Disclaimer: Naruto is the property of Kishimoto Masashi. Zatoichi is the property of its respective owners.

Summary: Naruto/Zatoichi X-over. Blinded during the sealing by an overload of toxic energy, Naruto must adapt to a world of darkness. In time, it becomes his greatest friend.

Darkness is My Friend CHALLENGE: Recently, I have acquired a taste for Blind Naruto fics. I would like to see a fic in the mold of Zatoichi, the Blind Swordsman. Naruto would have a nodachi hidden as a cane (using shikomizue instead). He was born blind, none of this 'angry villagers poked his eyes out' crap. His sense of hearing and smell, taste and touch are all enhanced. He still contains the Kyuubi, but I leave its involvement up to you. Pairings are what you wish. If you wish to take up this challenge, I would suggest renting the Zatoichi movies. Not only are they good, but you would get a feel for the fighting style and the facial expressions of a blind person. Watch the old ones, not the ones with the guy with white hair! Good grammar required. - Pudgypudge

Sarutobi watched as the candles arrayed around the baby flickered. Without warning, an ugly black splotch began to emerge on the child's torso, centered around his navel. In time, the seal, as it became more clear and precise, would encircle his navel with a radius of four inches. On a baby though, an eight inch diameter circle equated to roughly a third of the child's overall length.

Sarutobi sighed with resignation. 'It is done, my young friend. May the Shinigami be kind to you.' With the arrival of the seal, he knew that Namikaze Minato, the Yondaime Hokage for less than a year, was dead; with his death, the defeat of the dreaded Kyuubi, the Nine Tails, was complete.

He was at a loss as to the reason for the attack. Everyone was at a loss. All that was known for certain was that the first attacks began a week prior, on the eastern coast. From all reports, the scene was akin to a tornado with regards to sheer randomness.

From the coast to Konoha ran a ruler straight swatch of destruction, two hundred feet in width. Some villages had been in the way, and anything within that width was gone. Not destroyed leaving rubble, simply gone. Outside of that range, grass, trees and houses were pristine and untouched, baring not even the slightest hint of damage.

The path was not only straight, but level. It went through forests, literally through hills and over freshly debris-filled lakes. His inner micro-manager began to smile seeing the possibilities. Konoha was landlocked, and the Kyuubi had just given them a rather direct road to the ocean. Though Konoha did have rivers and waterways winding through it, some pouring their contents into the distant ocean, none were navigable for barge traffic past a certain point. He was snapped out of his musings by a cry of pain.

The sound was primal and quickly escalated in decibel to the pain threshold. The boy's toothless mouth was open, the untrained facial muscles spasmodic as the sound warbled and keened while his small limbs thrashed. The newly reinstated Hokage saw the seal stabilize as dark marks appeared on the child's cheeks, like whisker tattoos. Then his eyes snapped open, revealing the intense blue iris common in most newborns and Sarutobi felt the bottom of his stomach drop.

As he watched, unable to assist the baby, not that he knew what he could do to stop what was happening due to a very strong containment seal and his own rising panic, the sclera and iris began to fill with another color, that of old blood. Within moments, fresh tears leaked from completely black eyes.

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"Do you want the bad news or the more bad news?"

"Might there be any good news?"

Tsunade scowled. "In this Kami-forsaken village? Have you gone senile, you old fool?"

From the corner, an apprehensive Jiraiya snickered at Sarutobi's discomfiture.

Taking a deep draw from his pipe, the Hokage grimaced at how badly he had failed as a sensei and motioned for his former student to continue.

Tsunade glanced at the bassinet, where the baby slept thanks to her anesthetic techniques. "The bad news is that he's blind. From what you've told me, he wasn't born blind but he might as well have been."

"And the 'more bad news'?"

She shook her head in resignation and frustration. His eyes confounded her, despite her immense medical prowess. "He's beyond blind, meaning it is untreatable. He doesn't even have a pupil anymore."

Jiraiya started from where he sat. "Hime, are you serious? I mean, how is that even possible."

"I'm at a loss. This is quite besides the fact that his eyes are black."

"Black eyes do exist you know. Look at the Uchiha."

"I'd rather not, and thank you for mentioning the clan directly responsible for the demise of my clan. And you're wrong. Black eyes in humans do not exist. Even the 'Uchiha onyx,' as they call it, is merely a very dark brown, not black. My training and experience allows me to determine colors by wavelength. His are black, solid black."

"By solid you mean solid?" asked Sarutobi, rejoining the discussion. "And you know that's never been proven."

"I know what I know, Sarutobi. I'm the last Senju left and I know the Uchiha were behind it, just like I know your Favorite was behind those civilian disappearances. As for the eyes, solid, as in 'my diagnostic scan could not penetrate it' solid. For all intensive purposes, the boy's eyes are highly polished rocks. Whatever the substance is, it even filled the cornea."

Sarutobi winced at her accusation, as that was, unfortunately, true. For neglecting two of his students to favor the one who would betray them all, he was more than a fool.

Jiraiya glanced at his sensei with a little bit more sympathy, but only marginally. Seeing how Sarutobi was lost in thought, he picked up the questioning. "His eyes are solid rock?"

She shook her head, her trade-mark pigtails in motion. "Not literally. I had to initiate my scan on the side of his skull, by the temples. Only then could I see the scope of damage. His chakra coils behind his eyes had exploded, for lack of a better word. This blew apart the capillary network and detached his retinal tissue. The amazing thing was that the wound had already healed."

"So the retina was reattached somehow?"

"I wish. I could sense it, with a good quarter of an inch between it and where it should be. No, the area healed without it in place, like it had never been there to begin with. I've never seen anything like it, in all my years of studying medicine. The long and short is that it is not repairable. I probed and prodded but the back of his eyeball did not respond to anything outside of muscular twitches. The optic nerve is still intact and functional, but there's nothing to feed it signals."

"An orphan like his own father, the container for the most powerful bijuu, and blind to boot? Someone up there must really hate him." Jiraiya opined.

Tsunade frowned. She had done all she could, but there were just too many complications. Kushina had lived just long enough to name him. Sarutobi returned from his contemplation of past mistakes.

"I made sure Minato and Kushina were buried together. I don't suppose either of you would be willing?"

"I've nothing against the child, but I do have more than enough against this village. If I adopted him, would you allow me to take him away from here?"

Sarutobi's eyes widened slightly, before becoming sorrowful. He shook his head, once.

"I see. Is a shame, really, but I refuse to stay in this village any longer than necessary. Once the current batch of injured are dealt with, my apprentice and I will be leaving. This place has taken far too much, and given back precious little."

"Likewise, I've nothing against the kid, but I can't very well take him with me. I've spent decades building up my spy network and I'm constantly traveling. If you won't let him leave with Tsunade, then I know you won't let him leave with me. My spy network, which is pretty much Konoha's sole Intelligence source, will not run itself, nor could anyone take my place. It would take years for any replacement to build up the trust and rapport needed with my agents."

"I see. Well...this is rather troublesome."

Tsunade, not having all that much experience with reading Sarutobi, simply ignored him. Jiraiya, on the other hand, was very well versed in reading people, especially Sarutobi. "Sensei, what did you do?"

At the question, Tsunade perked up and glanced at a suddenly much smaller Sarutobi, who in turn was rather fascinated with the process of refilling his pipe.

"Sensei! What did you do?" Jiraiya repeated, just a touch louder than strictly necessary.

The elder man lit his pipe and took a deep drag. Upon releasing the plume of scented smoke, he lifted his heavy eyes. "When the reinstatement papers were submitted, the Council had questions about Minato's death and the defeat of the Kyuubi. During the discussion, which became rather heated thanks in part to my former teammates, the information regarding young Naruto slipped out into the open."

To the sound of wood complaining of too tight a grip, he continued, "I was quick to lock down this little...faux pas, and passed a number of edicts regarding not just Naruto's role as the Kyuubi's prison, but also of his parentage. It would not do to have Minato's enemies outside of the village and inside the walls to target his son for the father's actions. He is officially an orphan of the attack and a Ward of the State.

"The clans were very interested in him, though only a few saw him as a baby. Even those few would eventually use the boy as leverage to get decisions favoring themselves passed. I was hoping one of you would be willing, but I simply cannot have him leave. He is too important to this village, being both Minato's only son and heir, and as the container of the most powerful demon to walk the lands. Both of you, however, have made your intentions clear."

Tsunade narrowed her eyes dangerously. "You complete fool of a man, are you trying to guilt me into changing my mind?" His startled glance told her all she needed to know. "I see, still playing your Shogi game with living pieces. To hell with your wounded, we're leaving now!" Fluidly, she stood and stormed out of the office, the slam of the thick oaken door as she closed it rattling several vases.

Jiraiya, in a short burst of speed, steadied one of the larger ones, wobbling on its base. "That was real smooth, Sensei. Tell me, what did Danzou add to the discussion?"

For only a moment, Sarutobi showed surprise before he shook his head. "You are a cagey one. Yes, he was there and was of the opinion that he should have young Naruto, though he doesn't know of the blindness. That wouldn't stop him from molding the boy into some form of weapon."

"He's a very dangerous man, Sensei. Do you want me to take care of him?" Jiraiya knew just how much of a threat the alleged cripple posed, and had recently uncovered possible evidence of a connection between Danzou and Orochimaru. Sarutobi hadn't wanted to hear it, as it had touched upon the student he felt he had failed the most.

Sarutobi slowly shook his head. "No, there has been too much death of late. I will deal with him and the Council, as is my duty."

It was Jiraiya's turn to narrow his eyes. "I see. Let me know how that 'hands-off passive approach' works out, Sensei. I have the sudden urge to check on my contacts. See you around." In a show of great disrespect, not even waiting for a response or dismissal, Jiraiya Body Flickered out of the office.

It was too late for anger, and even stretching out his senses, he could not locate his former students. Withdrawing just a touch inwards, he sighed once more. For better or worse, one thing was certain: it was good neither was witness to the papers Sarutobi signed, relegating Naruto to the orphanage system.

His hope was to place him among the others displaced by the monster's attack, that a non-shinobi family would show compassion and be able to adopt him. He wasn't against a shinobi family filling the role of parent, but unless both retired from the ranks, further weakening Konoha's overall strength, either could die while on assignment, and that just wouldn't do, especially not with this child.

He loved his village, and was both honored and humbled to be their Hokage. He believed in his village, and in the people who comprised it. He was an optimist and knew of the inherent goodness and the strength of the Will of Fire, which made this village great. He would not fail them, and in return, they would not fail him. That was his hope, at any rate.

As was his way, he neglected to factor in the human element.

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As with any other topic, the typical Konoha native had a plethora of views, some of which centered around the senses where improvement was found when another was lost. Common Knowledge mandated that when Hearing was lost, Scent improved first, followed by Sight. When Sight was lost, Hearing improved first, followed by Touch. This was the Rule and frankly was never questioned, just like the notion that everyone had the same internal body temperature, conveniently forgetting that such is the average temperature of quite a large sample.

Naruto's non-identity, when he was first left on their doorstep, lasted all of fifteen minutes. The moment they unwrapped his blanket and saw the seal, they knew both who and what he was. The Hokage had paid them all an unscheduled visit shortly after this discovery, and with a voice of steel laid down several rules regarding what Naruto held and the penalty for breaking this law.

Further consequences were given in the event that Naruto should end up dead or missing, chief among them that everyone who worked there, and their immediate families, would be summarily executed without trial.

At the time, they did not know of his blindness, and once they did, measures were taken to ensure he never heard them move. Since his Keepers believed it was Hearing which would improve first, they all were quick to don woolen socks while indoors, and removed from their uniform any fabric which made a motion sound.

Hearing was not the first sense Naruto had improved, though he was blind. That honor fell to Scent. From the brand of shampoo, type of laundry detergent, perfume ingredients, and even their diet, each and every worker had a very unique scent marker. It was the sweet scent of dead 'flowers,' whatever those were, which first gave away the Head Matron; Naruto knew better, even at age three, than to volunteer this information, though it was a hard thing not to wrinkle his nose when she was around.

By his fifth year under their care, he had obtained the raw basics of echolocation out of necessity. After breakfast was over for the other orphans one day, Naruto was permitted out of his under-stair cupboard and given the end of a length of rope, whereupon he was led out of the backdoor, across the backyard, and into a back alley. The rope was yanked out of his hand and he was roughly spun several times before being shoved away. He was too startled to cry out as he fell into a pile of soft and hard things.

Though he knew how to speak, and had a fairly large vocabulary, all things considered, his voice was not something often used. The kindly man, with the old and warm voice and scent of smoke, had ensured he and the other orphans were educated through a series of visits, though those had seemed to have tapered off as of late, at least for him. Regardless, this was not a skill often used, as he had been partially conditioned not to speak by a series of unseen punishments.

Disoriented and alone, his sense of smell was overloaded by the piles of rubbish which had yet to be collected. He stood shakily, and with arms wide, slowly edged sideways. He didn't know a cat was in his path, but did hear the yowl of pain as he trod on its tail. The sudden sound of the animal, along with sounds of falling things, caused Naruto to fall backwards, curling inwards and shielding his face instinctively.

He wasn't sure how long he lay there in the squalor of split trash bags, as he had no means to measure the passage of time. He did notice something odd once he calmed down from his frightened blubbering. Thinking back briefly, when that thing had made that sound, it had echoed around this place. Some things also in this place seemed to have bounced the sound back quicker than other things.

Crawling slowly, so as not to bump his head, he moved towards one of the things which bounced the sound back quicker, and discovered a rather large (to him) box, cool to the touch. Even standing and stretching out his arms while on tiptoe, he could not reach the top.

Naruto tsk'd in annoyance, as he was getting hungry, and was surprised to hear his sound bounce off the box. He turned his head slowly, listening as he made 'tsk' sounds and slowly began to smile for the first time in days. Nodding to himself, he made the same noise in the same pattern, then reached out and touched the corner of the box he couldn't see but could feel.

This experimentation did not bear instant fruit, as it seemed to the boy that he could only 'sense' something if he was right up on it, all the while making some sort of sound with his tongue. It would have to do though, as he didn't know where he was, where anyone was, nor how to get back to that hateful place. His world had always been dark, even inside his mind. Though he could picture basic shapes, he couldn't color them; black on black was his predominant theme.

This had been the longest...scratch that, the only time he could remember being outdoors. There was something warm on his skin, and despite not knowing what the feeling was called, it wasn't bad in the least. This he compared to Inside, where bad was felt more often than not. Unbidden, he began to worry that Someone would come for him, maybe even the feared Head Matron.

But then, he was outside, and if he was to be found, he would make it hard for them. After a moment of contemplation, he nodded to himself and slowly, standing to the left and following the contours of the alley, he made his way forwards.

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"Daddy? He's still there." Ayame, going on ten, had first noticed the small boy sitting across the way from their stand earlier that morning. He was still there at noon and again after the mid-day rush. He had stayed crouched in the shadows of an alleyway. She knew he wasn't dead or sleeping, since she saw him swivel his head from time to time.

Her father came up besides her, big and strong and capable in all things, scent thick with flour and spices. "So he is," he rumbled out. She loved his voice, the way it would vibrate in her chest when she hugged him. "Be a good girl and invite him. He might be a very good future customer, and we could always make do with more customers."

"Yes Daddy! You can count on me!" Full of purpose and a strong desire to make Daddy proud, she smartly exited the stand through a side door, looked both ways several times, as he had instructed her, before boldly marching up to the mouth of the alley. She stopped a respectful five feet from the child and cleared her throat. She didn't notice how startled that sound made him.

"Are you hungry? Daddy told me to bring you to the stand. I don't think it matters if you don't have any money, at least not this time."

She waited for a response, as her father had instructed her, though her patience was wearing thin. She was not an abrupt person, and was, by all accounts, a very pleasant young lady. She did tend to get a bit cross when she was tired or frustrated, and today had been a long and busy one.

The boy shifted around before turning his face towards her. Due to the shadows of the late afternoon, she could not see his features clearly. "Money?" he croaked out, clearly unused to speaking.

She placed her left hand on her hip and cocked it to the side. "Yes, money. You buy things with it. How can you not know this? Wait, how old are you?"

He seemed to mutter to himself before reorienting on her. "I think I'm five, but don't get 'buying'...how's that work?"

Ayame gave a sigh of sufferance. Daddy told her to bring him to the stand, so that's what she would do. "I'll tell you while you eat, now come on! Daddy said, so you have to." She heard, and could have sworn she felt it, when his stomach rumbled out in protest. "So you are hungry. Well, come on then."

The boy stood, leaning his weight on his left hand against the alley wall. He had cleared his sinuses not too long after leaving the trash piles behind, following the distant scent of something tantalizing. He could smell it strongly all over this girl in a very distracting fashion. Every time he opened his mouth to say something, drool would pour from his lips. Mutely, all he could do was nod in her direction, though he was apprehensive about moving; her scent made his tummy hurt as it twisted and gurgled.

Taking this as assent, Ayame turned on her heel, looked several times in both directions, and began to walk back to the stand. When she didn't hear him behind her, she stopped and glanced back over her shoulder. "Well, what are you waiting for? You blind or something?"

To her horror he slowly nodded his head. She felt the shame immediately, along with the heat on her cheeks. She wanted to blame him for making her out to be a fool in front of her father, but she was mature enough to understand that this was not his fault. She had jumped to a conclusion, the very thing her father had warned her not to do too many times. Beating herself up on the inside, she quietly made her way back to him and held out her hand. When he made no motion, she stretched out further and touched his arm.

She was expecting him to grasp her hand, so that she could lead him back to Daddy. She was not expecting what actually happened, and almost shrieked when he flinched away violently, tangling his legs and landing in an undignified heap. After a moment to see if he was going to do anything else, she hesitantly shuffled forward and crouched besides him. He tried to shift away when she touched his shoulder softly, but he was in no real position to move.

"Hey, hey, it's just me. I'm Ayame and I'll be ten soon. I help Daddy make ramen. Now who are you? I've already introduced myself, so it's only polite that you do the same."


"Shhh...it's okay. I can wait until you're ready. Daddy is expecting us though, so we need to move soon." She rubbed his back, as that was the only real part visible to her, in slow circles as Daddy did for her when she was upset about something. It always worked on her, and she released a held breath when she saw it work on this boy. "Think you can stand? I want you to take my hand, and I'll walk you slowly back. Daddy's waiting."

He seemed to collect himself and turned a tear-stained face towards her. She barely held in a squeal when she saw the cheek markings, almost like a cat! 'Those are beyond cute! I wonder if they're real?'

"Are you gonna push me too?"

She could not keep the shock from her face, nor her voice, from that question. "Push you? Heavens no...Daddy would be very upset with me if I did anything like that! Only a bully or other bad person would do that!"

The boy seemed to shrink. "Please don't say anything. Someone might hear and get mad."

"I'll have to tell Daddy, but I promise not to say anything to anyone else."

This Daddy person seemed to be very important to this girl. He could tell she was upset about something, some quality in her voice and the movement sounds she made, and decided that going with her would go a long way in her not being upset with him. It hadn't worked back There, so he really had no comparative successes to measure by.

Regardless, he was hungry and she had promised to feed him, at least for today, and she smelled really, really good. He slowly unfolded himself, shakily stood, and held out his right hand. He propped himself up against the alley wall with his left and waited.

Slowly, and feeling a bit of an idiot, Ayame opted for caution and vocalized her actions. "Okay, I'm moving my hand to touch your hand. Don't freak out again, okay? Almost there...almost there...and tap. Okay, no flinch so I'm going to grip your hand now. Okay, now I'm pulling you to my side...my other hand is moving to your left shoulder...almost there...almost there...and tap. I'm going to grip your shoulder slightly so you don't fall, okay?"

Naruto nodded and was grateful for the verbal cues. "Th..Thank you, Ayame-san. My name is Naruto, I'm age five," he paused briefly to swallow his collected drool, before trying to follow her example of something he did, "and Head Matron said I killed my parents and made all the orphans."