Maybe it made Mito a bad mother, but when she realized none of her children were Uzumaki she felt her heart break. She had held out hope for her grandchildren, but they too were Senju through and through. In another world, perhaps Mito would have been able to accept that, to be happy with the family she had and become a Senju, to leave behind the ocean and give herself over fully to the forest. This, however, was not that world, and Mito was not that woman. The ocean called to her, and as much as she loved her husband, her children, and her village, her heart longed for the sea.
When Kushina arrived from Uzushio at the end of Mito’s life, ready to take her place as jinchuuriki, Mito loved her immediately. She doted on Kushina, and thought of her as her own granddaughter. But Kushina had a family she loved dearly, and Mito was nothing more than a mentor-figure. When Mito felt her final breaths rattling in her chest, when she completed the ritual and smiled sadly at Kushina, she thought of everything she knew, all of her knowledge and techniques, and she lamented how it would all die with her. People like to be poetic about death, talk about how memories live on, how the legacy people leave will last for centuries, but Mito was not so precious. She knew her legacy would be one of human sacrifices, of innocents being turned into weapons to create a fragile facade of peace. There was nothing beautiful or poetic about her death, there was just pain, and loss. She wondered if that was true of her life as well.
Being an Uzumaki, Mito knew the Shinigami’s face. It was an old rite of passage, to don the Shinigami Mask and call forth the great Death God, to look death in its face and stare it down; to meet the eyes of death and understand that there was no escaping the Shinigami’s grasp. There was one life to live, and the Uzumaki did their best to live it well.
As Mito died, she found herself once again staring into those old familiar eyes, eyes she hadn’t looked into since she was young, but eyes she saw the hint of in every battlefield. Eyes that followed every shinobi, eyes she had felt watching her many times throughout her life, more and more as the years went by.
“Uzumaki,” the Shinigami rasped.
Mito inclined her head respectfully while still maintaining eye contact. It did not do to turn away from death.
“It is time,” the Shinigami continued, spreading its arms wide, the folds of its cloak sweeping outwards like wings. Mito began to step forward before pausing for a moment. She knew she should not pause. Uzumaki accepted death with grace, their backs straight and heads held high. Do not look back, her father had drilled into her over and over as a child, as a teenager, as a woman, do not look upon what you leave behind.
Ahead of Mito lay peace, at last, in the Pure Lands. Ahead of Mito lay reuniting with her husband, her children, her family. Behind Mito lay Kushina, lost and afraid, the sole Uzumaki in Konoha. Uzumaki were not meant to be alone, Uzumaki were not meant to be hidden in the leaves. Mito had suffered that fate. Her heart wrenched to think of how she had damned Kushina to it as well. Mito was a formidable warrior, a sealmaster, the creator of jinchuuriki, one of the founders of Konoha. She was intelligent and resourceful and cunning. She was a wife, a mother, a sister, a grandmother. She was all these things, but when you boiled all of them down, took their most basic bits, there was only one thing Mito was, only one thing she ever would be, ever had been.
Mito looked back. She was only human, after all.
“You look back?” The Shinigami asked. If Mito didn’t know better, she would say the Shinigami had sounded surprised.
“Please,” Mito whispered, her gaze still lingering upon the mortal world. “I am all she has. Just for a little while, just until I know she will be alright, allow me to stay with her.”
The Shinigami was silent. Mito turned back to look upon it, and their eyes met once more. Mito did not, would not, blink. To blink was to back down. It felt like an eternity stretched between them. It felt like only a second had passed. The Shinigami blinked, and Mito did her best to not let her triumph show on her face.
“Very well,” the Shinigami sighed. “You may stay, and watch, but that is all. You cannot interfere, and you will not be seen. You are a ghost now, a lonely thing.”
The Shinigami faded, and Mito was left alone, standing there, staring down at her own lifeless body, Kushina crying over it. Mito smiled sadly and reached a hand out, running it down Kushina’s hair. Kushina could not feel it, but Mito knew in her heart Kushina would feel less alone. Kushina was an Uzumaki, after all, and she too had gazed upon death. The gulf between the worlds was smaller for them.
The years passed, and while the Shinigami visited many times, to ask if she was ready, Mito denied him. Now, though, now she was ready to go to the Pure Lands at long last. Her time to rest was upon her, and she welcomed it. Kushina was adjusting to Konoha well, was handling the Kyuubi with aplomb. It was time for Mito to move on. She readied herself, and waited for the Shinigami to come fetch her, and she was at peace.
And then Uzushio fell. Her home, her clan, her family, her people, all of her people, gone. Dead. Mito felt herself burn. Konoha had done nothing. The Uzumaki had given so much to Konoha, and Konoha had done nothing.
“Uzumaki,” the Shinigami called to her, after he had ferried the last of her people to their eternal rest. “It is time.”
“I cannot leave her now,” Mito insisted, indignant, furious. “I am truly all she has. She is alone in the world, now. I cannot leave her, not like this.”
The Shinigami sighed, but left her alone. Mito could have sworn the Shinigami looked saddened, almost grieving. The Shinigami had known the Uzumaki too, Mito remembered. The Shinigami had loved the Uzumaki too.
Kushina adjusted to the grief of the massacre, gave herself over to Konoha wholly, heart and soul. It broke Mito’s heart, but she understood all the same. Konoha had to be Kushina’s only home now. She would not last otherwise. Kushina fell in love, married a bright young man with a talent for sealing so rarely seen outside of the Uzumaki. Kushina taught him her techniques, told him of the Shinigami Mask, and Mito swore she could see the gears in his mind turning. Kushina became pregnant, and Mito rejoiced alongside her, hoping above all hopes that Kushina’s child would be an Uzumaki.
Kushina was doing well, and Mito knew her time to leave was fast approaching. She would wait until Kushina’s child was born, and then she would go with the Shinigami quietly, without a fight. She nodded her head, determined with the decision she had made, and watched as Kushina and Minato decided to name their child Naruto.
Like ramen, Mito laughed, or a maelstrom.
Everything was going so well that Mito should have seen it coming when everything went wrong. Peace only ever lasted for so long - for as many people there were who rallied for peace there were always going to be those who railed against it.
The kyuubi was released, Minato and Kushina dead, and little Naruto, not even a day old, the new jinchuuriki, another victim of her terrible legacy. Mito could not bear it as she gazed down at Naruto, crying, with no one to soothe him.
The Shinigami stood at her shoulder, peering down at Naruto as well.
“An Uzumaki,” The Shinigami rasped. Mito nodded.
She reached out to him and stroked his soft face with the back of her finger. Naruto scrunched his small face in response, and stopped crying. Mito jerked her hand back, astonished, and looked over at the Shinigami, eyes wide.
“Did he…?” she trailed off, uncertain.
The Shinigami sighed his rattling sigh. “His father used the Dead Demon Consuming Seal,” he rasped. If Mito didn’t know better, she would say the Shinigami sounded both irritated and impressed. “My mark is upon him. He can see you. He can hear you. He can touch you.”
Mito felt her breath catch in her lungs. She made to reach out for Naruto but paused, looking over at the Shinigami with narrowed eyes.
“You aren’t asking me to go with you.”
The Shinigami inclined his great head. “I have spent more time with you than I have ever spent with a mortal. I have...grown fond of you.” The Shinigami paused. If Mito didn’t know better, she would say he seemed embarrassed. “You will come with me one day. But until then…” he trailed off and looked at Naruto, who had finally fallen asleep. Mito smiled. She understood what the Shinigami wasn’t saying.
“Thank you,” she said. “Thank you, old friend.”
The Shinigami laughed then, a terrible sound, and faded from view. Mito looked down at Naruto again, her smile spreading wider across her face.
“I’m here, Naruto,” she whispered, her heart full and aching, running a gentle hand over his soft hair. “You aren’t alone.”