against the middle of Shinji's back, he sat sideways.

"You better drive carefully and get us back or you'll regret it," he hissed. Shinji could only laugh. This was a going to be a long, but real fun night.

After asking Crow rapid-fire questions about where he was staying, Shinji finally managed to get him and the child to their place of residence right as the downpour worsened. He couldn't see that well in the rain, but it looked like a moderately sized house, with a deck and all that jazz. Considering that most of Commons either lived on the streets, underground, or in shacks, this place seemed like a castle in comparison to all of that.

"This is it, right?" he asked.

"Yeah," Crow replied. He didn't move. Taking a deep breath, he turned his head to the side. "Sorry, Shinji, but can you carry Tanner in? My leg's not gonna let me walk and carry a child at the same time."

Tanner, huh? So that's the boy's name. The corners of Shinji's mouth formed into a smile as he dismounted his D-Wheel. So, Crow was more injured than he initially let on, huh? "Sure thing. Where does he go?"

The other made a sound that was somewhere between a laugh and a cough. "The couch, for now. Just as you walk in, to the right. He might get a craving for tuna and wake up and go to his room. That's what I'm hoping for, anyway."

Shinji raised his right eyebrow. Even though he lived in such a nice place? "Tuna?"

"Yeah. It's the only thing I can afford to get these kids to eat. And bread too on occasion, if I'm lucky," he replied, placing the small boy in Shinji's arms. Instinctively, Shinji brought the boy against his chest, and, without another word, carried the boy inside the house. After being outside in the rain for so long, he felt relaxed with a roof over his head.

Glancing to the right, Shinji found the couch in question but realized that just as he had been outside in the rain, so had the boy he was carrying. And it would be disastrous if he caught a cold, especially since Shinji wasn't sure if Crow had anything for colds. At that moment, finding a towel to dry him off with was priority. Still carrying the boy and being incredibly thankful that he was such a deep sleeper, Shinji made his way around the house in search for towels. Much to his surprise, he only found one towel in what he guessed was the common bathroom area that hadn't been used recently – the other three were either sopping wet or were drying still. He sighed and made it a point to advise Crow to get more towels. There should at least be two for each person, for crying out loud.

Taking the towel, Shinji gently wiped Tanner with it, making sure he was as dry as possible. Then, walking back to the gathering area, he gently placed the boy on the couch, double checking that there was enough support – torn up pillows and all – for his body if he did decide to sleep there for the night.

"Mission accomplish –" Shinji almost said out loud, but he remembered what Crow had said earlier.

"And two other kids are waiting for me."

There were two other little ones Crow was looking after. And since Crow's having issues with his ankle, he couldn't exactly check up on them before he had to turn in for the night. So, Shinji felt compelled to check on them too. He remembered passing by what looked like a bedroom in searching for the towels, so he made his way back in that direction. Peering in, he saw one mattress, and, stepping fully inside the room, he saw two children, one girl with curly red hair and a boy with what looked like green hair, who looked a few years older than Tanner, fast asleep, holding hands. Shinji, smiling, quietly made his way back to the front door and to the outside, where Crow was still waiting on Shinji's D-Wheel.

"Okay, Tanner's on the cou—" he started to say, but Crow unexpectedly cut him off.

"Whatever you stole, you better put it back," he hissed, causing Shinji to take half a step back. The other then blinked a couple of times and put a hand to his head, unsure as to why Crow was so upset all of a sudden.

"Huh?!" Shinji reacted, trying to keep his voice down as to not wake the kids.

"There's no way you couldn't have seen the couch. It's right as you walk in. So, what took you so long, huh? Don't play dumb with me." Crow accused, also trying to control his volume, Shinji noticed. "You definitely stole something."

The other let the accusation sink in, letting a period of silence rest between them, save for the rain. Then, he laughed, and it turned into a belly laugh. How ironic, Shinji thought. Damon thought he was a dangerous criminal, Shinji certainly had second thoughts about rescuing him from Security just because of his criminal markers, and now, he was getting that distrust back double fold. Served him right. Feeling particularly gutsy, Shinji placed a hand on Crow's shoulder, with Crow staring at his hand, saying, "I don't take advantage of folks and then steal. That's not my thing. Look," he took a step back, raised his arms, and turned his back to him while looking behind him, "even if it was, I don't have any way to carry anything. Not even the D-Wheel you're sitting on has any room. You gotta trust me on this."

Crow jerked at the mention of his D-Wheel, but, then he quickly regained his composure. "Sounds sorta convincing, but that still doesn't explain why it took you so long," was the reply. "I could have you punished for trespassing."

Trespassing, holy crap. This guy sure isn't messing around. Shinji swallowed a lump that had formed in his throat. But, it's understandable why he was so on edge. After all, who wants a stranger they didn't completely trust being around their loved ones? That's a lot of risk. It really was a good thing that Shinji was the one who found him.

"Well . . ." Shinji sighed and shrugged, "You did mention you had two kids waiting for you, so, after I put Tanner on the couch, I looked for them and made sure they were alright. I figured with your leg injury and all, you wouldn't be able to do it yourself. By the way, they're fast asleep."

Crow looked to the ground.

"And, also," he continued, "I had to dry off Tanner so that he wouldn't catch a cold, so I was also looking for towels. You really to invest in more of them."

The other huffed and crossed his arms. "You didn't have to do that. They're my responsibility," he retorted. "And, just so you know, I can walk just fine on my own –" he jumped down from Shinji's D-Wheel, but, as soon as his feet touched the ground, Crow went down, wincing and holding his ankle. "Ow."

Shinji laughed at the sight. Stubborn through and through. But, he couldn't just leave Crow like that, outside in the rain. He could probably move by himself, but that would cause more damage to his ankle. So, Shinji gave a half-joking, half-serious suggestion.

"You want me to take you in too?"

Yeah, right. was Shinji's immediate thought. He was on thin ice with Crow as it was, so there's no way he'd say ye-

"Yeah, sure," Crow cut his train of thought off, and Shinji jolted in response. Well, there's some way he'd say yes, apparently. On cue, he walked over to the injured party and scooped him up by the legs, one arm supporting them while the other supported Crow's back. Crow, as if out of reflex, wrapped an arm around his neck.

"Huh. You're lighter than I thought you'd be," Shinji muttered.

"Shut up," Crow snapped, but Shinji could see, even in the rain, that his face was flushed. The other laughed as he carried him inside, back to the dryness, and, with Crow's directions, to his room. It was a space to the side, with a window full of cracks and a bed that for sure had been home to ants and who knows what other kind of creatures. After gently laying the injured party on the bed, Shinji took a step back.

"And my work here's done," he announced.

The other glared at him before gingerly taking his boots off. "Then leave. I appreciate the help tonight, but don't come back here."

He's one of those guys, huh? Shinji sighed. So, Crow still didn't entirely trust him, even after all of that. But, why did that matter to him? The objective of the Whirlwind Brigade was to help the Commons in immediate trouble, and, once that was accomplished, they shouldn't have anything to do with that person unless they find themselves in trouble again. He only had to help Crow and that boy – Tanner – escape from Sector Security. Nothing more.

Nothing . . . more.

But, that was the dilemma. Shinji just couldn't leave things as they were. Not when those kids' only caretaker had a severe ankle injury that limited his movement. Who was going to find food and other necessities for survival? Who was going to make sure they were safe at night? And not only that. Shinji didn't know what it was, but there was something about the family unit that made him want to stay. He was jealous of the tight-knit group, after all. And he wanted – no, needed to know more about it, about them.

Rather than risking the immediate wrath of the injured guardian, though, Shinji shrugged his shoulders and tiredly smiled. "I'll be making my way out then. You won't be seeing me around again, promise," he lied, hopefully for the last time, as he made his way through the door. Taking one last look at Crow, who had curled himself up in a woolen blanket, Shinji couldn't help but stare longer than he needed to. Catching himself, he quietly closed the door.

~The Next Day~

Commons - Section A45 (Hogan Residence)

Carrying a large paper bag of loaves and some spare butter packets he found, the blue and purple haired man cautiously made his way inside the house. First, he looked over at the couch where he had laid Tanner and noticed the couch only had the pillows and the blanket. A quiet laugh escaped; Crow was right. Shinji didn't know when the kids or Crow woke up, and he doubted that the man he rescued would remember his threat to him the night before, but, just in case, he had to be careful.

Remembering the kitchen area from his roaming around the night before, he went straight there and set the bag on the table. His initial plan was to just set the bag down and leave, but then he thought better of it. Yeah, Shinji. Just leave a bag of normally expensive loaves and butter here. They're not going to find that suspicious at all. So Shinji decided he would stick around and explain it to at least the kids. After that, he would leave.

"Oh man, what did I get myself into?" he laughed, sitting down at the table. No sooner had he done that, the sound of one . . . two? No, three pairs of footsteps filled the humble abode's atmosphere as well as the sound of chattering.

"You think Crow's awake?" whispered one of the kids with a light, high-pitched voice. That must be the girl Shinji saw last night.

"He better be!" replied another. The voice was slightly deeper, so Shinji imagined it was the older boy of the group. "And I'm gonna give him a piece of my mind for making us worry!"

"Ah come on, Frank, don't be like that," the girl replied. "If it weren't for Tanner falling behind, this wouldn't have happened."

"No fair, Amanda!" cried a voice that was a higher pitched than the girl's. That must be Tanner's voice. "You guys were moving too fast!"

"Either way, Crow's gonna get it, and you're not gonna change my mind," Frank announced.

Shinji covered his mouth to contain his laughter so as to not get caught. It's clear that Crow's raising these kids. They sounded just like him. But, that wasn't necessarily good news for him in the "making the kids trust him" operation. If they had as many trust issues with strangers as Crow did, it's going to be a long, long morning.

And Shinji was just about to find out how long the morning was exactly going to be. The three kids made their way to the kitchen area where he was comfortably sitting, and, upon seeing Shinji, Amanda and Tanner took a step back while Frank put out a protective arm over the two of them. The expected reaction to a stranger in their home. Shinji got up from his chair, and the three kids stepped back even further.

"Listen, I –" Shinji started to say, but Frank interrupted him.

"Who are you? What did you do with Crow?" interrogated the oldest boy a little loudly, his voice trembling. They were afraid of him, Shinji realized.

"Keep it down. Crow's asleep," he replied, trying to make his voice sound as convincing as possible.

"So you came in last night and knocked him out?" Amanda spoke up, her voice also wavering. Shinji also noticed her eyes were incredibly puffy.

Oh boy. "What? No, no. I didn't do anything to him, I promise," Shinji waved his arms in protest. "If you would just listen –"

"We're listening," Frank interrupted, bringing his protective arm closer to Amanda and Tanner.

Shinji looked at Tanner and sighed, causing Tanner to raise an eyebrow in confusion.

"I . . . I saw Crow and you, Tanner, in trouble with Sector Security last night," Shinji explained. "While my buddies took care of Security, I took the both of them and brought them back here, since Crow didn't have his D-Wheel with him. And his ankle's no good, so he asked me to bring in Tanner for him, which I did."

Tanner nodded slowly, and then gasped as if he realized something. "Wait, so that's why I was on the couch."

"You got it," Shinji flashed a thumbs up. "And I brought Crow in too, since he's got ankle issues."

The older two kids looked at each other and snickered. On the one hand, Shinji was relieved that the kids were finally comfortable just enough with him, but, on the other, he didn't understand what was so funny.


"So, how'd you carry him in?" Frank asked.

"Yeah! Did you carry him in bridal style?" Amanda chimed in, her voice a little too eager for Shinji's liking in asking that question. Shinji's left eyebrow twitched.

"I carried him in. That's all I'm saying," Shinji protested. "I just met the guy last night, okay?"

"So that's a yes," Frank nodded.

"No, I –"

"It's okay, we won't tell Crow you told us," Amanda winked, and Shinji could feel all of his defenses crumble. The relationship assumption aside, he didn't expect the kids to accept his explanation of last night's events just like that, and he certainly didn't expect them to think that something was going on between their guardian and him, which there wasn't. Sighing, he sat back down in his chair.

"So, you guys trust me now?" he asked.

"Depends. What's in the bag?" replied Tanner, who looked intently at the large paper brown bag with the loaves. On cue, Shinji grabbed the bag from behind him.

"Ah, this? Well, Crow had mentioned that all you guys get to eat around here usually is tuna, so I managed to snag some not-tuna on the way here," he said quite proudly. "I got a really good deal on this bread and butter, so I thought I'd bring it here for you guys."

The three kids looked at Shinji – or rather, the food in his arms – with sparkling eyes, all three simultaneously making a gulping sound.

"We. We can have this? Are you sure?" Frank asked, trying to keep his drool from traveling too far out of his mouth. Shinji laughed as he shook the bag.

"I got it for you guys. Of course you can have it," Shinji smiled. "Make sure to leave some for you-know-who, though."

"You-know-who….?" asked Tanner, looking upwards and putting a hand to his head.

"He means Crow," Amanda answered, and Tanner, making an "oh!" sound, pounded a fist into his hand, which meant, Shinji guessed, he finally understood.

Shinji gestured to the kids for them to help themselves, which they did. He helped them divide the loaves in portions that would fill them up for the next couple of hours. After they devoured their fill (and after Shinji and Amanda made sure to leave part of a loaf for Crow), Shinji stood up and said, "Okay, so who wants to go with me to town to get more food?"

"Me, me!" Frank and Tanner both said at the same time, and Shinji laughed at their enthusiasm to do the most basic of chores. No wonder Crow kept them around. Their eagerness surely kept things light-hearted. Shinji noticed Amanda was unusually quiet at the suggestion.

"Amanda? What about you?" he asked. Amanda nodded her head in the negative.

"I'll stay behind. In case Crow wakes up before you three get back," replied Amanda.

"Be sure to tell him we'll be right back if he does!" Frank instructed, to which Amanda nodded.

Shinji smiled. What an unexpected turn of events. It'd been less than 24 hours, but the three had already treated him as one of their own, as if he was a part of their family. All because he brought Crow and Tanner back to them. And, even though he told Crow last night he'd stay away, he really did hope, deep down, that things would stay as they were, if not better.

"And we're off!" Shinji announced, although not too loudly.

Commons Marketplace - Section E

Shinji glanced at Frank and Tanner, who were constantly readjusting their grips on their plastic bags filled with tuna, fruit, applesauce and whatever else they could find . . . and that Shinji could afford.

"You guys okay? I could carry another bag –" he started to say, but Frank and Tanner shook their heads furiously.

"Nah, we're good," Frank replied. "Crow didn't raise no quitters."

"We've gone through worse. We can manage," the younger of the two, the one Shinji rescued the night before, reassured – or tried to, Shinji guessed – his and Frank's companion, although the statement did anything but what he intended.

Shinji's face fell, just wondering how those two, Amanda, and Crow even survived before he, quite frankly, barged into their lives unannounced. Then again, he knew next to nothing about their day-to-day or what the kids liked or even how Crow acted when he didn't have to worry about strangers, so, for all he knew, they had a system that worked. There was still some time before they got back to the house – they had just passed the fruit stand that's a few blocks from Section A – so Shinji spoke up, "This might sound like a weird question, but just what kind of guy is Crow anyway?"

Frank and Tanner both looked at the sky with pensive faces, as if trying to figure out how to possibly answer such a sudden question. After what seemed like an eternity, the two smiled and looked straight ahead.

"He's a little rough around the edges –" Frank started.

Shinji scoffed underneath his breath. "No kidding."

"- and he yells at us if we do something we're not supposed to do, but he gives the best hugs though," finished Tanner, his eyes gleaming.

"And he always makes sure we're fed every night," the older boy continued. "Even if . . ." Frank frowned and stared at the ground as the trio continued to walk, "even if that means he doesn't get to eat every now and then. He doesn't think us kids notice, especially since he tries to hide it, but we do."

"No kidding?" Shinji chimed in, making no effort to hide the surprise in his voice. Crow was willing to go that far, was willing to go some days without eating, just for the kids?

"And he gave us a nice place and lets us sleep there when no one else would," said the younger boy, fumbling with his grocery bag.

"Yeah. We really lucked out with him," Frank agreed.

Shinji, listening to the boys go on and on excitedly their guardian, was cut to the heart. The more he knew about Crow, the more he realized he judged him wrongly without knowing anything about him. Underneath the tough, "back off or else" exterior was someone willing to risk it all for the most vulnerable, even at the cost of his own life. The toughness was probably a defense, built by many years of hardship and hatred that surrounded the Commons every day, and to protect the kids he cared for.

And Shinji thought he had it rough. And he lived by himself.

Crow really was incredible, and those kids really were lucky.

Shinji suddenly laughed for a good minute, with Frank and Tanner looking at him like he had gone mad. He shook his head, saying, "Sorry. I'm laughing at myself, not you guys. Come on, we're almost there."

Commons - Section A45 (Hogan Residence)

Shinji, Frank, and Tanner entered the house and dropped their grocery loot on the dining table. Frank and Tanner both collapsed on the kitchen floor, exhausted.

"Finally . . ." Frank muttered.

Shinji snickered at the sight. "I tried to help you, but you guys didn't want it."

"We know . . ." Tanner said slowly, closing his eyes. Shinji smiled and decided he'd deal with that later, but first, he needed to let Amanda know they came back

"We're back!" Shinji announced.

"Welcome back, Frank, Tanner, Shinji!" Amanda appeared from Crow's room and ran towards Shinji, wrapping her arms around his waist, and catching him off guard. Shinji glanced at his two shopping companions who only grinned.

They trusted him. They really trusted him.

He hesitantly put a hand to the top of Amanda's head and rubbed it gently. The young girl only tightened her hold, and Shinji took that to mean the gesture was okay. After a few seconds, Amanda let go.

"How was the shopping trip?" Amanda asked, but, looking at Frank and Tanner lying on the ground, she laughed. "It certainly looks like it was a trip."

"Oh, can it, Amanda," retorted Frank. "I didn't think the bags would be that heavy. That's all."

"Suuuuuuure," was the sing-song reply. Shinji could only laugh at this exchange, even though maybe he should've intervened. But, he decided to let it go.

"So, how's the patient?" he asked, smirking in the direction of Crow's room.

Amanda laughed and shrugged. "He's awake, and he took the water just fine, but not the bread," she replied. "And after we made sure to save it for him too . . ."

The kids trusted him, but Crow still didn't. Seemed about right. Shinji sighed as he made his way towards Crow's room, saying, "Frank, Tanner, help Amanda put away the groceries. I'm gonna have a talk with the patient."

"Okaaaaaaaay, Shinji . . ." Frank and Tanner moaned in unison, still laying on the floor.

Shinji slowly opened the door. The tension in the room was thick enough that Shinji could cut it with a knife, especially with the way Crow glared at him. He looked at him, then at the uneaten loaf next to his feet, and then back to Crow.

"Come on, that's some really good bread!" Shinji exclaimed, trying to ignore his nerves. "I got a good bargain for it. I didn't poison it, promise."

"Shinji, what's the meaning of this?"

Shinji gulped. The kids might trust him, but Crow still seemed far from ready to accept him. So, to try and diffuse the situation, he decided to play the dumb act. "What are you talking about?"

Crow's eyes narrowed. "The food – if you really didn't poison it. The kids knowing who you are, this patient business . . . What gives? I thought I told you to leave us alone."

He did remember after all, much to Shinji's disappointment. But, Shinji wasn't entirely disheartened. After all, the kids trusted him. Putting his hands on his waist, Shinji sighed.

"Think about this. Your ankle's no good, the kids can only do so much for you, and there's barely food here. If you think I'm just going to ignore all that, well, sorry to break it to you. That's not gonna happen."

Shinji expected a rebuttal, but, for the first time in the past 24 hours, the other didn't have one. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. Shinji took the opportunity to continue.

"As far as the kids knowing who I am, I told them about last night. Otherwise, they wouldn't have trusted me."

Crow nodded slowly, as if trying to process the latest batch of events that occurred while he was out cold. After a pause, he asked, "But, why, Shinji? Why go out of your way to do all this just for some guy, some former criminal, you just met last night? If it's out of pity, then I don't need it, so you can just go ahead and leave –"

Shinji interrupted him by waving an arm, not just because he was wrong, but he didn't want to hear anymore. He realized why Crow was so stubborn in accepting him. Shinji wasn't the first to offer Crow and the kids help, it seemed. But, with those other times, they've been taken advantage of. And Crow was sick and tired of it, so, rather than accept the help, he turned people away.

And it hurt Shinji to realize that. He couldn't imagine where he'd be if he didn't get the help he needed from his friends or if he had been taken advantage of. But, Crow had to live like that. And yet . . . that jealousy for the life he lived with those kids remained.

"It's . . . It's not out of pity, believe me," he said. "Actually," he laughed, "it's the opposite really."

The orange-haired man raised an eyebrow. "The . . . opposite?"

Shinji put a hand to his face, combing through his hair with his fingers. A nervous habit he developed. Even if Crow wasn't going to accept what he was about to say, he still needed to say it.

"When I saw you and Tanner that night, I was jealous. You don't see very many family units in Commons, and I didn't have any family growing up." Shinji paused to laugh. "I want what you have, Crow. And that's why my pals and I helped you and Tanner then and why I'm helping you now."

Shinji noticed Crow's shoulders relax and his eyes soften, the most docile he's seen him in the past 24 hours. "Shinji . . ."

"But, I get it. You don't want a stranger intruding, and you're concerned about the kids' safety," he inhaled and exhaled slowly. "I still want to help you out, though. Help you with those kids. At least until you can walk properly again. After that, I'll leave you alone. I mean it this time."

And he did. Even if he wanted what Crow had, it's no use trying to barge in where he wasn't wanted.

Crow stared at him, but the stare wasn't as intense as before.

"I'll be around, so if you need anything in the meantime, let me know," Shinji turned his back to him. "See you around."

Shinji had reached for the hole in the door that he assumed had once been a doorknob and his fingers had wrapped around the opening when he heard a desperate voice call out, "W-Wait!" He froze, not turning around.

"What is it now? You gonna file a restraining order?" Shinji laughed nervously. He heard Crow clear his throat.

"No, no, nothing like that," was the reply. "It's . . . It's nothing, but . . . really. Thank you for everything, Shinji. And . . . just know you can come back here any time, even when-no, especially when my ankle's better. The kids and I wouldn't mind."

It took all of Shinji's willpower to not let his jaw drop, not believing at all what he just heard. He turned to stare at Crow, whose face, for whatever reason, was extremely flushed. This was the same guy who threatened to have him punished for trespassing last night and was giving him a hard time? The same guy who wouldn't let total strangers near his kids for their safety?

He was letting Shinji into his and his kids' lives and letting Shinji be a part of a family, like he always wanted? Just like that?

Not believing what he just heard, he asked, "You're-You're not cracking one of your bad jokes, are you? Frank had said you were prone to doing tha—"

"Who said I was cracking jokes?" the other interrupted, waving a hand as if to push Shinji out the door. "Get out of here before I change my mind."

Shinji laughed. Crow's certainly rough around the edges, but, since Shinji finally knew why, it's almost adorable really. He was looking forward to visiting again.

"I'll be back then."

A/N: so this was originally a fic for Guardianshipping Week on tumblr, and well, we need more Guardianshipping in our lives.

If you keep up with my fics, you might be thinking "wait a second. The layout of this fic is awfully familiar." Well, that feeling is spot-on. This fic is basically a retelling of "The Whirlwind Brigade," but from Shinji's perspective. B/c while I was trying to come up with ideas for a Guardianshipping fic, that one just wouldn't leave me alone, so, here we are.

Please leave a review if you can. Thanks for reading! (and happy fathers' day to the two Arc V dads dlaskfjsdaklfaj)

Hakase Fudo - June 16, 2019