The Breakthrough - 7
It was (eventually) accepted that Uchiha Itachi had strange taste in women. Specifically one by the name of Hyuuga Hinata. He was a genius, the kind born only once every ten generations, and she was Branch Hyuuga, the only remaining genin of her ninja peers. To outsiders, it seemed like their only connection was that they had none at all.
The discrepancy might have been tolerable, as few could compare to the heir of one of the most envied clans, the master of one of the most terrifying bloodlines, the mentor of one of the most powerful teams, the vanquisher of one of the greatest evils in ninja history...etc. There was room for only one oversized resume. At the very least, politics would be more simple when only one of the couple was an heir.
But even among the mediocre, she was regarded as too soft, too meek. For sure, her dissenters thought, the politics of the noble clans would devour a mouse like her.
Hinata was used to the abruptly silenced whispers and averted glares. Neji had told her many times about fate. Fate was a unyielding master, unchangeable, and unforgiving. It was actually a form of comfort because Hinata had come to realize that even people like Neji could be wrong.
The easiest way was for them to accept it - she was not just Branch, not just genin. She was also Hyuuga.
Those present at the traitorous Hiyoshi's trial learned the story of a poised young woman who protected her family in the shadows. They were all forcibly reminded that Hinata had been born a heiress, a defender of her clan. The more shrewd Hyuuga elders wondered if the events that landed her in Branch were two-fold - it was convenient that she had a young sister originally fated to be sealed. Even if they were forbidden from discussing the circumstances, the Hokage's law did not stop them from thinking it as they eyed the Uchiha heir standing so protectively behind her - Hinata may yet be an heiress again.
There was one advantage of this odd relationship that was unanimously agreed upon - Uchiha Itachi began completing his away missions at (more) superhuman speeds. While the quality of his work never deteriorated, new motivations fueled the force of his genius.
Above all, Itachi valued his precious people.
Though he found the hurdles set before him too low, the riddles too straightforward, he could never dare to wish for a new challenge, a new puzzle. No, for that would mean trouble for Hinata, for his family, for his comrades. And they were the key building blocks of the village he cherished. Not that things ever got boring, between his comrades' antics and how easy it was to tease Hinata.
The Uchiha elders delighted over the sharp jump in performance, as it only brought more glory for the clan and village. The ambitious ones rubbed their hands in glee. A meek, malleable girl that also tied the Hyuuga to them was great advantage. (The smarter ones saw Itachi's soft expression for Hinata and bemoaned their future under Hiashi's thumb.)
Just because this time the goals of his elders and his own aligned, however, didn't mean that things were always easy.
Itachi watched the clock with blade-sharp intensity when Hinata was called to help with an interrogation. And remembered the times when she'd staggered back to him, face pale and clammy. And Hinata worried away the hours of his missions on the raw skin of her hands, because she could still smell the mix of metal and antiseptic from his hospital room.
But then when they were reunited - worn, possibly weakened, but never broken - it was like waking from a bad dream. He reminded her of her strength, and she reminded him of his heart. And with the other's support, they could face another day.
For Hinata and Itachi, it was a tumultuous existence, fraught with uncertainty and chaos and fear. And neither could be convinced to have it any other way.
AN: Thus completes our story. I'm going to take some time to craft a good epilogue, but all the important bits are in place. Now would be a good time for questions/scene requests.
If you find this chapter familiar, it's because it's a parallel (and I so love my parallels) of Chapter 1: Breaking Point - 1 and Chapter 8: An Unexpected Reaction - 1. Corny, yes, but I wanted to round out the development of Itachi and Hinata.
Finally, thank you, thank you, thank you for all your reviews and support.