AN: Tsunade's such an interesting character. Ah, this was written as a request, but it ties in nicely with "Sixth", a much older story of mine. You don't need to have read it for this to make sense, really. Beware the character death.

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Tsunade is not a hero.

She is a leader and a healer, but she is not a hero. Will never be a hero, not really. To her, heroes are people who die, and Tsunade has always been a survivor.

Tsunade is a gambler, an abysmally bad gambler, but a gambler nonetheless. When she played with money, it seemed she would never win. But now she gambles with her life, and she knows she can't lose anymore, if only for the sake of others.

Heroes are people like Dan, people who have dreams for the future and people they love and memories of the past, people who die in horrible and pointless ways. Sometimes they achieve things with their deaths, sometimes they don't. They're always remembered, though, by her if no one else.

A hero is what Nawaki would have been, if he'd ever had the chance to be anything but dead.

Tsunade never wanted to be a hero.

She's never been overly attached to her village of origin. She served it when she was younger because that's what people did when they were ninjas. She left when things went to pieces because it hurt to breathe Konoha's air. And she returned when it needed her.

So she has a job, and she does it. It's as simple as that. She knows she's not the best person for the job—she's flighty and lazy and easily distracted and she doesn't always know what's best for the village—but she's the only one who's still there.

That's what's important.

Heroes make good Hokages. They're always willing to throw away their lives at the drop of a hat to buy an advantage for their village. They're dedicated to Konoha and its people. Jiraiya's Fourth is a perfect example of this.

Tsunade wonders sometimes what would have happened if they'd found another way to deal with the Kyuubi. What the world would look like today if the Fourth still ruled.

Heroes make good Hokages, but survivors, Tsunade thinks, are better.

She doesn't have an awful lot of time for idle thought, though.

Darkness falls around the Leaf, and the shadows are deep. She knows she doesn't have much longer to live—after Jiraiya's (heroic) death, she knows she is next on Orochimaru's list. And she knows she can finally beat him if she fights like a hero.

Which means dying.

She's come to terms with it, in a way. She's found her successor and written his name on a scroll and given it to Kamizuki Izumo for safekeeping.

Once, it would have been too easy to decide on the Sixth. Once, there had been a budding young hero, exuberant and full of dreams, a brat she'd always known would take her place one day. She'd trained him, groomed him, set him up as best she could to take over.

And then he'd died. Heroically.

God, how she hates that word some days.

One by one, the children of autumn die as darkness draws close around the Leaf. Until it's too easy to choose her Sixth again. Because he's the only one left.

He's a survivor, like her. Too tired for his years, too much blood on his hands. He never wanted to be a leader, never wanted to have power, and she thinks that's a good thing. He's watched his friends die and killed his enemies with a certain amount of vicious satisfaction and retained his sanity through it all.

So she thinks he'll do all right.

His family is dead (like hers) and his friends are dead (like hers) and his lover is dead (like hers), and he has little or nothing to tie him to the falling Leaf, but he stays anyway.

Which is a good deal more than anyone could have said for her, when she was his age.

She knows her time is running out, so she begins. He is her ANBU captain, now, and privy to much of the inner workings of the Hokage's office from behind the smooth white mask, so there's not much to do to prepare him for the job. He does a lot of the work of a Hokage, even now, as she consults him over strategy and tactics. He's too smart for his own good, is what he is.

Tsunade knows it won't be long now, so she calls her young apprentice to her (poor little Sakura, she sees history repeating itself and wants to scream in frustration) and explains.

Sakura is clever too, so she understands. That doesn't mean she's happy about it.

Tsunade watches her apprentice watch her successor and smiles a little.

Sakura hasn't been the same since Ino died, since Naruto died, since Sasuke betrayed them all.

Shikamaru hasn't changed much, not even when Ino died, when Chouji died, when Neji died, when Naruto died, when Sasuke betrayed them.

Somehow, it works.

She watches them circle one another, both wary of attachment. War is a harsh teacher indeed, and they've both seen love and affection break people. Such children, to her eyes, but so old for their years.

History repeats itself, Tsunade knows, and it's broken her heart to watch her own mistakes play out again, generations later. Naruto died Jiraiya's death. Sasuke shouldered Orochimaru's betrayal. And Sakura takes her place, the place of the broken survivor.

But they are breaking the cycle.

He thrives in shadow, but does not embrace it. He will not become another traitor. She lives in peace, but does not need it to survive. She will not make the same mistakes twice.

Tsunade would be proud of them, but she knows she's had little to do with what they've become, and thus has little right to be proud of them.

She is not a hero, not really. But at least this time, she will try.

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Endnotes: I detest that ending, but have no idea how else to end it. Er. And does anyone know why ffn won't let me do the horizontal rule thing anymore? I miss it...

ETA: Last line courtesy of een nihc. Thanks!