Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or any of its associated characters, locations, etc.
Warning: Some manga spoilers in the last section.
Ain't I a Woman?
90 Years Ago:
"It isn't right!" Madara raged, pacing back and forth. "Who was it that stopped the Hoshigaki clan when they tried to assassinate our Daimyo? It was the Uchiha! Who was it that brought the Nara, Yamanaka, and Akimichi clans into the Leaf Village? It was the Uchiha! Whose brother was it that sacrificed his eyes to give us a warrior strong enough to defeat our enemies? It was mine! It isn't fair for that Senju brat to be named Shodaime! We've done just as much for this village as his clan! No, we've done more!"
Uchiha Nobuyuki watched her husband with concern. She had first met him on the battlefield, when both of their clans had been hired by the same patron. She had been enraptured by the young Uchiha leader's grace and confidence. The look in his eyes said that the outcome of the fight was already determined, that there was no way he couldn't win. When he had looked at her with those eyes, it had left her breathless.
In the joint encampment, while the injured were being tended and the dead being mourned, she had approached him. He sat by a fire, sharpening his sword. Even hunched over, with his eyes dimmed to ebony and his armor sitting in a pile by his side, he still carried an unmistakable aura of command. This is a man that people will follow anywhere, she had thought.
"You fought well today," she had told him. He looked up from his sword, and once again she was gripped by the self-assurance radiated by his gaze. He had stared at her for a while, and finally said, "So did you."
Fifteen years after that moment, Nobuyuki watched her husband stride across the living room of their home. Their oldest child was away on a mission, the three middle ones were still out training, and the youngest was asleep in an adjacent room. She could see Madara's fury in every glance of his eyes, the set of his lips, the tight cords of tendons standing out on his clenched fists. "I don't think it's right, either," she said, running a hand across his shoulders in a gesture that usually calmed him when he was upset. "But the rest of our clan has agreed to it. And as long as the Shodaime recognizes our contributions..."
"And do you really think he will?'' Madara turned to face her, still agitated. "You know how these things work: those with power gain still more, and those without become ever more marginalized. Mark my words, the Uchiha will gradually become more and more shut out of the new government's power structure."
"But what can we do about it? If the others accept Hashirama-san as leader..."
Madara's eyes flashed, the confidence and determination in them as captivating as it had been over a decade ago. "The others may accept him, but I do not, and I am the leader of our clan. I will challenge Hashirama for the right to hold the Hokage title."
"The others won't like it."
An ironic smile graced Madara's face. "Probably not. And what about you? Where do you stand?"
Nobuyuki wrapped her arms around Madara's waist. "Where I've always stood, my love: by your side."
(Uchiha Nobuyuki died three days later, fighting Shodaime's bodyguards so that Madara could get to him.)
28 Years Ago:
Mikoto didn't regret what she had given up.
She had been a jounin once. She had mentored a genin team and fought in the Second Great Ninja War. But when she found out that she was pregnant, she requested to be placed on an indefinite leave from active duty.
It meant giving up some of her independence. Now that she was no longer getting paid for missions, she had to rely on Fugaku's income (which, as head of the police force, was considerable).
It meant, most likely, giving up her rank. Although she had not technically retired, if she didn't train every day and didn't go on missions, she would inevitably grow weaker and slower, and lose chakra capacity. If and when she returned to active duty, she might not be able to handle jounin-level missions for quite some time. She would have to work to regain the physical condition she had lost.
It meant being separated from the teammates who had been by her side since she was a child. Aburame Itsuko and Inuzuka Ishibe had been her companions through many dangerous times, through war and exams. Now they would be assigned a new teammate. Even if she returned to her career as a kunoichi, she would be placed with new comrades. They might be strong and honorable and friendly, but they would not be Itsuko and Ishibe.
But all her regrets vanished when she looked at her firstborn son. It was worth everything she'd given up to look into those wide, dark eyes that seemed so solemn for an infant. It was worth it to watch the first tentative, halting steps he took on his own. It was worth it to see him smile broadly, wave his tiny arms, and call, "Kaa-san! Kaa-san!"
"Everything in this life is a trade-off," her childhood friend, Nara Yoshino, told her once. "You can't have one thing without giving something else up for it. You are the only one who can decide whether the exchange is worth it. Follow the path that you believe is the right one--anyone who gives you trouble about it isn't worth your time in the first place."
Now, watching Itachi peer over the edge of the crib at his newborn brother, Mikoto reflected that Yoshino had been right. Her old friend had gone back to active duty as soon as possible after Shikamaru had been born, leaving him in the care of his father or other relatives when she was away on missions. And for her, that had been the right choice. Mikoto's choice had been different, but no less right.
No, Mikoto thought as Itachi gently laid the tip of one finger against Sasuke's forehead. I don't regret what I've given up at all.
15 Years Ago:
She could have run. Itachi made no attempt to be stealthy as he entered the house she shared with her parents and brothers. The door squeaked as he shoved it open and the floorboards creaked as he stomped through the kitchen and across the living room.
She could have run. She had to know that she was no match for him. He had the Mangekyou, and she hadn't even awakened the Sharingan. He was an ANBU squad captain, and she was a chuunin. He was a prodigy, and she was only a bit above average. Running would have been, by far, the wisest course of action.
She could have run. It was tradition among the Uchiha for the clan heir to be engaged to a girl chosen by his parents at 12 and marry her when they were both of age. She had been chosen for him, and though they hadn't known each other very well beforehand, and were too young to truly love anyone in a romantic way in the first place, he felt some sense of duty towards her. So he made no attempt to mask either his approach or his killing intent. She would know that he was coming, and what he would do when he found her.
She could have run. There was plenty of time. She could have run and left her younger brother hiding in his room, knowing that something bad was going on, but not knowing what it was. She could have run and left her older brother to fight Itachi alone, when he made his way to the dojo where the older boy was training. She could have run and left the bodies of her parents cooling at her aunt's house down the street.
She could have run. But instead, she strapped her ninja-to across her back, withdrew a handful of kunai from her weapons pouch, and stepped out of her bedroom to meet her death.
Sakura kept her eyes on Ino's back as she walked down the aisle between rows of beaming friends, family, and acquaintances. She felt giddy and light-headed. Dammit, you didn't faint when you were training yourself to exhaustion, or fighting S-rank criminals. You are not going to faint now! She smiled to herself, glad to know that Inner Sakura was still making herself heard. A platform had been set up immediately underneath the Hokage monument, and Sakura lifted her eyes to see Naruto and Kakashi standing on it. And in between them...was Sasuke.
So many years of struggle, tears, and pain had brought her to this point. Sometimes it all seemed like a dream to her, but as she slowly approached the end of the aisle, the memories returned more vividly than ever.
Facing down Madara together with her teammates and sensei had been the most terrifying experience of her life. Even Pain's destruction of Konoha and the repeated confrontations with Sasuke before Naruto convinced him to return couldn't compare. Although she carefully avoided meeting the gaze of his Sharingan eye, she could feel just by the aura of power and ruthlessness surrounding him that he had more battle experience than even the likes of Sandaime or Chiyo. "Do any of you really think you have what it takes to beat me?" he had asked, his voice dripping with contempt. "Even Itachi, even Shodaime, even your revered Fourth Hokage couldn't kill me. What makes you think you can? If you're smart, you'll give up this idiotic idea of stopping my plan and just join me. After all, you want peace, don't you? Isn't that what you said to Pain, Naruto-kun? My plan will bring peace."
"Not a real peace!" Sasuke shot back. "You want to force people to change, no matter how many have to die to bring that about. That isn't real peace, and it isn't worth the price! You're no better than Pain, or Danzou!"
"And what about the rest of you?" Madara had asked. "Are you willing to throw your lives away as well? Where do you stand?"
To Yamato and Sai's surprise, Sakura had answered before Kakashi or Naruto.
("Where I've always stood.")
"By Sasuke-kun's side."
The quest to bring Sasuke back had effectively insured that she wouldn't have a normal shinobi's career. Coasting through a few years of C- and B-rank missions before retaking the Chuunin Exams, focusing on promotions, and resting on whatever laurels she earned, had ceased to be an option. She had trained relentlessly for three years, often working on little food and less sleep, taxing her body and mind to the limit to master the complexities of medical ninjutsu and build up the chakra reserves needed for her earth-shattering strength. Many nights, she had fallen into bed aching and exhausted, and proceeded to cry herself to sleep. It would have been much, much easier to forget about her childhood crush and choose an easier path.
But when she looked back on the past few years, she was glad she hadn't.
(She didn't regret what she'd given up.)
There had been some moments when she was overwhelmed with fear. Facing Sasori, a rogue ninja who had killed over two hundred shinobi and brought down a whole country. Seeing Orochimaru standing next to Sasuke, knowing that the Sannin would never willingly let her former teammate out of his clutches. Searching for Sasuke after Itachi's death, wondering where he was and why he hadn't come back to Konoha once his greatest enemy was defeated.
There had been times when she was sorely tempted to turn her back, return to her former comfortable life as a mediocre kunoichi, write Sasuke off as a lost cause. And she could have done it. Naruto was too kind-hearted and loved her too much to blame her for it, and while Kakashi might be disappointed, he would never actually say so. If she had wanted to give up, she could have.
(She could have run.)
But she hadn't. She had persevered, and now...here she was. The grin Naruto flashed her as she took her place next to Sasuke made Lee's and Gai's seem positively dim by comparison. "Friends and comrades, we're gathered here today to celebrate the marriage of Haruno Sakura and Uchiha Sasuke. I've known both of them for a long time, and I have to say how happy I am to see them finally together..."
Sakura could hear her mother sniffling somewhere in the front row. Asuma and Kurenai's son shifted from one foot to the other, not wanting to miss his cue to hand over the rings. While Naruto read through the ritual words of the wedding ceremony, she remembered what Sasuke had said on their first day as Team Seven: "I have an ambition. To restore my clan..." She squeezed Sasuke's hand tightly. You've made my dreams come true, Sasuke. Now it's my turn to help you with yours.
"Do you, Haruno Sakura, take Uchiha Sasuke to be your lawful wedded husband? To have and to hold, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do you part?"
The ninja world could be a harsh place, particularly for those outstanding clans whose members were often sent into battle. Survival in such a world required strength of both body and mind, for women just as much as for men. Like most kunoichi, the women of the Uchiha Clan were far less delicate than their outward appearance would seem to indicate.
And Uchiha Sakura was no exception.
A/N: The title of this story is from a speech given by Sojourner Truth, an advocate for the rights of women and African-Americans back in the 1800's.
Oh, and as for why Naruto's running the wedding ceremony in the last section, it's because he's Hokage.
I hope you all enjoyed the story!