Author's Introduction: Hello! For those of you that have read my Naruto fan fiction before, I should warn you that this will be different in that this is a Historical AU set mainly in China but will also feature Japan. This fic was a challenge set forth by the Neji x Tenten FC. This fic will contain multiple chapters and include alternate pairings and well as canon, possible love triangles (we'll see!) and general romantic confusion – all during a feud between rather untraditional clans. But hopefully I'll manage to clear everything up by the end.

I admit that my knowledge on historic China is limited and I am learning as I go, so I will be taking artistic license with history and Asian tradition. I hope that doesn't offend anyone! Honestly, for the most part I won't be mentioning historic events because I would probably mess up. :P

This fic will contain mild sexual content later on as well as violence, so please heed the Teen rating.

Lastly, I will warn everyone that I am a student and thus in the middle of classes as well as extracurricular activities and work, so updates are just as likely to be slow as fast, depending on time and inspiration. Please don't be upset with me if I need a break.

And if you read all of that you get a cookie! Thank you for your patience, and please enjoy the story.

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto and am making no profit from this fanfiction.

Cutting Water

By Nessie

China. Zhou (Tang) Dynasty. 740 A.D.

Moonlight arced through the thick canopy of a country forest, sending shafts of light between tree trunks that provided perfect cover. A lock of pale hair fell in front of dark eyes as clouds rolled between an armed man and the waxing crescent above. When the moon was revealed once again, the grey stone of a mighty wall could be seen, stretching up so as to greet the heavens but not higher the canopy.

And this was it, the hidden man mused. This bland rock was the fortress of the House of Long, one of China's most honored families? A faint smirk materialized on his otherwise emotionless face. Perhaps his lord had overestimated his target. Even from ten feet away, it was possible to find several footholds in the stone that would allow him simple access to the top of the wall, and if there were things to grip on one side, there would also be some on the other side.

Stealing into the wide compound before him would be too easy a task. Setting a hand on his hip, the pale-haired hider felt the weight of his sheathed sword. Murder, however, would be even more effortless. Yet he would act otherwise, upon his return, telling his lord how closely-lost his triumph had been and how the blood that would soon coat his blade was hard won.

A night bird called, and the smirk became a grin. With the scaling of an unimpressive fortress for what was sure to be a meager compound, he would rise in ranks and favor among his own, and when he was as close to the top as he could manage without trickery, he would do to his lord what he was about to do to the leader of the Long clan. And it would be hethat was undisputed, as he never had been in his life, he that was respected and adored, with his hands so full of power that it would overflow like a pond during a rainstorm.

And when he was at that point, he would look back and remember that all of it had begun with this ugly stone wall.

The moon became clouded again, hindering him, but he went forth in spite of it. Was it not right that he start his legacy in darkness? Arriving at the wall, he reached out—

But never touched it.

Pressure was felt in his lower back, something he quickly identified to be the point of a sword. He dropped his arm to unsheathe his own weapon, but the pressure intensified when his hand fell upon the hilt. He was pricked and felt blood trickle down the flesh covering his spine, and he opted for making no more sudden moves before the threat was removed.

"It is too calm a night for a battle," he murmured, hoping that his strange choice of words would confuse his opponent enough to give him a window of opportunity.

"Calm nights like this," came the response, "are my favorite for staining the earth with blood." The voice was low but not deep enough to be male. "Just what have we here?" And then he felt a jerk when the enemy hand not holding a sword at his back pulled down on his collar. The front of the collar came up to his throat, choking him slightly, but then— "Uchiha. I expected nothing less. Your lord makes the mistake of sending his most useless spy to infiltrate my home, and there will be consequences for that."

At first, the spy had been relieved to know that it was only a woman trying to apprehend him. But the way she said consequences gave him second thoughts, and he suddenly wished to see her face – and how well she performed with a blade.

"Useless, am I?" he muttered.

But then, another voice met his ears and, as with the woman, he had not detected the presence. "Well, not entirely useless. Perhaps." This voice was undoubtedly male, strong and even pompous in its tone. "Though I hesitate to think Uchiha will have given this underling very much information for us to go by."

"Even so," added yet another voice (the spy was now experiencing slight panic at the growing number of enemies), "would it not be wasteful to kill him at this moment?" This voice was very similar to the previous one, if a little higher.

The woman gave a small exhale, only audible to the spy because she was so near to him. "Yes, you're correct." With this, the pressure of her sword's point went away, and the spy swiftly pivoted. A foot wasted no time in kicking his legs out from beneath him, and he fell to his knees.

Again the moon was exposed, and he came face to face with his captor.

A woman of average height and lean build stood before him, her head angled downward in order to get a proper look at him. Her features were nearly expressionless in her analysis of him; a strong jaw remained set beneath eyes the color of damp wood. Her hair, only a bit darker than that, she wore in tight buns atop her head.

After several wordless moments, she lifted a dark eyebrow and tapped the flat of her sword against her shoulder in contemplation. The motion distracted him, and he caught sight of the faintest line of blood – his blood – upon the steel. How ironic, for he now realized that it was supposed to have been her blood upon his sword.

At last, when he thought the weight of her continuous silence would crush him, she said evenly, "The face of an Uchiha spy is truly quite disappointing. I was sure that there might have been at least a trace of competence."

He sucked in, about to spit at her, but her hand fell fast upon his mouth, fingers digging into the hollows of his cheeks. He made a pathetic sound of pain; her grip was bruising. Now her face was within mere inches of his, her brown eyes large and defiant. And finally she broke out with a grin that held more victory than mirth; it was easy to tell just by this that this woman was used to winning. "Do not try to disgrace me. China has already been shamed just by bearing your fool clan." Her voice positively dripped with a queer mixture of disgust for him and pride for her country.

"My lady. What shall we do with him?" asked the deep-voiced man who, now that the spy could see him, was significantly older than the other man, yet the two looked nearly identical.

She drew away then, and brushed at her sword on the grass at her feet. Stowing the blade in a sheath on her back, and turned to her older companion. "Lock him in the west block. That way he will know that the sun is setting over him. And his clan."

The spy could only watch her begin away as the older man laid an iron grip on him and hauled him up. There was now a door on the wall, one he had not seen even with the moon lighting it, and he saw her pause before entering the compound. "Lee."

"My lady?" replied the younger man.

"Tell Kiba and Shino that I am assigning them to meet our guest tomorrow. He will be arriving on the afternoon ship."

"Of course," Lee answered. As the woman disappeared into the compound, he turned his eyes to his look-alike comrade and asked, "Is she pleased that he is coming, Gai-shi fu?"

The elder man named Gai, Lee's teacher, gave a smile, poorly seen in the dim light but seen nonetheless. "She is not sure yet. But all of us know that he must come." He turned a black gaze upon the spy he restrained. "Be wary of this guest, for he is the one that will cause the sun to set upon your entire clan."

The spy spit successfully this time. "We have dealt with those who have tried."

"He shall bring the sunset," Gai repeated, ignoring his retort. "And my lady shall bring the dawn."


The day before.

It was Hyuuga Neji who faced the dawn on Japan's easternmost shore. All around him, sailors were scurrying to finish the final preparations on the ship that would, in a matter of minutes, be taking him to China. The salty breeze whipped at the loose folds of his clothing as sea spray dampened the dock on which he stood, waiting for the signal to board.

He was being watched and knew it, and when he could take it no longer he turned to confront the pair of green eyes with his own unusual white ones. "You've no need to look at me so, Sakura."

Haruno Sakura held a hand up to block her cherry hair as it flew around her face with the morning wind. Her eyes were worried, as they often were, and the hand not protecting her face was held in a tight fist at her stomach. She shook her head and gave him a small, less-than-genuine smile. "Yes, I do." To her, the man with a haversack slung over his shoulder was more than a branch-house son from the honored Hyuuga clan of eastern Japan. And she…she could only hope that she was as much to him. "Neji, did your uncle tell you how long you will be gone?"

"No," he replied briskly. He noticed it when her eyes dropped to her feet and told himself not to feel sorry for it. Neji was a man of twenty, one who believed that honesty was absolutely necessary. And it was because of this belief that he continued with, "Sakura…you should not wait for me."

He had expected the stereotypical female reaction; tears, pleas, the kind of thing they heard as children from story telling old women. Sakura responded with neither. Rather, her smile became sincere and she stepped closer to him. She placed a hand modestly upon the wrist he kept by his side, next to the sheath of his sword. "And yet I will," she murmured to him, then took her hand away as was proper, clutching at her heart with it.

He decided it would not hurt to question her. "Why?"

"I choose to. I will study. I will learn the ways of a healer, and I will make myself useful to you."

Neji was unsure of how to reply to the heartfelt words. She was only a year younger than him but still seemed so much like a girl, wearing her heart on her sleeve. He averted his gaze to the golden sun that was now rising above deep waters growing bluer by the second. "I must ask you to keep my cousin company when her father goes away. She often becomes lonely."

"I will protect Lady Hinata for you, Neji," answered Sakura, who understands right away the hidden meaning in his words. Though it was a fact that Neji held no true conviction for his cousin, for though Neji's uncle Hyuuga Hiashi was without sons, he had still decided that Hinata – not Neji – take leadership of the House of Hyuuga upon her marriage. Bitterness still governed most of Neji's heart. And try as she might, Sakura had so far been unsuccessful in changing that.

"Hyuuga-sama!" Both of them turned to see a middle-aged sailor waving from the ship's boarding plank, beckoning to Neji. "We will leave when you say so."

Neji turned back to her but Sakura spoke first. "There is no sense in wasting time."

"I'll help them, those family members of Long." Sudden determination had entered Neji's eyes, but Sakura knew it was from the need to prove himself rather than from any actual desire to be of assistance. "When their enemy is defeated, I will return."

He turned away and walked toward the ship. Sakura felt a part of her reaching out, wishing to grab him. She could not remember a time when she had been without Neji, and now...

The boarding plank was pulled, the sails were dropped, and then the ship was floating away from the dock, toward the sun. Neji looked back at Sakura only once, knowing things had been left unsaid. When the ship was too far out for him to see her any longer, he faced the distant horizon. His gaze was more piercing than the morning chill of the water.

What experiences would China hold for him, he wondered. Could his fate there be any more meaningful than the one that awaited him in Japan? Well-developed pessimism told him it was unlikely.

And yet there was always that one part of him, the piece of his will that life's cruelties had not been able to spoil, that dared to hope. And that part was waiting.


The storm struck at midnight. Unforeseen from the south, gales rocked the ship and its occupants with earthquake force, and it was all the sailors could do to keep the ship on course. Neji did as he must, staying out of the way and letting the trained men do their frantic work. Water pounded the sides of the ship and hundreds of frigid raindrops stabbed the Hyuuga's flesh like needles, the sheets of water so thick that it was nearly impossible to see four feet in front of him.

He kept a strong grip on only his sword, which he had triple-tied to his right leg. The storm's wicked wrath broke chunks of wood off the mast, seen clearly only when lightning cracked the death-dark sky. The shouts of the sailors were lost to the wind, ruining communication.

It was when Neji noticed all of the sailors stopping dead in their tracks and facing the prow that Neji too turned…and he saw the tidal wave, larger than any he had seen in his life. The entire crew had frozen, knowing any more effort was useless and that their end was inevitable. In the seconds that the wall of water started to arc and then fall, Neji had only one thought.

It was a dragon. A cold, vicious, man-hungry water dragon.

But Neji never had the chance to feel the massive wave hit. A large plank of wood tore off from the starboard side and beat into the back of his neck. His world went dark before the dragon feasted.

In China, a woman prevented a spy of the Uchiha clan from entering the Long compound and destroying their way of life, while Hyuuga Neji was tossed by the Asian sea – toward her.

To Be Continued…