A/N: They say that when a man loses his sight, his other senses increase to compensate. Naruto won't lose his sight, but rather something just as critical to an active ninja.
Naruto was hungry. That was nothing unusual. No matter much he ate, he was hungry. But he was careful with his money so he wouldn't run out before the end of the month.
His stomach rumbled as he stepped into a grocery store near where he was playing by himself. He had a small wad of bills and could pay for an apple or a few plums.
He wasn't yet five years old so he was able to stroll right in without anyone noticing him.
The problem came when he stood in line to pay. He didn't remember ever being in this store. Some stores were okay to shop in; some were dangerous.
He held two plums in his small hand and had already figured out the price. He got the right amount of money out and waited his turn to pay.
However, such a simple transaction was not in the cards. The store owner took one look at his next customer and began screaming.
"You. You're not allowed in here. I won't sell you anything; I won't take your blood money, either. Get out. NOW! Get out."
Naruto's eyes went wide, but he was frozen in place. The storekeeper didn't like it at all. He reached for a baseball bat and leapt over the counter.
Naruto dropped the two plums and began running.
He wasn't going to feel that baseball bat…no way. He turned down the alley behind the store. He didn't know this part of town well, but he knew where the alley led. Unfortunately, so did the storekeeper.
Naruto dodged a blow when the man almost materialized in front of Naruto. He ran fast, but the old guy seemed to be even faster. Was he a ninja or something?
"Stop it. I offered you the money for the plums. I was hungry…."
None of his explanations stopped the storekeeper.
Naruto shot into the street, half looking behind himself. What he failed to notice were the carts in the street…the carts that were moving too fast to stop for a small tow-headed child.
A great scream filled the street and brought everything to a halt. A small boy was suddenly pinned between two carts. The wailing got louder until it stopped altogether. An ANBU on the roof leapt down to take charge.
The storekeeper dropped the bat, but quickly disappeared. He had a faint smile on his face. He'd done his patriotic duty to injure or kill the Kyuubi…the demon which had ended his career as a ninja of the Leaf.
The ANBU quickly got a tourniquet around Naruto's left leg and separated the two carts with a good deal of effort. Five minutes after the accident the ANBU was leaping from building to building, zipping his way to the hospital.
Another four hours later, the Hokage arrived to see what in the world had happened to Naruto. It was a grim situation.
"His leg is gone?" the old Hokage asked.
The medic nin nodded. "We had to amputate just above his left knee."
The powerful ninja pursed his lips and then walked over to the ANBU standing guard over Naruto's recuperation room.
"What happened, Ox?"
"The subject went into the grocery store on 19th. Five minutes later he ran out and was pursued by someone with a baseball bat. I missed a part of the chase, but Naruto ran into a road and was sandwiched between two heavy carts…"
"Did you apprehend this person? The baseball bat guy?"
Ox shook his head. "I have stayed here with the subject, Lord Hokage."
The hallway fell silent. "We should have done better by Naruto."
The Hokage had visions of his successor and predecessor. Minato would be outraged. He'd likely flash around town for a few minutes striking down anyone who'd ever looked askance of the boy.
That, of course, was a young man's solution. Sarutobi had an old man's stamina now…and doubted he could win a protracted political battle tied up with the boy, his tenant, and all of the baggage that went with that.
Sarutobi decided on the coward's course, the path of least resistance.
"I will, of course, pay for the prosthesis myself. But…all the boy's dreams. All my hopes for him. I don't know what the world will hold for him now."
Ox said nothing to this.
"I will tell him myself," the Hokage decided. He turned to the medic nin. "Is he able to see visitors?"
"We can't seem to keep to keep him anesthetized. He's in and out of consciousness."
The Hokage walked silently down the hall and tried to figure out what he might say. The boy had not had an easy life thus far…and now it would get even more challenging.
The Hokage knocked on the door and then stepped inside.
"Old man, you came." Naruto sounded happy even missing most of a leg. How Sarutobi wished he could have a corps of ninjas with that attitude.
"Yes, Naruto. I came as soon as I heard. It is terrible."
Naruto nodded. "It hurt a lot. I was really scared."
"I heard you were strong."
"Strong like a ninja, Old Man. I'm gonna be great some day."
This was exactly what Sarutobi didn't want to discuss. "Naruto, I'm so sorry. You'll never be able to be a Ninja of the Leaf."
"What? Why? I want to be a ninja, Old Man."
"You're missing a leg, Naruto. Our rules for training ninja are strict. You couldn't keep up with the other students…nor could you ever be fit for field service. Your body just wouldn't hold up to the strain…."
"But… Old Man, you promised!"
"I know. I'm sorry. I'll…help you find something else you can do, something just as good as being a ninja. I owe you at least that much, Naruto."
Naruto didn't know whether to shout or pout, so he just rolled over in bed. He'd never won an argument with the old man. The Old Man only took Naruto out for ramen if the Old Man suggested it.
He didn't know how, but Naruto was sure he would be a ninja, the greatest ever.
He muttered, "You're wrong," as the Hokage left the room.
Three weeks later, Naruto returned to the hospital to trade in his crutch for a more permanent chakra-powered prosthetic. Two problems: he didn't know what chakra was and he had absolutely no balance with the new limb.
Three different med nins had to help teach Naruto about chakra, about chakra control, and finally about the chakra strings necessary to control his prosthesis. No one enjoyed the experience.
"This is so hard," Naruto opined after another failure.
The med nurse working with him sighed and said, "It's hard for anyone to learn. But I know you can do it. Ninjas in other countries use this technique all the time; not so much here."
Naruto tried again. One step and then he hit the mats in the training room.
"What is this good for?" His tone suggested he couldn't conceive of anything.
"Puppeteers can use chakra strings to control battle puppets. Instead of a ninja fighting with just his body, he can send in two or five puppets, depending on how skilled he is. Some ninja use chakra strings to control weapons or recall them after they've been thrown. There's lots of uses for this. Every ninja should know it, even if Konoha doesn't insist everyone learn it…."
Naruto absorbed every word. "Then I'll get it. The best ninja in the world has to know chakra strings. Believe it!"
Progress was slow. Naruto had too much chakra and too little control. So he eventually stopped listening to how the med-nins told him to do things. He eventually found a way that worked for him.
Instead of chakra strings, with tiny amounts of chakra, he used metaphoric chakra cables with massive ripples of energy. Every day, he spent time paring down the cables just a bit. This cable idea would become very important to Naruto in the future, even if he didn't realize its import at the age of five.
Indeed, within a few days of his epiphany, he was walking around on his prosthetic nearly as well as he had when he was fully limbed.
The idea of ninjas using this technique fascinated Naruto for weeks, months even.
It was a goal. A worthy goal.
The Hokage told Naruto he couldn't become a ninja, but he could already use a ninja technique. The Old Man was wrong. Naruto could be a ninja. Naruto would be a ninja.
The storekeeper with the baseball bat slipped from Naruto's memory. Eventually the man's actions would resurface and Naruto would remember everything. Until then, no one punished him. The Hokage didn't even suggest it.