When Kushina is born, her Mito-obaa-sama is the second person to hold her after her own mother.
She holds Kushina, still covered in her birth blood, with all the tender loving she gives all of her descendants, and with a careful hand, she gently touches the tip of the calligraphy brush on the baby's wrinkly forehead.
Behind Mito, three brightly coiled orange tails sway. Many of the kitsune of Fire Country had fled not too long after Mito-obaa-sama made her contract with their ancestor and lord of kitsune, Kurama-sama, and they set up their home in Uzushio. The most reclusive kitsune had stayed behind, but the more curious ones had left for a new land of storms when Uzumaki Mito's secondborn daughter took on her mother's fantastic burden.
Now, it was Kushina's turn.
Only an infant, surrounded by her family in blood and chakra, Kushina opens her tiny mouth to wail. But when the tip of the brush touches her forehead, her little mouth closes, and her little eyes open.
She feels so warm. Just as warm as she did when she was still inside of her mother. And suddenly this strange new world isn't so strange or frightening at all. There's a comforting presence in the back of her mind, infinitely small to protect her because of her young age, but still present. Still there. Still a part of her.
When Mito-obaa-sama removes the brush from Kushina's forehead, a little orange diamond remains there. And the middlemost of Mito-obaa-sama's bright tails of chakra curves around her, and gently cover the diamond.
Mito-obaa-sama smiles and says, "He's been waiting for you."
Kushina grows up an only child with a gaggle of cousins and a talking fox that trails her across the island. This fox's name is Kyuu, and he's her older brother even though he was born after her. That's at least how it's explained to her.
Kyuu is always fun to have around. At least, Kushina thinks so. He's way better at making pranking ideas with her, and whenever she's in lessons, he whispers answers in her ear so quiet, not even her tutors can hear them.
Sometimes, Kushina goes to the Sharing Grounds with Kyuu so he can teach her jutsu. Even though he's really small, he can do a lot of really cool stuff, like these really cool kinda dark purple pebbles that he spits out his mouth that can make whole trees disintegrate into nothing! And he knows lots of jutsu, too! He tells Kushina how to form the seals when he's on her shoulder, tells her how much chakra she needs, too.
When one of her tutors mentions the Kongō Fūsa in a lesson and Kushina's eyes widen to the size of a grown-up sized bowl of ramen, Kyuu is already muttering in her ear how she could go about making her own, and how strong they could be if they made them together.
Kyuu doesn't need to eat, but he likes to steal scraps off her plate. One of their favorite games is seeing how much food he can steal from other people before they notice, especially at the dinner table or at the food stands in the village.
Kushina only ever gets in trouble for their shenanigans when Kyuu isn't around, like when he's napping or when he goes off on his own to explore Uzushio. Both of which don't happen very often. Kushina kind of gets the idea that the grown-ups don't like to scold Kyuu, which doesn't make sense. Big brothers should always take scoldings for their younger siblings! Kyuu only laughs at her when she tells him that, though.
Kushina is Uzumaki Mito's descendant through her secondborn daughter Uzumaki Yuzuha, and she is the first child to have a companion like Kyuu. She isn't sure of what it means yet, but she knows that the diamond on her forehead matches the diamond on Mito-obaa-sama's, and that must mean she's special.
Though it's not like having a fox-brother doesn't make her special. There are kitsune all over Uzushio. She would have grown up with them even if she didn't have Kyuu. They're tricksters, yes, harbingers of bad luck and good, but they're also good natured. They like to play, and all of Uzushio is full of people who like to play, too.
When Kushina is old enough, she'll probably understand. She'll learn that the contract Mito-obaa-sama made with the lord of all kitsune dictated that any child of Mito's secondborn would be dedicated to the lord, whether they wanted to or not. She'll learn that the strange warm chakra that settled itself inside of her when she was only hours old was further proof of that promise made during the Founding. She'll learn that she is only the next incarnation of that precious vow.
She will learn that she is an emissary to the spirit world. That it is her sacred duty to protect the kitsune and be protected by them in turn.
Perhaps when she is even older still, someone will explain to her why Kyuu follows her around like an Inuzuka pup, or a Hatake wolf. Why when Mito-obaa-sama gave her the promised seal at her birth, two of her three tails split off, and formed into a fox kit that yowled when he was not allowed to sleep with her in her crib.
Someone, some day, will explain that the lord of the kitsune made a vow with Uzumaki Mito that did not extend into the physical. That Kushina's birth was the first exception of its kind to ever occur.
And that when Kushina's own son will be born, the second of its kind will happen then.
But time and space are tricky things, and it will be easier when she is older to explain to her how this world came to be, if she ever cares to sit and listen to the tale. Kushina is a patient little girl, though she is rambunctious. She loves stories, and can sit for hours listening to her Mito-obaa-sama or her Yuzuha-baa-chan tell them.
Her favorite is about the legendary hero Naruto. She holds Kyuu tight in her lap whenever she gets to hear it, and even though he can talk like a person, he purrs just like a cat whenever he hears it, too.
For now, Kushina is six. She is the heir of Uzushio and of a lifelong contract to a creature the world once saw as a demon. There are a great many things she'll have to wait until she's older to understand.
Kushina is a child fed with stories. And maybe sooner than anyone expects, she'll be ready to hear the greatest story of all time.
Kushina has deep and vivid dreams. Sometimes at night, sometimes during the day.
The dreams are sometimes fantastical. Full of Kushina running around Uzushio like she does in the daytime. Except the whole village looks a little different. There are no kitsune the size of cats terrifying actual cats, and none the size of houses sunning themselves on the beach. There are people she doesn't recognize, which is strange, because Kushina's the heir and she knows everyone on Uzushio.
But it's still beautiful. And there are still ramen stands and people who like to give her candy just for passing by, and uncles and aunties that pat her head and offer to teach her a lesson on the Sharing Grounds if she can outsmart her tutors before the day is over.
Sometimes the dreams are of terrible ruins, Like the Uzushio she knows and loves has been decimated, and she is screaming and crying as a cousin grabs her by the middle and yanks her to the nearest transport seal, nearly splicing them both as he tries to get her to Fire Country.
Sometimes the dreams are of a terrible agony in her belly, and she wakes up clutching her stomach like it's on fire, like something is trying to burn its way out of her.
Kyuu is a good big brother when she has those dreams. Kushina thinks he has nightmares too on those nights. He always sleeps at the foot of her bed, but when her nightmares get worse, he crawls up and whuffs his warm breath on her face, nosing her cheek until she wakes up.
Kyuu is normally quiet around others, only ever really talks when it's only him and Kushina, and sometimes when Mito-obaa-sama is around, too. But when he and Kushina has nightmares, he gets really chatty really quick.
"You had a bad dream, too, huh, Kyuu-nii," she mumbles, burying her cheek in his soft orange fur.
"Yeah," he replies, his voice like the smokefires that rise every morning before Uzushio does. "Real bad dream. Sorry, kit."
"Thassokay," Kushina says, patting her brother's flank. "We all have bad dreams, sometimes, 'ttebane."
Kyuu chuckles, and Kushina gently rubs her cheek against his.
"You wanna tell a story?" she asks. "Or you want me to?"
A purr rumbles in Kyuu's throat, and Kushina giggles before she pats him again.
"Okay, 'ttebane," she says. "Last night, Yuzuha-baa-chan told me about the Slug Princess, Tsunade-hime, so I'm gonna tell you that one, 'ttebane!"
She whispers the story in her big brother's ear, and even though she forgets some of the details, and has to start over a few times, Kyuu's rumbling purr puts them both to sleep, only after they both know Tsunade-hime goes home at the end.
Kushina is ten years old and Kyuu is snapping at the heels of some random Fire Country boy visiting Uzushio with his family. Their family name is Namikaze, and because Kushina is the heir of Uzushio, she knows that they were one of the first families to almost entirely relocate to Konohagakure once the Founding looked like it was going to stick.
They aren't a big important family like Kushina's (and that comment alone gets her a flick to the ear from Yuzuha-baa-chan) but she knows their name because she pays attention in her lessons.
"Kyuu!" she shouts, darting under a bridge and over an auntie walking her dog. She causes a minor ruckus, but everyone on Uzushio isn't remotely surprised. Kushina hasn't been quiet since she was born, and she can't sit still for anything other than a story. They're use to her mess. "Kyuu-nii! Stop it! You're gonna cause an incident, 'ttebane!"
But her big brother doesn't budge. And the Namikaze boy is - he's blond as sunlight, and suddenly Kushina can see strange things behind her vision; flashes of something like a dream. Blond hair, blue eyes, the kindest smile she'd ever seen in her life. And then the rest of her life, in love and magic and happy shouting and joy and wonder and -
The Namikaze boy yelps when Kyuu gets his teeth in his ankle, and Kushina nearly falls flat on her face. The day-dreams flicker out of her vision, and she flushes red as her hair as she scrambles to the boy to get her brother's teeth out of this stranger's flesh.
"Kyuu-nii, you can't do that kinda thing, 'ttebane! You're gonna get in so much trouble! And I'll get in trouble, too!"
She manages to snatch the fox (whose snarls sound suspiciously like snickering laughter) up from off the ground, and he scrabbles onto her clothes, crawling up her arms until he's curled around her shoulder and peeking through her waves of Uzushio red hair.
"Are you okay?" she asks the stranger.
The Namikaze boy looks a little thunderstruck, but when she asks him the question, he looks down at his damaged leg. Then, he looks back up at her, and gives her a cheerful shrug.
"I've had worse," he says. "I've never been bitten by a kitsune before. Is that good luck or bad?"
Kushina snorts out a laugh, and Kyuu snickers again in her hair. She almost thinks to be embarrassed for laughing at him, but he smiles back at her, all toothy except for his lower jaw where he's missing a baby tooth.
"Good luck, I think," Kushina replies.
"Awesome," the boy says, smile getting just a little wider. "His name is Kyuu-chan, right?"
Kyuu bristles on Kushina's shoulder at the cutesy moniker, but it only makes Kushina laugh again.
"Yup!" she says. "He's my big brother!"
The Namikaze boy dips his head in a polite bow and says, "Nice to meet you, Kyuu-nii-chan. I'm Namikaze Minato from Fire Country."
When he raises his head again, Kushina has another quick day-dream. Like this has happened before, but somewhere else. Somehow else. Except how it's happening now? That's exactly how it should be.
"I'm Uzumaki Kushina, 'ttebane," she replies, a little smile on her face. "Want me to show you around?"