Tsunade has never wanted children.
When she was young, so young the memory is a blur, she stood in front of her mother with her hands on her hips and declared she was never having children. Her mother laughed (Tsunade's memory of the tinkling sound fades a little bit each year), said she'd change her mind and plied her with dolls.
Tsunade performed autopsies on the dolls and was very disappointed when all that came out was stuffing.
Over the years the urge has never surfaced. She's aided the birth of so many babies and felt nothing but relief that mother and child survived the experience. In her more maudlin moments, when she's on the fast track to drunk, she idly wonders what a child of hers would be like. Then she chases that thought away with a gulp of alcohol that burns all the way down, because the only person she would have considered having a child with is Dan.
Dan, whose only earthly remainder is his blood soaked into foreign soil.
Tsunade is well into her fifties when she realises that she has become a mother after all.
It was a simple mission, B-rank at most, and Naruto's team should have been back two weeks ago. Half the messenger birds they send never return; the other half come back so mutilated it's a wonder they managed to fly. The last one they send returns with a scrap of blood-stained orange fabric and Tsunade is too afraid to send another in fear of what it will bring back.
The realisation strikes late at night when she's at her desk. She's stone sober and staring at an untouched bottle of sake and wondering where her motivation to drink it is. She wants to, wants to forget the worry, the fear, the scrap of fabric tucked into her shirt above her heart. But all she can think of is what if Naruto returns that night? She doesn't even think of the rest of his team which should have been her first clue. All her thoughts are trained on Naruto, wondering if he's dead, dying, racing back to Konoha….
It's then the realisation strikes and she lets loose a bitter laugh that echoes in the shadowy corners of her office.
She's become a mother.
Everything she's feeling she has seen painted across the faces of mothers of shinobi when they crowd into her office, pale-faced and twisting their hands in their laps and desperate for news.
Suddenly the bottle of sake is everything she's ever wanted.
Tsunade is slumped over her desk in a hung-over stupor when Naruto gets back to Konoha. Later Tsunade will look back and think, 'typical', with a wry, affectionate smile but that time will be a long in coming.
The Chuunin assistant unfortunate enough to have to deliver the news is rewarded with a barrage of questions all the way to the hospital. Tsunade's first question is, "how many returned?", but it's a struggle not to ask, 'did you see Naruto?'.
The assistant says four and for Tsunade the world simply...stops. Four, out of a five man team. She wants to believe that Naruto simply left someone behind to monitor the situation and catch up later but she knows he wouldn't do that. With Naruto it is all or nothing.
When she asks her next question her voice cracks.
"Who?" she asks. She's not sure if she' asking who returned or who hasn't. It doesn't matter - the assistant doesn't know and she has the sudden urge to wring his neck. She sends him away with a curt voice, pulling authority around herself like a shield. It is this that allows her to charge through the hospital without obstacles; the hustle and bustle parts just for her.
She sees Hinata and Sai first, both bleeding profusely. They're surrounded by medical staff yelling about too much blood and needing more bandages and Tsunade cares, she really does, but not right now.
Further in and there's Lee, screaming in pain. In contrast, his team of medical staff are scarily silent, hissing instructions at each other while they pump more and more painkillers into his body. Gai hovers, wraith-like, just over their shoulders and the image is just so wrong, Tsunade diverts from her course to lay a hand on his shoulder. She hopes it helps but right now there's only one thing she can focus on now.
She makes her way through the entire floor with no sign of Naruto and Shino and - dammit! - she's starting to hope. Logically she should head down to the morgue but it is pure instinct that makes her glance out the window at the end of the ward.
She sees blond hair and the world clicks back into place.
They sit on the roof together for most of the night, watching as Hinata and Sai bleed, as Lee gives in with a whimper and Gai sits unmoving by his bedside. She wraps an arm around him after an hour of sitting there and he falls into her willingly.
She knows that it isn't over yet. This is only the beginning. Hinata, Sai and Lee have to live through the night yet. Then there are reports they will have to write, detailing every moment surrounding their teammate's death with clinical detail. In a few hours Tsunade will have to coax Naruto down from the roof and back to his apartment.
Tomorrow Naruto will have to walk into the Aburame compound, look his teammate's parents in the eyes and tell them that Shino is dead.
Tsunade will go with him. She would gladly do it on her own, just to spare him but she knows Naruto won't even consider the offer.
There so many things wrong with this situation but right now Tsunade can't bring herself to care. Not when her child is alive and safe in her arms. Not when his heart is still beating strongly in his chest and his blood is rushing through his veins, when his ribcage is expanding with each breath of air and his brain is processing everything he senses.
Tsunade squeezes him tighter and she knows he understands and right now, it's enough.