Itachi stared at the river listlessly. It had been five years since he had first arrived in the Soul Society. So much had happened in that short amount of time. He closed his eyes, venturing back into his memories to find the exact moment where everything changed.
It was the hunger.
Getting hungry in a world where one is not supposed to get hungry. Miss Megumi nearly had a heart attack when he had suddenly collapsed one day while they were searching for herbs for Megumi to sell. He still remembered the earful he had received from the frail woman about making her worry. She then explained that the hunger meant he had high spirit energy, which meant that he could potentially become a Soul Reaper one day. Itachi vehemently opposed the very idea; he was through with fighting and wanted to lead at least a somewhat peaceful life. Since that day, most of Megumi's earnings were used to buy food so Itachi wouldn't die—again—of starvation.
It wasn't long after that when the woman died. She had explained that when souls died, they were supposedly reincarnated into the World of the Living. He couldn't remember how much he stared at the small shack she owned. Death was fleeting and unexpected. Once it happens, it seems unreal. The ones you care for vanish, like a dream upon waking.
Itachi had fended for himself from then on. Living in Inuzuri was tough. One often had to resort to theft and trickery to get what they needed. Although his days as a shinobi had long passed, his body retained its experience from that time. He often found himself wandering the streets of Inuzuri aimlessly, pick-pocketing those who were too stupid to notice. It was one day after another; the same senseless struggle to survive in the dump that was District seventy-eight.
Itachi exhaled as he opened his eyes. Judging from the sun's position in the sky and the stiffness of his legs, he had been standing in the same position for hours. The Uchiha readjusted his dark grey kimono sleeves and began walking toward the market street. It was his daily chore to steal food or money and he hated it with a passion. It made him feel pitiful. As he walked, he kept his eyes open for potential victims who could—
Itachi blinked. He then rubbed his eyes to make sure he wasn't seeing things.
Lying in the middle of the street was a boy. His bright red hair contrasted greatly with the rest of his surroundings, which made it difficult to not notice him. The child was lying face down in the dirt, unmoving and only the slight movement of his torso was the only indication that he was still alive. Itachi's long-repressed "big brother" instincts were screaming at him to do something and help the child. He rushed up to the kid, turning him over on his back and examining him. He was skinny from malnourishment and dirt was smudged over every visible inch of his body. The child's expression was twisted, hurting from exhaustion and hunger. He looked no older than six.
Itachi was greatly reminded of Sasuke. This was a child. He shouldn't be lowered to thieving and running around in the dirt to survive. He should have a family to take care of him; to love him and to be companions to him. Yet, fate was determined to be cruel to children like Sasuke no matter where they grew up. Forced to grow up to survive, destroying their innocence with the reality of life. That was no way to live.
Itachi took the child into his arms. He would not allow that to happen again. Never. He had destroyed Sasuke's childhood because of the actions of the Uchiha clan as well as the orders from Danzo. Here in Inuzuri, there was nothing that held him back. There were no elders to order him around and no rules that needed to be followed. There was no one stopping him from helping this child other than himself.
As Itachi made his way back to his "home", he began pondering his decision. The question was whether or not he could take care of the child and if the kid even wanted to be looked after. He was having enough trouble trying to survive on his own. With his decently high—and steadily growing—spirit energy, Itachi had to steal food almost daily just to keep up his strength for the week. Add a kid onto that and Itachi would have to use more drastic measures—measures he did not want to resort to—to get the supplies he needed. He shook his head. If things did happen that way, let them. He was capable of killing if need be, but only in self-defense or if he had no choice.
He soon arrived at his small shack that he took ownership of once Megumi passed. He laid the small child on the rugged futon, covering him up with a blanket so he could rest. Itachi then went to get some food he had stored away for himself whenever he got hungry. Taking some bread and some taiyaki, he went back to the unconscious child. Itachi closed his eyes before reopening them, his irises scarlet red instead of coal black.
He was still able to use his Sharingan and all the jutsus he had learned when he was alive. Although his body was technically a soul and made up of spirit energy now, it was still a physical body and he could still move and work his bodily functions. As such, he was still able to access the physical energy that was required when controlling chakra. Deeming it as an unexpected addition to his high spirit energy, he decided to practice with his jutsus every now and then so he wouldn't get rusty should he ever need to use them. In a similar manner to seeing chakra, he discovered that the Sharingan could gauge the spirit energy of the individuals around him. What he saw in the child startled him.
The boy had a chakra system. Not once in the five years Itachi had spent in Inuzuri had he seen anyone else like him where the individual had any sort of chakra flow. Not until today, that is. The flow was steady, which indicated that the system was matured and available for use to the user. Whether if the kid had known that he could manipulate chakra or not remained to be seen. Perhaps before he died, the boy was training to become a shinobi. That was the most logical explanation.
Itachi also noticed that the redhead's spirit energy was low due to constant hunger, but he could see that his reserves were capable of being high despite being so young. With proper nourishment and training, he could potentially become a Soul Reaper one day.
Itachi inwardly scoffed. The residents of Rukongai praised the Soul Reapers highly and they rightly deserved the title "death gods" due to the dangerous work that they performed. But anytime he saw one in Inuzuri, he felt nothing but contempt for them. The Soul Reapers he saw abused their power and they took unfair advantage over the poor residents who were struggling to get by. As much as he wanted to interfere when a situation like that came up, he bottled his emotions in and put a tight cork on them. It wasn't his business and he did not need to draw attention to himself when he was attempting to live a peaceful life.
Deactivating his Sharingan, Itachi knelt down and lightly tapped the boy's cheek with his hand. The kid's face contorted for a few seconds before stirring from his dreamless sleep. The boy opened his eyes, revealing bright chocolate brown irises. They zeroed in on Itachi, instantly narrowing in contempt.
"The hell are you?" the redhead grumbled.
"Just a fellow resident of Inuzuri," Itachi answered blankly. "You were laying half-dead in the middle of the market street."
"The hell are we?"
"…Is that taiyaki!?" the redhead's mood suddenly brightened as he saw the fish-shaped cake in Itachi's hand.
"YAY!" he shouted, snatching the taiyaki out of Itachi's hand faster than Kakashi-senpai when buying a new Icha Icha book from the bookstore. Itachi blinked as a dotted outline of where the cake once was in his hand flashed a few times before disappearing. He then redirected his gaze to the child, whose mouth was dripping with bean paste.
"…I see you like taiyaki," Itachi stated as a small sweatdrop ran down his head at the redhead's sudden about-face. He hadn't seen a child devour something so fast in a long time; not since his early teens during the occasional ANBU protection missions for Naruto. When he first witnessed Naruto consume five bowels of ramen in a row—and the blonde was still itching for more afterwards!—he felt his jaw drop behind his ANBU mask. He knew Naruto had inherited Kushina-san's love for the food, but Itachi had no idea how he could eat that much of it and not get sick, "food of the gods" or not.
"Hell yeah I do! It's my favorite!" the redhead said, bringing Itachi out of his thoughts. The child was licking the residue from his fingers and the sides of his mouth.
"I see," the ex-shinobi said. "Tell me, little one; how did you end up in such a state in the middle of the road?"
"Hey! I ain't little, bastard!" the kid snapped angrily. "Don'tcha know who you're talking to, geezer!?"
"A child throwing a temper tantrum," Itachi answered bluntly, deadpanning at the outburst. The redhead ignored his statement.
"I'm Renji Abarai, ya old goat!" the child shouted, pointing a finger in Itachi's face. "I'm gonna be a Soul Reaper one day and I'll kick your ass if you treat me like a scum!"
"Renji Abarai, is it?"
"Yeah, Wrinkles. Remember it!"
Itachi smirked lightly. "Don't worry. I will."
Renji was about to retort, but he instead did a double-take. "Wait, what?"
"I told you I would remember your name. Or did you not truly mean what you said?"
"No! I mean it! It's just…" Renji paused to cross his arms. "You asshole grown-ups never cared much about who I was before. Why should I expect anything different from you, Wrinkles?"
Itachi poked Renji's forehead with his middle and index fingers. "Let me tell you this important life lesson, Renji, and take it to heart. Appearances and preconceptions aren't going to tell you anything about a person. For example, you assume I am like every other miserable wretch that you have met in this District. I'm not."
Renji irritably rubbed the sore spot on his forehead, pouting while he did so. "Why'd you poke me?"
Itachi remained quiet, frowning a bit. Renji greatly reminded him of Sasuke, despite the obvious differences in personality. Something he realized when he arrived in the Soul Society was that his memories were slowly disappearing. His time in Akatsuki was practically nonexistent and the faces of friends and family he once knew were gradually becoming foggy. If there was one person he wished to never forget, it would be his younger brother. He would do what he could to cling to those precious memories. The memories of his time alive were the only things that kept him company through the years. It was cruel in a way. Memories were basically the only things of personal value a soul could bring to the Soul Society; to take those away would be similar to taking away one's very identity.
Itachi placed his façade back up, smiling at the child. "Let's just say you remind me of someone."
"You're a weird ass grown-up," Renji bluntly stated. "But I guess it's a good weird. Any other grown-ups would've tossed me out into the street by now."
"Yeah. I don't like being treated like a stray dog, but them assholes do it anyway just 'cause I'm a kid living alone!" Renji snapped. "I'm gonna show 'em all! I'm gonna be a Soul Reaper one day and I'll shove my sword in their faces when I'm livin' in the Seireitei!"
Itachi sighed. "Renji. Getting revenge won't solve anything."
"What would you know, geezer!? You don't know nothing!"
"I know more than you think I do," Itachi said, his eyes sharp as they remained focused on the redhead. "I hurt a number of people when I was alive. In response, those people wanted to do anything to hurt me. In return to that hatred, my family would want to reciprocate that hurt. Tell me Renji; what would happen next if my family returned that hatred?"
"The other family would get mad?"
"And then what?"
"Exactly," Itachi explained. "A cycle of hatred is born and numerous people would get hurt, both the ones who were involved in that cycle and those who were innocent in the whole matter. Do you want to begin such a cycle, Renji? I highly doubt that you do."
"No…" the child mumbled guiltily. "I'm sorry…"
"What are you sorry for? You are still young; you've been forced to grow up in an unsightly place where hatred is easily bred. It's only natural for you to feel loathing towards those who have wronged you. There's no need to be sorry."
"You really are different from other grown-ups, aren't you, Mister?"
"First it was Wrinkles, then it was geezer, and now it's Mister? Why the sudden change in formality?" Itachi asked, smirking at the child.
"Well, you got wrinkles," Renji explained, getting up and pointing at Itachi's facial lines. "Only old people have wrinkles so I thought you were old. So you'd be a geezer."
Itachi sighed. No matter where he was, people always poked fun at his tear-troughs. De…what was it now? The blonde one in Akatsuki who hated his guts; he constantly teased Itachi for them, saying it made him look older than he really was. What could he do about them? He was born with them and they steadily got longer and more pronounced as he grew older. How could he explain that to a child?
"…Astute observation, I suppose," was all he could come up with.
"So, what's your name?"
Itachi blinked. "What?"
"What. Is. Your. Name?" Renji repeated. "You helped me, so I wanna help you."
"You don't have to do that, Renji."
"But I wanna!" the redhead chirped. "I may not remember my Kaa-chan very good, but she always told me to 'repay someone's kindness when they help you'! Don't know what she means by 'repay kindness'; I got no money to buy it, but I still wanna repay ya!"
Itachi held in a snort, placing a hand over his mouth to prevent any laughter that wanted to burst forth from coming. He forgot how innocent and honest young children could be. He rarely saw Sasuke when he was that age because he was almost constantly on missions, so he wasn't used to hearing it. Itachi regained his composure, though a smile still made its way onto his face.
"You want to repay me?"
"Yeah! Whatever it is, I'll buy it!"
Itachi poked Renji's forehead again. "Repayment doesn't always mean buying something, Renji. Sometimes, just doing a favor for someone is just as valuable as any material object."
"Really?" Renji asked, cocking his head in a confused manner while rubbing his poked forehead again. "Then what do you want from me?"
"Would you like to stay here, Renji?"
"EH!?" Renji shouted in disbelief.
"I'm not a fan of children being forced to become adults before their coming of age because of the society they live in," Itachi explained calmly, watching Renji's face mirror that of a gaping fish. "You've already established that you live on your own. That doesn't sit well with me, especially now since I've gotten to know a bit about you. Of course, the decision is entirely up to you whether to accept or not."
"You're willing to let me stay with you?" Renji's bright eyes seemed to expand in amazement the longer they stayed focused on Itachi.
"Yes. Is that really such a surprise?"
"Of course, dumbass!" Renji said. "So…you'd be like my big brother if I said yes?"
"More or less; if that's what you want to view me as."
"Then hell yes! I wanna stay!" Renji jumped out of the futon and tackled Itachi, nearly toppling the ex-shinobi over. He wrapped his arms around Itachi's neck in a fierce grip. The redhead was laughing as he hugged the young adult, slightly choking Itachi while he did so. Renji suddenly paused and let out a small gasp. "Wait a sec!"
"What?" Itachi choked out as he loosened Renji's arms enough so he could breathe.
"I forgot! You didn't tell me your name, nii-san!" Renji exclaimed.
"Itachi. My name is Itachi," replied the Uchiha.
"Doesn't that mean 'weasel'?"
"Yes. I am aware. Renji?"
"I have a question for you."
"What is it, nii-san?"
"Do you remember the names of your parents?"
"Um…kinda?" Renji said, scrunching his face up in concentration. "My last name is from tou-san and kaa-chan was Mizuki Uzu…Uzu…Uzu something?"
"Yeah! That was it! Uzumaki!"
So, it sounded like he was a descendent of the Uzumaki clan, confirming Itachi's suspicions. That explained Renji's fiery red hair that could rival Kushina-san's in intensity and the fact he had a chakra system. There was one last thing left that Itachi needed to find out.
"One last thing. Do you know what chakra is, Renji?"
"What now? Chock-rah?"
That response answered that question. His time in the Soul Society must've wiped almost all his memories from his short time alive. It was Renji's desire to become a Soul Reaper, despite Itachi's misgivings about the profession. As his guardian, it would fall to him to make sure that dream came true. So it would be a blatant advantage for Renji to relearn the concepts of controlling chakra for future uses. The occasional Soul Reapers that Itachi saw did not have the chakra system. If Renji were to learn jutsu, it would be a great surprise tactic to pull on his opponents which could give him the upper hand in combat.
"Hey, Itachi? Can I call you Weasel-nii-san?" Renji asked, bringing Itachi out of his thoughts.
"Alright, alright, alright! Damn it...Then how about Itachi-nii?"
"That, I am fine with."
"Hooray! Itachi-nii!" Renji cried as he resumed his hugging/choking of Itachi.
"Renji, I can't breathe! Loosen your hug!"
"Whoops! Sorry, Itachi-nii!"
And so the title of big brother was thrust upon Itachi Uchiha once again…
Tou-san – Father
Kaa-chan – Mother
Nii-san – Big Brother
Itachi-nii – Big Bro Itachi
San – Japanese honorific. Similar to Mr. or Miss in English.
Senpai – Japanese honorific. Used to address someone who is senior to you.
This took me a while to write up since I was playing around with quite a few ideas of where to head with Itachi's early years in Rukongai. It didn't help that I was trying to come up with a potential cover for this story either. In the end, we got Itachi playing "big brother" for Renji in this chapter.
Renji's past isn't explicitly stated other than his time with Rukia, so it allows lots of free room to manipulate his background. I was absentmindedly thinking about Renji in one of my college classes when I suddenly remembered that the Uzumaki clan had trademark red hair. Then I returned thinking about Renji and his bright red hair. It took me two whole minutes of epic failure before I had the epiphany.
I hadn't seen the concept used before and I wanted to see how it worked. So, TADAH! I have created the original idea in Bleach/Naruto crossovers that Renji Abarai is a descendent of the Uzumaki clan! He is Renji Abarai-Uzumaki and with Itachi in tow as his big brother, his growth as a person and as a Soul Reaper will change dramatically. Please review!