Disclaimer: Totally not mine.

Notes: Entirely and gratefully dedicated to Hey-Diddle-Diddle, who is beyond awesome and you should read her stuff like now!

Any comments or criticisms are greatly appreciated!


She's stirring on the inside. Or rather, something is.

She can't quite separate this world she's living in from the world she's fighting for, and that's probably the most shameful thing. Family is family, after all, and when you peel back the excuses of cursed pendants and lack of field-able medics all that's left is family, and the fact remains that she rolled snake eyes, and could never save hers.

Her team-mates have to be her family now, because her teacher's taken her grandfather's place and it's all mixing itself up, inside her head. Between right and wrong, and life and death, and endless bloody battles, Tsunade only has three precious people with their hearts still beating. She hates herself for thinking it, but she'd swap any one of them over, if she could.

-

Sarutobi makes a harsh leader, but he's good.

He's powerful and growing wise, and he tries with all his might to keep the world spinning the right way round, and if he expects a little too much from his precious village it is because he's seen before how complacency costs too many precious lives. Tsunade cannot bring herself to care.

Jiraiya bets against her, drinks with her, as Orochimaru drowns himself in darkness, and between their missions she watches her boys bicker as if they were twelve years old again, and it numbs her to realise they'll never be quite like that again.

It's all twisted now, their brand new adultness all mixed up with a childhood spent in war, and Jiraiya can stir nothing in her, no matter how he tries. And how he tries! His kisses burn but never hot enough, and she knows that for his sake she should never have given him even this small amount of herself. She should never have given him even this small touch, because Jiraiya is an idealist, at his core, and will always want more.

-

Sarutobi eventually decides that his awesomeness is due for continuation, decides that his students are far too lost, and so give them each a mind to mould.

Jiraiya sulks, rejects every child he is given in favour of the three boys – adults now – that he insists upon continuing to teach, but Tsunade and Orochimaru suffer their young brats without complaint. Shizune will become a fine medic-nin one day, if her blind loyalty doesn't end up killing her first, and Tsunade's sure that Matarashi Anko makes a suitable enough servant for the most powerful of the Three.

It doesn't help, and sure enough Konoha grows too small for their grief. Tsunade leaves them all, all her precious ones, and hates herself for hating them for not being swappable. She hides herself in the space between head and tails, Shizune following in shades of grey. Her luck is atrocious, but as long as she's losing money she isn't losing the ones she still loves.

-

The day her teacher died, Orochimaru lost two hands.

Tsunade won three; twice two pair and then a royal flush.

-

Naruto's carefree grin gives it all away.

It's like their little family's tragic heirloom. Jiraiya's been wearing it since Sarutobi-sensei first compared him to Orochimaru, and the same fierce cheer became the Yondaime's greatest weapon. The Hatake Brat's been faking it since he figured out how, and there are other orphans of the Leaf with the same pointed twinkle in their eyes. For Naruto to have mastered it at such a young age - in times of peace, no less - speaks volumes, and Tsunade can hear them loud and clear.

When her past finally catches up to her, Tsunade expects Jiraiya to beg. She expects lurid innuendoes, or even the flowery announcements of other men. She expects him to show her Konoha's great power, at least.

Instead, he out-manoeuvres her, slipping her between Naruto's brilliant enthusiasm and Orochimaru's tempting lies. Somehow, as he probably knew she would, Tsunade finds herself falling all back into place.

-

Konoha's great power, it turns out, is that it is home.

She spent most of her life escaping the confines of her once beloved village, and it's no surprise to Tsunade that the truth never really let itself be seen until now. The past haunts her, and she cannot out-run it, but there's a mad blonde streak of Future, there, with raw potential and even rawer hurt; a child that somehow manages to live, against all odds.

Naruto should not have mastered the rasengan in such a short amount of time, let alone be capable of using the damn thing. That bet, Tsunade was utterly, absolutely certain, had been a sure bet.

Between the fact that she lost and Jiraiya's smug grin as he lays his cards, as always, firmly against her own, Tsunade knows that it's time to go home.