The Winged Fox

Chapter 9 Family and Expectations

"Mom, why haven't you brought me here before?" asked Naruto. He gawked at the beautiful, colorful buildings as they walked passed. Once they passed through a tunnel shimmering blues and purples, he saw the other colors dancing across a large house with red being the most prominent. "Wow," he breathed out at the display.

Kushina smiled sadly down at him, "It is beautiful, and the people are friendly and peaceful. The biggest reason I've kept you away is my family." She huffed, "Nothing I did was ever good enough, and even being made Suzaku only satisfied them for maybe the five minutes that they needed to process that their little girl had actually done something worthwhile in their opinion."

Naruto turned to her with a confused expression on his face, "That... doesn't sound right." A thought struck him and he needed to ask, "Mom, are they not going to accept me either?"

Kushina reassured him, "Oh, they'll accept you, then try to push you past any and all limits with no regard to the direction you want your life to take. And no accomplishment is never really celebrated because the next goal is already set and you need to work to get to there and repeat." She panted for breath a bit as her consoling her son turned into a rant about her family. Taking a cleansing breath, she resumed, "Some are ok, and Gramps is really nice, but my parents especially will see you by what you can do and what you've accomplished, not who are."

Naruto reached up and squeezed her hand. She smiled at him, making him smile that she was happier. She looked at the house in front of them, "So, they all here?"

Kushina shook her head, "This is my residence as Suzaku. We'll be staying here for now, visiting those we need to, or they coming here. But the first thing we need to do is drop off our bags and go visit Long Fang. He'll know what we need to get your hand taken care of."

He looked up at her, "So I'll be able to use ninjutsu with hand signs?" His eyes gleamed at what he could do with the previously unusable selection of ninjutsu.

Kakashi chimed in behind them, "I'll help you as much as I can, though I'm only here for a week. Getting Steel Palm going on your hands is also something you should be working on. It'd be nice if you could actually use the style the way it was meant."

Naruto beamed at his adoptive brother, "This'll be great! I can't wait to get rid of this stupid poison!" He marched energetically ahead to the large doors covered in shades of swirling red and orange. Before his hand reached the handle, it opened inwards to reveal a hulking man dressed in black pants and jacket, a white buttoned shirt, and a black bow tie around his neck. Naruto stared at him a moment before asking, "Why do you have a bow around your neck?"

The large man peered down at the young boy and answered gruffly, "Actually, this is a bow-tie. Bow-ties are cool."

"Still trying to convince the rest of us?" Kushina joked.

The man smiled and bowed deeply, "Of course, Lady Suzaku. Welcome back. And new welcomes to your sons."

Kakashi nodded politely, "Thank you for the welcome. May I ask how you get the building to glow like this? It is most impressive."

The man smirked at the question, "Family secret. We are quite well known among the Ophani for our work. I am of the Flame Butterfly clan."

Naruto gawked at that. "You don't really look like a butterfly. More like an ox or a bear."

The man laughed, "I have often heard that. I do have some dragon ancestry, as well as a tiger grandmother a few generations back, so that is where most put the blame for my size. Most of my clan prefer to be pixie sized."

"As entertaining as this is, I would like to get inside and rest a bit before the trouble starts. Could you show my boys to their rooms, Bart?" asked Kushina.

"At once, my lady." Bart got out of the doorway and let them go through the hall to a comfortable sitting area. "If the young men would follow me."

Naruto found his room to be much like the one he had in Konoha, though with more space. He quickly unpacked what he'd need for today before going to explore the mansion, most of which made him think "expensive hotel" more than a "big house". Finding nothing really personal in his explorations, he went to find his mom.

She sat in the main sitting room sipping hot chocolate and quietly talking with an old man in a green robe. Naruto's nose picked up a familiar scent, one he despised. He bared his teeth when he realized this man smelled like the Kyuubi. Naruto's mind blanked as his body reacted to the old fear he still felt regarding his first teacher.

The boy rushed to get between the old man and his mom. A growl escaped his snarling lips.

Kushina immediately commanded, "Stop that, Naruto! He is a guest."

Naruto kept his eyes on the man, but answered his mom, "He smells like Kyuubi."

Kushina put a hand on Naruto's shoulder, "I know, he asked to meet with me a while ago. This was the first time we could meet in person. It saves us the time waiting to speak with Long Fang. Let me introduce Kevin Reynard, patriarch of the Forest Fox families and brother to James, the Kyuubi no Kitsune."

"Brother?" Naruto wasn't sure how to deal with that information.

The man helped by pulling himself from his chair and, holding tight to his staff, bowed to the boy. "Greeting Naruto Uzumaki, son of Suzaku, for the pain and troubles my brother has caused you. I swear as such, that I will do my best to help you heal from his actions."

Jaw dropping in disbelief, Naruto looked to his Mom, who nodded with a smile. Naruto looked back at the bowing old man, the boy's face scrunched in confusion. He knew his Mom wanted him to forgive this old man for what the Kyuubi, this old guy's brother, had done. Naruto could feel hate begin to bubble up from that dark corner of himself that had been getting smaller since Mom came into his life. It felt so much like what he'd sensed from the villagers that he froze. It had hurt and terrified him to feel those things from others; he never wanted to feel that again, from either side.

Naruto started whispering, "You're not your brother, and you don't owe me anything." His voice grew in volume, "I know what it's like to be hated for something I didn't do. I won't do that to someone else!" He shouted the last word and both the old man and his Mom stared at him. He panted after the release of emotion and tried to take a couple of deep breathes to get himself back under control, but calm remained elusive at the moment for Naruto.

The old man smiled, "It does me good to see that James hasn't corrupted you, and you do your mother credit. Though there is something that I really do need to do for you." He stepped up to Naruto and gently raised the boy's right hand with his left and covered it with his right.

Naruto felt a gentle tugging in his hand, and saw the old man pull a red sliver from his hand. Naruto's eyes widened with the shock. Tears threatened to escape his eyes at the relief blossoming in his chest. Not quite ready to accept this good fortune, he asked, "Why? How?"

Kevin just smiled, "Why? Because this is my brother's work, and I couldn't stand by and see someone hurt because of him. Not when I could help it. How? Again, James is my brother and I understand how he works. Plus my powers are similar. I am therefore the best qualified to deal with his power."

Naruto looked at him with the tears flowing now, "Thank you." The boy looked back at this hands and grinned, removing the bands that limited chakra flow to them. After handing those to his Mom, Naruto made a ram sign and molded his chakra. Naruto grunted as the unused pathways in his hand flooded past their usual level from the previous years.

Kushina cautioned him, "Not too much. You need to stretch them slowly so you don't hurt yourself. Go to Kakashi for better exercises for that."

"Okay!" Naruto took off looking for Kakashi.

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Kushina turned and bowed slightly to Kevin. "Thank you for healing my son. This should greatly help him with his future trials."

Kevin smiled, "Well, James' actions have haunted me for centuries. Helping those he has harmed helps both the victims and my family. We need to show that we are not like my brother. Plus, this was such a simple fix for me that it really was no trouble."

Kushina gauged his sincerity and nodded in positive affirmation, "Then could I ask another favor on behalf of my son?"

Kevin looked at her warily. People asking favors, especially mothers for their sons, did not usually end well for him. He drew himself up with dignity. "Ask your favor, Lady Suzaku, and then I will answer if I am able to grant it."

Kushina explained, "Something that is not well known is that James changed Naruto a bit, adding some of his own nature into Naruto. My son is part forest fox now. I request that you train him in those abilities."

It took a great deal of self-control for Kevin to prevent his jaw from dropping. Once he was sure of his control over his own body, he asked, "Why wouldn't I have felt that when I healed him?"

Kushina smiled, "I'm guessing you also had a hard time feeling the phoenix parts of him, correct?"

Kevin nodded, as understanding began to lighten his features. "The fox side of him is still corrupted by yokai, but James was sealed completely...?"

Kushina smiled sadly, "The yokai started as James', but it is his own now, he just dislikes it so much he buries it deep, and since it leaks out when he uses shinsei, he stopped using that as much as well."

Confusion seized Kevin, "But... he shouldn't have any yokai of his own. Without input from James, Naruto's own nature should have taken over. What could have...?" Kevin trailed off as he realized what must be happening. "He doesn't accept it as his own. He thinks its James'. Leaving it to fester inside him into yokai, because that is what he associates it with."

Kushina nodded, "And because it took a couple months for James's yokai taint to leave. I'm hoping you could help him in that regard. He is part fox, to change that now would be terrible. He needs to accept that and move on. And I believe part of that is to replace the association he has with that side of himself."

Kevin grinned, "Well then, how could I say no?"

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Naruto dropped Kevin's home a couple days after their first meeting to ask, "Anything I can help with?"

Kevin smiled, "I do have some yard work I could use some help with, especially from a youngster without back problems."

Naruto grinned back, "Just let me know what to do, Kevin-ojisan."

The old man pointed to a fallen tree trunk, "If you could start by helping me saw that into pieces so they can be rolled over and chopped into firewood, that would be a big help."

Naruto gave an enthusiastic nod, "Got it, Kevin-ojisan!"

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Kushina clutched Naruto's hand in her own as they walked towards a large house. Birds and people of all varieties filled the lawn, some talking, others training. One of the larger birds, a golden eagle if Naruto remembered his mom's lessons correctly, glided over and peered at them from its new perch on the fence running around the property.

"Greetings Lady Suzaku. You finally brought my grandson to be presented. Where would you put his level at?" asked the eagle.

"Naruto is recovering, Father. He is familiar with his elements, though fire and wind are his current best. Transformations still need to be learned, but the basics are solid," Kushina answered with a tight voice. Naruto wondered why she acted so formal with her own dad, but remembered her rant from when they arrived. He guessed her dad wasn't as awesome as his mom.

"Hmmm, acceptable for the first presentation, but we will need to work on that. I will take over his training while you are here, so you may focus on your duties, Lady Suzaku," her father lowered his head regally as he said this.

Kushina's eyes widened in surprise. Naruto looked back and forth between them, interested by the mention of training plus the prospect of spending time with his grandpa, even if he apparently wasn't as awesome as Mom.

"Alright, training! What are we going to do first?" Naruto excitedly questioned.

"Hah! Good attitude, grandson. We'll start with those elements, especially fire. Have to make sure that the son of a phoenix is good with fire, after all. Follow me to bonfire out back for resistance training."

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The sound of chopping wood filled the yard as Naruto chopped another section of wood for Kevin. When Naruto finished that section, Kevin called him over for a snack. "I think you've gotten enough of a feel for wood that I can start you on a better way to get it separated."

Naruto squinted in confusion at the old man, "Huh?"

Kevin walked over to the next piece of the fallen tree, closed his eyes, and ran a finger down the exposed wood. Naruto say the green glow of shinsei and gasped in surprise when the round piece split into two half circles. Where they had been connected before showed only smooth, polished looking surfaces.

Naruto gaped at them. He could, given enough time, split the wood with a Steel Palm chop, but it would be rougher and nowhere near as polished. Kevin's version did it with little shinsei he could sense.

"Naruto, you and I both have the power to do this. This is something any forest fox could do with a bit of practice," Kevin said, his tone light but with a strong undercurrent in it.

Naruto looked up to his older friend in panic. He started shaking his head, "No. It's not my power. It's his, and I don't want anything to do with it."

Kevin just smiled, "I can tell you right now that James is completely caught off from that power. He is sealed away by mother's power." He placed a comforting hand on Naruto's shoulder, "I think you can make that power your own." He held both hands palm forwards in a placating gesture when Naruto started to deny it. "But when you are ready. It isn't something to do without some thought. Just keep it in mind, okay?"

Naruto bobbed his head a couple times before saying, "I'm kinda tired now, so I'm going to go home now."

Kevin nodded and watched the boy walk away, his young shoulders slumped.

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Kushina observed the changes in her son. Yesterday he came from Kevin's looking betrayed and confused. Naruto had thrown himself into Steel Palm training with reckless abandon. He showed this after having breaking several toothpicks while trying pushups, after the first toothpick pierced the finger it was stuck to, Kushina intervened.

"What's wrong, Naruto-kun? You haven't had this much trouble with chakra control in months."

He panted, and his expression showed frustration more than fatigue. "Kevin-ojisan wants me to use the Kyuubi's power."

Kushina blinked a few times before realizing that Kevin had finally breached the subject they had discussed a week ago. She smiled, "Naruto, I don't think that was what he meant. I guarantee that you couldn't access James' chakra if you tried. Maybe you should go ask Kevin what he meant." Seeing her son's pout, she suggested, "After running some laps over the lake, to clear you head."

Naruto peered up at her and reluctantly nodded. He hugged her and took off.

Kushina prayed her son would listen to what Kevin had to say.

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Naruto didn't go back to Kevin's home until the next morning, shuffling up to the door. He knocked and heard a call to enter. He opened the door and saw Kevin reading in a chair, wearing a pair of glasses.

"Welcome back Naruto. Did you think about it?" the old man calmly asked. His gentle smile helped to calm the boy, who shrugged.

"Tried not thinking about it. Mom said that you weren't trying to get to use his power, and I should ask what you meant," he spoke quietly, but met the older man's eyes. Pleading in his tone was faint, but noticeable.

Kevin put down his book and glasses, and rose from his chair. He locked eyes with Naruto for a moment before walking over, kneeling slowly, and putting his hands on the boy's shoulders. His calming voice helps Naruto to relax, though his staring eyes put him back on edge. "I don't want you to have any part with James' and his evil. I do want you to be the best person you can be. There is a power in you that is no longer connected to James, but is tainted with anger and hate. I would like you to purify that power and use it as part of yourself. If you want, I will help you understand and use it."

Naruto stared back a moment before blinking back tears. "So, I won't have to deal with Kyuubi?"

Kevin smiled, "Not at all, just emotions."

Naruto nodded, "Okay." Then he grinned, "So… think you can show me that wood splitting trick again?"

Kevin laughed, "But of course."

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Naruto stumbled home from training with his Grandfather. His tired wave and mumbled greeting caught Kushina somewhat by surprise. He shuffled up to his room and soft snores prompted her to go close the door and let him rest.

He bounced down the stairs for lunch an hour later and gobbled that up.

"How is your training with Father going?" Kushina asked.

Naruto's grin was more subdued than she liked, but it brightened quickly. "I'm learning a lot! I've already gotten my phoenix transformation up to an hour! And, and my control over fire and wind are really good, too, though I still haven't gotten most of the powers down that phoenixes are known for."

Kushina smiled, "That's great Naruto-kun. Most of those will come with time and understanding." She hesitated before asking a more sensitive question, "And how is my Father treating you?"

Naruto stared at his empty plate for a bit before his grin took on a sad twist, "I get what you meant when we got here. He's not mean or cold, but he never says if I do a good job, just that we're done with something. He's a good at teaching but not so good at making me want to learn. Not like Kevin-ojisan does."

Kushina ran with the new subject, "And how is that training going?"

This perked Naruto up, "Well, I can split a log with my finger now, though Kevin-ojisan says that I still use too much. He said it'd get better with practice."

Kushina giggled, "So no more exploding logs like that first day?"

Naruto laughed sheepishly, "Nope, getting a better feel for… that… so not having nearly so many problems. Helps that Grandfather uses up most of my Shinsei in the mornings so it comes easier in the afternoon training with Ojisan. Still need to cool off afterwards… still makes me angry, though it is getting better."

Kushina smiled, "I'm glad you're getting better. Though don't forget to have some fun while we're here."

Naruto grin widened, "No worries there, Mom. I got invited to another party that cousin Agon is holding tonight."

His mother just shook her head, "Try not to get too carried away there. The Drays are known for extreme parties. No knocking yourself out playing "Tazer Twister" again."

Naruto pouted, "How was I supposed to know they had the whole thing charged? They told me they only had the circles not being used or called electrified."

Kushina just stared at her son, who figeted nervously. He finally nodded, "I'll be careful. Promise."

"Ok then. And how is your personal training going?"

He shrugged, "Good, got Steel Palm going strong in both hands now, and Kawamiri and Henge are good to go, 90% of the time. Still having trouble with Bushin."

"Just keep up your control exercises so you don't backslide. You have more chakra than Kakashi these days, so Bushin is a good indicator for where your control is at."

"Ok, Mom, well, off to Kevin-ojisan's!" he called as he put his dirty dishes in the sink.

"Have fun and work hard!"

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The six months had flown by for Naruto and it was time to head back. He'd made some gifts for his friends with instructions from both his Grandfather and Kevin-ojisan. Grandfather still never praised him, but Naruto did get a sense of satisfaction from the man how preferred the form of a bird. Kevin-ojisan enjoyed the new eyeglasses Naruto had made him. Same for his Mom and the shoes he'd made for her. Crafting had been a useful elemental training tool, and like his pottery hobby, one that helped to relax the young man.

He hugged his cousins good-bye, high fived Bart, and bowed to his teachers. Then he took his Mom's hand and left for Konoha.

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This chapter was extremely hard to write and put in all I wanted. In the end, I abbreviated a lot of the training, but gave the cliff notes. Sorry about the delay. That said, the next chapter is one I've been waiting to write.