Asuma knew the answer before he'd asked the question. It was there, right in front of him, in front of all of them, stretching then crinkling his father's face, even forcing Kakashi to abandon his aloof detachment in favor of stark attention. His body looked like it was being propped up with a stiff rod. Asuma looked at the man's one exposed eye: tired. That's the only word he could come up with, and what a brutal beating his fortitude had taken. One swift and terrible motion and...Asuma shook his head, his hand moving to rub the short bristles on his chin. He wanted a cigarette. He wanted smoke and the dry, thin smell of burning tobacco to fill the room. He'd be relaxed then, but that wasn't what he needed now. Maybe if they hadn't been relaxed, things would have turned out differently. Hm. He couldn't help but smile, his teeth showing. And maybe the sun would rise in the west tomorrow morning, and he'd be named the next Hokage. His eyes widened as they shifted to his father. This would mean...He swallowed. Cigarettes would definitely have to wait.
"Minato Namikaze is dead." His father's voice, low and rough, like gravel under a wheel, carried the rhetorical statement. Asuma lowered his head, his eyes narrowing. The intent...there wasn't anything hostile, but he could feel the energy in the room shift, like the tightening of a cord. A noose. Around Konoha and all of them. He rubbed his chin again, his fingers moving to drum along the line of his jaw. He didn't even want to look at anyone anymore. It wouldn't do anything. Minato is...gone. The Yellow Flash. The Yondaime. The hero of the Third Shinobi war. The most gifted ninja of the last two generations. His train of thought stopped, as though moving to more solid footing. The most brilliant teacher he'd ever had, if it had only been for days at a time.
"And the Kyuubi?" Utatane asked. Quiet and straight to the point. Again, chakras flared, the edge of a blade getting too close to his skin, cold and sharp. He shook his head again. It wasn't worth the effort at this point.
"Gone." Hiruzen spoke with the same tone. He sighed and leaned back, seeming to collapse rather than relax. "Sealed away."
The room went still as Asuma raised his head.
"A jinchuriki." Fugaku Uchiha muttered. He must have still been coming to terms with the night's events to simply state an obvious fact.
"Who is it?" Danzo this time. Asuma had always danced between indifference and suspicion where the man was concerned, his every curiosity and suggestion giving him pause. He looked at him for a moment, until another voice drew him away.
"His son. Naruto." Jiraiya's brow was creased, his arms folded in front of his chest, and his eyes...they were elsewhere, looking to the floor but narrowed in concentration and...frustration? Asuma made the decision to ask him about what had transpired later on.
"Minato...he named him before he fell?" Kakashi's voice carried an almost child-like incomprehension.
"He didn't fall. He sacrificed himself. He used the Shinigami to seal Kyuubi within Naruto, and as payment, had to offer his soul."
"A forbidden jutsu..." Mitokado seemed almost to hesitate.
Jiraiya's head snapped up, his intent turning deadly, but it was Danzou who intervened.
"It was a necessary decision. Nothing that any of us would have been able to avoid, had we been in the same position." He exhaled slowly, seeming to compress himself. "The burden of that office is not something that lesser men can shoulder. It's nothing short of a protracted sacrifice."
Asuma's lips parted in a puff of air. And there Danzou went, neither numbing him into an accepting indifference, nor salting the already deep wounds everyone in the room carried. Did the man even invest himself in individuals anymore?
Mitokado cleared his throat. "Be that as it may, it still leaves us with two very serious problems. We have no Hokage, and the jinchuriki has no familial connections."
"Naruto," Jiraiya ground out. "His name is Naruto."
Both Mitokado and Utatane glanced at him as though he were speaking gibberish.
"Enough." His father spoke again, his forehead resting against the hand of his upright arm. He looks so much more tired. Orochimaru and now this. If he had just killed him... He's already accepted what's going to happen. Asuma looked around again. All of them had to know too. It was just a matter of formalities and technicalities now. He resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He really wanted a cigarette.
"But who in the village could replace Minato?"
His father sighed. "No one. There isn't anyone in Konoha who is as capable a shinobi as Minato was. To have subdued the Kyuubi while circumventing the destruction of the village..."
"What about you, Jiraiya?" Kakashi spoke for the first time. "You were Minato's teacher. If anyone could come close..."
"No." The sentiment had multiple voices, and Asuma would have sworn Jiraiya joined the chorus. Still, no one could deny the Toad Sannin's power and knowledge.
Jiraiya plowed ahead with his own deprecation. "I'm not fit for administrative duties. I work better alone, and don't have the patience to deal with politics and balancing conflicting interests." He gave the councilors and meaningful look, which neither of them failed to notice.
"Minato was only Hokage for a few years before his death. There hasn't had enough time for the new generation to find its proper footing yet." His father breathed out, seeming to be pained. Asuma almost winced. "It seems that we'll have to step back onto well trodden ground."
Another silence, though Asuma had no idea why. The suggestion of Jiraiya seemed almost a gross attempt at humor in the face of an obvious answer. Interests again. He couldn't blame the man for not wanting the job.
"Again, Hiruzen?" Danzo's voice was quiet, carrying the same quality of detachment and nostalgia that Jiraiya's had when he'd spoken of Minato's last moments.
The Hokage looked up, his eyes weary. "Is it something you're so eager to volunteer for, Shimura?" He smiled, small and placid. "Even now?"
Danzo remained silent for a few moments. When he spoke, his voice was like the crinkling of dry paper. "I've always played my part, even if out of sight."
Mitokado looked at him curiously. "What are you two going on about?"
Danzo straightened. "Nothing. Just chasing old memories." He looked to the others in the room. "It seems we've been placed in a dangerous situation. We have a new jinchuriki, and no suitable replacement for the Hokage from the new generation. If Konoha is to maintain its credibility and maintain its security in the coming years, we need to install someone who has not only the necessary strength, but also the experience of a seasoned shinobi." He paused then, his eyes roaming the room. "Barring my own entrance into the position, I see no other candidate expect for Sarutobi Hiruzen."
Asuma exhaled, imagining the smoke that would have formed had he just taken a drag on a fresh cigarette. The councilors seemed placated, nodding slowly, though their eyes lingered on Danzo longer than Asuma would have expected. They wouldn't have seriously considered him, would they? Neither Fugaku Uchiha, nor Hiashi Hyuuga let their emotions show, seeming to simply accept the return of an established quantity. Asuma caught his father's eye, and as before, he could surmise the man's condition with one word: exhaustion. Kakashi would recover, as would every other young shinobi in the room. They might have lost a sensei, a friend, a leader, an inspiration, and, for one flickering instant, hope. But they'd all recover. A night of sleep would replenish their stamina, and in the coming weeks and months, their spirit would return as well, and along with it, their pride. Just like regaining breath after being punched in the gut.
But his father, Sarutobi Hiruzen...he'd been worn down slowly and steadily, a continuous decline accelerated by constant physical and mental exertion that had only been compounded by three wars and the betrayal of his most prized student. I thought of him as a son. Asuma's fist tightened again. No. He'd gotten over that. Just petty reactions. His father didn't think like that anymore.
Jiraiya broke his ministrations. "That still leaves Naruto. As far as we know, he has no surviving family as of this point, and we have no way of knowing what kind of potential he might have as a shinobi."
Mitokado interrupted, "You're not seriously considering training him as such, are you?"
Jiraiya's eyes narrowed, his chakra flaring. "And why not? If that's his wish when he matures, I see no reason to stop him from pursuing his ambitions."
Utatane sighed and shook her head. "It's all well and good to talk about how we should treat him like an ordinary shinobi, but we have to face the facts. The kyuubi attacked the village and killed the Hokage, along with a substantial number of other shinobi. Do you honestly believe it's wise to allow him free reign amongst the children at the academy?"
Jiraiya was silent, apparently speechless from shock and anger. Asuma's eyes narrowed, and Kakashi had stiffened.
"More politics again, is it? He's not some 'thing' that you can just lock in a cage and only take out to make sure that he isn't quite on the verge of starvation. Minato and Kushina gave their lives to protect this village, and if you think that I'm going to sit back and allow you to treat their son like a rabid dog, you're very badly mistaken." He fixed them both with a wave of killer intent, causing Hiruzen to rise from his chair.
"Jiraiya..." His tone held a warning.
His student didn't seem to hear him. "I'm going to make this very clear to both of you. Naruto is going to be allowed to attend the academy. He's going to be allowed to interact normally with the other children, and he's going to be treated like any other shinobi of the village, and if either of you try to interfere with him in any way, I'll kill you."
Mitokado and Utatane could only struggle to contain their anger. Asuma couldn't help but smile a bit, even as he shook his head. It was a pretty speech, but like many his father had made before, he doubted that it would come to any kind of physical fruition. Minato's son, being argued over like that, with barely even a mention of his name. He sighed. Naruto...
"That's enough, Jiraiya. No one is suggesting that Naruto be undermined or mistreated in any way." And he was tired again, deep in thought, split between past and present.
Hiashi spoke, low and strained. Anger? Asuma couldn't place it. "We don't know if the Kyuubi will be contained again this time. How thoroughly has the seal been examined?"
"My student's abilities in sealing are second to none." Jiraiya paused. "Frankly, I'm amazed he was able to execute something so complicated in so short a time while under such duress. I can't know for certain that I would have been able to do it myself."
Hiashi nodded, seemingly satisfied, though his eyes narrowed a moment later. "Many of my clan members died tonight, and even more were injured. How do we know that the Kyuubi won't find a way to influence its vessel and break free? Worse, it could manipulate him to the point where it could conceal itsefl in plain sight amongst us and strike when we're at our weakest."
"That won't happen." Jiraiya spoke with a certainty that seemed to do little to sway those in the room.
"How do we know that?" Uchiha spoke in just as calm a tone. "You said yourself that the seal is incredibly complicated and was completed under extreme duress. For all we know, Minato could have made a mistake in his haste that allowed some of the Kyuubi's influence to extend beyond its prison. We have no way of knowing if the child is being influenced, even now."
Jiraiya remained silent, his body trembling, Hiruzen's gaze seemingly keeping him from an outburst against the clan heads.
"I for one would have no objection to allowing the Yondaime's son to train at the academy." Danzo had regained his seemingly disinterested tone of voice, and Asuma was again left in the dark as to the man's mindset. "With proper training and supervision, he could become a very valuable asset to the village."
Jiraiya snorted. "Exactly what do 'proper' training and supervision entail?"
Danzo shrugged. "It's foolish to operate under the delusion that the boy is an ordinary person after what happened tonight. His abilities are unknown, even without the addition of the Kyuubi's potential power. He'd have to be monitored extensively for the first few years of his life, his seal inspected at regular intervals to make sure that the demon isn't influencing him or weakening its prison. If after all that, his mental and physical state is found to be satisfactory, he can be very valuable to the village. If not, we'll have to take measures to ensure that Konoha and those who inhabit it are safe from another potential attack."
"You keep referring to him as a tool. Is that all he's going to be regarded, as even in the best of circumstances?" Kakashi had regained his calm demeanor.
"All shinobi are tools, after a fashion. Tools for defense, tools for offense. But above all, they're tools for peace and unity, even if in the process they must walk an ugly and bloody path."
His speech seemed to give Jiraiya pause, though the man's eyes were narrowed as if he was bringing his own philosophy of shinobi to bear in his mind.
"Jiraiya. This isn't the time." His father had laced the fingers of both hands together and rested his chin on the construct. He's already back in in his roll. Now Asuma felt tired.
The Hokage straightened, the motion garnering him all the attention in the room. "What you have heard about Uzumaki Naruto's circumstances and heritage is not to leave this room. You are not to tell any of your family members, friends, or clan heads, or any other person you may encounter. Any deviation from this ordinance will be punishable by death."
Kakashi shook his head. "With due respect, Hokage, how are you going to prevent the villagers who witnessed the Kyuubi's assault and sudden disappearance from coming to the conclusion that he was sealed within a person? And this still leaves Naruto's own knowledge of his heritage as an open issue."
"His surname will be Uzumaki, after his mother." The Hokage sighed again. "Minato had many enemies, especially after his participation in the war. Giving him his father's name would be an open invitation to any number of revenge-fueled attempts on his life."
And a chance to actually have a heritage and a connection to his father. Asuma couldn't help but feel disappointed by his father's actions. He's like a son to me. He would have been an exceptional Hokage. Asuma rubbed his face. This wouldn't end well.
"And what will become of the boy while he grows? Allowing him to be taken in by one of the major clans will not sit well the rest."
"The Hyuuga will have no part in development of the jinchuriki." Hiashi's tone left no room for argument.
"Nor will clan Uchiha."
"I don't intend to hand Naruto over to any of the major clans." He paused and regarded Jiraiya, who had slowly been growing more tense with every exchange. "There would be too much discord if any of the clans could lay a claim to a jinchuriki, especially after Kyuubi's recent attack." Another pause. "The best option is to let Naruto grow up with no connection to any of the existing clans."
"An orphan, in other words." Jiraiya's tone was as disapproving as his expression.
Mitokado spoke, "What would you suggest, Jiraiya? Would you be willing to take the boy into your custody, and have him with you on your...excursions?"
"Which excursions are you referring to? I do a great deal of field work, and it's a broad term, don't you think?"
Mitokado didn't reply, turning instead to the the Hokage. "Keeping the jinchuriki ignorant of his birth and the circumstances of his orphaning might work in the short run, but if he starts formal training, we still have no way of knowing what kind of effect it will have on the demon."
Danzo interjected, "That situation has already been addressed. Formal training will be allowed once we've ascertained that there is no emergent or lasting influence from Kyuubi. It's far more likely that formal training will facilitate a greater degree of control the vessel of the demon. We have little to lose by taking that course of action."
Both councilors exchanged looks before signaling their acquiescence through twin nods, their stances relaxing as Jiraiya's and Kakashi's wound like a cable drawn too tightly. Asuma crossed his arms and slouched. Minato would have been a different father. Different than my own. He knew the burden of the office but he wouldn't have done something like this not even with...He was like a son to me.
… "I have too many enemies. If I took Naruto with me he would be in danger just by virtue of his association with me, never mind what might happen if his true heritage and circumstances came to light while he was with me..."
Would I be any different though? Even if I've always told myself I was, after I shrugged off what I told myself was my inheritance.
… "And then what's the better action to take? You refute our ideas and refuse to take up any sort of responsibility for yourself or come up with an alternative..."
… "Hokage's ward..."
… "The clans won't be appeased..."
He was like...
"I'll take him." Asuma raised his voice just high enough to catch his father's and the councilor's attentions, not bothering to garner the attention of his fellow shinobi.
His father frowned. "What are you saying, Asuma?
Asuma stepped forward, moving his arms to his sides. "It's a pretty simple statement. I'll take him. I'll take Naruto as my own son."
His father's eyes widened, his lips parting and forming into what might have been taken as a minuscule smile, but what Asuma knew to be an expression of shock.
Mitokado shook his head. "Impossible. Adopting him into the Sarutobi clan..."
"It wouldn't be the Sarutobi clan," Asuma spoke easily. He regarded his father before speaking. "I'd simply renounce any claims to the Sarutobi estate. Naruto would get my name, and, meeting certain requirements, the details of which I leave to you and my father, would eventually have the opportunity to become a fully fledged heir of the Sarutobi estate."
His father still stared at him in disbelief. Mtokado and Utatane debated amongst themselves in sharp, rapid whispers. Kakashi was looking at him as though he were sorely tempted bring out his Sharingan eye and check for a genjustu.
His father addressed him. "Asuma...if this is about..."
"It's not." He cut his father's train of thought off sharply. I've...cleared myself of that...
"Be that as it may, is this something you're sure of? You won't be able to simply shrug this off if you feel it becomes too much of a burden to you."
Asuma kept his temper. "I have no intention of shrugging it off, regardless of how much of a burden my decision carries."
Jiraiya spoke, "Why are you volunteering for this all of a sudden? Did Minato say something to you before he died?"
Asuma wasn't perturbed. "Minato said many things to me before he died. He helped teach me, after all."
"That doesn't answer my question..."
"Asuma. If you do this, I don't see how you're going to be able to fulfill your ambition of training under the Twelve Guardian Ninja." His father's tone was cautious, low, and held...relief? Asuma didn't know, and he wouldn't be able to pursue the matter now.
Asuma smiled. "On the contrary. I see this as the perfect opportunity to give Naruto a few years away from what I'm sure is going to be a less than friendly environment."
"How do you mean?" Utatane asked.
Asuma resisted the urge to be condescending in return, instead turning to address everyone in the room. "I think everyone here is intelligent and experienced enough to realize what will happen after things settle down in the village." He nodded his head towards Hiashi. "It's true we lost a lot of people tonight, shinobi and civilian, and every one of the survivors is going to be looking for someone or something to take out their pain, and with the Kyuubi absent, it's not going to be much of a leap for them to focus all that anger on its container."
"That's the point of the law I proposed." His father seemed too calm at the moment.
You're not that naiive. Are you just tired, or too used to being Hokage? "That won't do anything. Law is just technicality. Technically, they won't be able to say anything to him regarding the Kyuubi, but technically..." He left the statement unfinished.
Kakashi picked it up easily, "Nothing will prevent them from simply ignoring or ridiculing him. And he won't know why."
Asuma resumed his thought, "A few years out of the village will let things simmer down, give Naruto a chance to be somewhere where no one is going to associate him with something that he has absolutely no control over. Nothing we do is going erase the feeling of resentment that some in the village will feel for him, but I see no reason why his first few years should be marred by the experience of being shunned for his circumstances." He his arms again, waiting for further comment.
Jiraiya was still giving him an appraising look, his head tilted up, eyes narrowed like he was examining an interesting and possibly dangerous animal. The councilors had since ceased their hurried debate, reverting to their previously placid outward appearances.
"While it might be possible to avoid a fallout over your adoption of Naruto with the procedure you suggested, taking him with you as a member of Twelve Guardians would place the Daimyo at considerable risk if the boy's past were fully elucidated and attention was drawn to him."
Asuma shrugged. "It's no more danger than Konoha would be in if he were found out while he was here. Only in that case, more people would probably die." He let that pass over for a few moments before continuing. "In any case, I can pass him off as an adopted son easily enough, and there's nothing which says I can't have him with me while I'm training to become one of the Guardians."
Mitokado shook his head. "The Daimyo won't want a jinchuriki so close to him. If something happens..."
"If something happens in Konoha, far more people would be in danger than if something were to happen in a remote training location. Naruto isn't going to be anywhere near the Daimyo in any case."
"And what will happen when you're called to serve as one of the Twelve Guardians in some capacity? Who will look after your...son in that instance?"
"I'll make arrangements before that situation arises. There's plenty of time to plan for contingencies."
"Who will examine the integrity of the boy's seal, and make sure that the Kyuubi isn't gaining influence?"
Asuma cast a thoughtful look at Jiraiya. "You were never planning on staying in Konoha for long after this incident, were you?"
The Sannin frowned. "I don't believe I ever stated my intentions, one way or the other."
"But you weren't, were you?" Asuma pressed.
After a moment of silence Jiraiya conceded. "No. I need to stay in the field to maintain my spy network, and get a feel for what's happening in the aftermath of Kyuubi's attack. What does this have to do with your decision?"
"I'm not a seal master, and neither are any of the other jounin of my generation. You're the only one here who has enough knowledge and experience with seals to be able to detect and repair abnormalities in Minato's work. With you gone, it doesn't matter where Naruto is. He could be the Daimyo's new retainer, for all the good it would do us to have someone inexperienced poking at the Kyuubi's prison."
Jiraiya muttered, "Recognition of a defective seal isn't that difficult, especially when the entity being sealed has such a distinctive chakra signature."
Asuma smiled. "Well then I'd be very grateful for some lessons in the basics of sealing before I leave."
"Sealing is an extremely difficult subject. I can't teach you the basics in only a couple of days. It would take weeks at the least, depending on your level of skill."
Asuma was nonplussed. "I have no intention of leaving immediately. It's been pointed out pretty thoroughly that we don't fully understand the nature of Minato's seal." He paused. "A year at least, I think. Possibly more, just to give Naruto some time to grow." And me, to get a firmer grip on all this. Asuma frowned as it occurred to him that smoke probably wouldn't be the best thing to expose a small child to.
Hiashi snorted. "This is ridiculous. You're talking as though you've already been given leave to pursue this crazy venture. Why are you actually doing this? What do you stand to gain by adopting a child you have no reason to be personally involved with?"
What indeed? "I wouldn't say I have no reason to become personally involved with him. We all do, whether we like it or not. As for me, I have my own reasons, which, I can assure you, have nothing to do with upsetting the balance of power here." He looked to his father. He still thinks it's all naïve discontent.
"It is a tampering with the balance of power. Konoha's balance against the rest of the Elemental Nations. If they find out that the Nine Tails jinchuuriki is wandering around Fire Country, it will be viewed as a sign of weakness, and with our recent losses..."
"Then let the people of the village talk," Asuma crossed his arms again. "Don't make any law that forbids them; in fact encourage them. Throw out some rumor that we have Naruto confined and away from the populace. They'll embellish that. By the time any word reaches the other nations, they'll be under the impression that we're training Naruto to be used as a weapon of war."
Kakashi nodded slowly, his silent approval reinforcing Asuma's resolve. Danzo spoke in his crinkling voice.
"A threat that would be made more substantial by what took place tonight." He regarded Jiraiya. "Your network would be useful in propagating such activity, if done carefully." He placed stress on the last word, which did nothing to alleviate the other man's reservations.
"Fine. You'd have some safeguard, and you might even placate the populace, but you've forgotten about Naruto. What happens when he comes back, and he's hit by the backlash of the realization that the place that should be his home reveled in the thought of his imprisonment?"
"He'll be ready for that. I'll make sure of it. I'll tell him about what happened tonight. I'll support him, encourage him, train him. He'll return with a confidence that he never would have had, if he'd been raised in a place where his existence would have been ridiculed."
The Hokage spoke, "You're going to tell him that Minato is his father?" Is that...apprehension, in your voice, father? Asuma didn't doubt his decision now.
"When he's ready, yes. I don't think it's wise to deny him his heritage, even if for practical purposes I'll be his father."
"And what about his academy training? A shinobi working on nothing except high-level missions for the Daimyo isn't going to give him the kind of practical experience with field and teamwork he'll need to be a successful part of the military."
Asuma eyed Jiraiya again. "The average academy graduation age is what? 10? 11? I'll have him back before then, and his skills will be on par with, if not surpassing, every other student in his age group."
His father smiled, and he looked younger because of it.
"Well? What do you have to say about this? I'm willing to take Naruto and raise him as my own son, offer him as much support as he needs to become a successful shinobi and member of the Leaf." He paused, expelling a breath, his voice quiet. "And more importantly, I'll be able to secure a heritage for him."
Whether his father heard his words, Asuma didn't know. All he saw were the beginnings of words that were never spoken, a frown or a smile that never formed. His face stilled, calm and lacking any sort of deliberate expression. He nodded his head, the gesture sending shock waves through the room and everyone present, the fronts of which Asuma knew would shake Konoha and the lands beyond its walls. His father...the Sandaime Hokage, had returned.
A few things. I realize that in canon Naruto's exact heritage was known by very few people. I decided to alter this simply because I find it difficult to believe that no one aside from the select few who knew from the start would have been able to make the connection. Naruto's appearance alone begs the comparison. Also, it seems odd that the clan heads would have been kept in the dark with regards to something like this. As for the presence of Kakashi, Gai and Asuma, they were barred from taking place in the main defense of the village, true, but the mentality behind this was to preserve "The Will of Fire" as it's known. As such, it makes sense to me that they would have been made privy to the discussions immediately following the attack. I realize that it seems odd to only include three jounin, but I honestly didn't think throwing in a plethora of minor characters/OCs would have added anything to the scene. As for Asuma's past, that's more or less a blank slate, so I'll try to be inventive with it, and make sure that his actions match the personality which was developed in canon, though I have to admit I found that the amount of screen time he had left a lot to be desired.