Sixteen and she is a diplomat-a gesture of peace and friendship from the Whirlpool. A sacrifice, Mito thinks, only a little bitterly. She tries hard to swallow and ignore the burn of nervousness as it curls along her spine.

"What hair she has."

Mito is unsure what to make of that. It is not the first time someone has noted her Uzumaki coloring. Yet, this is hardly the political affair she had expected.

This was the location mentioned in the scroll. Her official introduction as Whirlpool ambassador to Leaf. Today, before the founders themselves. And the first words to her are about her hair?

Mito has to check the impulse to rock back on her heels, and she presses her lips together against the urge to speak out of turn. Only two men sit at the front of the long, featureless room. Everything looks clean and neat: unused. All is pristine-except the two men.

Both are faintly dusty and look as if they've just come in from the construction going on everywhere outside. Their dirt-streaked forearms and the deep tan of their faces put Mito at a loss. Neither look like the grand, poetic figures she has been prepped to impress. They wear no armor, and no clan affiliation is evident. As they are now, all she can see are a pair of laborers so alike in coloring that they might be brothers.

It is the wilder of the two who spoke, she decides. He is lounging at the low table with all the indolence of a jungle cat. Eyes as dark as the timbre of his voice are tracking her frustration with ill-concealed amusement.

"Madara." Is the soft reprimand which follows the comment. This time it is the taller man who speaks and he offers her a faint smile in welcome.

His eyes flit down to a neat stack of documents. Before he can politely scramble for her name among his appointments, Mito feels her shoulders draw back.

In a voice far firmer than she intended, she announces, "I am Mito. Diplomat of the Whirlpool Village and daughter of the esteemed Uzumaki Clan."

Both men are silent as her tone rings, bright and proud, in the empty hall.

Then the man who had spoken so casually-Madara, she thinks-smiles slowly. The other presses his hands into the wooden desk and sighs. His eyes are earnest as he replies, "I am Hashirama, elder of the Senju Clan and co-founder of Konoha. This is Madara," he gestures to his companion, "of the-"

"Esteemed Uchiha Clan." Madara breaks in, watching Mito as he parrots her.

Hashirama ignores his mild rudeness, and continues: "I apologize for the informality of this first appointment. The Village itself is gradually developing. Efforts are spent largely on the planning of the city proper and the establishment of shinobi programs."

Mito feels chastised, even though Hashirama's tone is placid and not at all accusatory. "I understand, of course," she demurs. Her weight swings back as she sways in place, casting about for the right thing to say. Nervousness overpowers her efforts toward proper-appearances, and Mito feels her stiff kimono shuffle around her as she fidgets.

The whisper sound of her hair ornaments, which she had inked so carefully in preparation for this day, seem silly now. She is woefully overdressed, though the men are at least kind enough not to mention it directly.

The slim, precise seals only flutter in her hair, taunting her with the reality of her faux paus. At once, they spark a thought. "I am proficient in seal-working." Glancing back toward Hashirama, Mito offers a quieter, "If that is at all of assistance."

She slips a sliver of paper from her sleeve and asks, "May I?"

Both men eye the bit of parchment for a beat longer than Mito can stand, and she begins to tuck it away with an apology when Madara makes a gesture. His large hand waves her nearer-and without allowing herself to think, Mito approaches.

Her small steps clack unnervingly in the empty hall. She can feel her face flush as she draws up to the low table where the men are seated. Bending primly at the waist, she plucks up the object of her effort: an empty pitcher. The heavy glass thing clinksas she replaces it.

She's so nervous her hands are trembling as she lifts her fingers into a one-handed sign. Her concentration is on the inked bit of scroll, and she doesn't see the two men shift into harder-faced versions of themselves as her chakra flares.

Only the cool, liquid sound of water bubbling up in the container breaks the sudden tension. Mito's smile is wide and genuine when the little summoning runs smoothly.

"I am certain," Hashirama says with steady praise, "that your abilities will be invaluable to the Leaf."

It feels prophetic when Madara breaks the short peace with a laugh. He sets his shoulders toward Hashirama without looking away from the beaming Mito. "If that's all?" He asks but disappears without waiting for an answer. The impression of that quiet laughter and the scent of woodsmoke are all that is left behind.

Hashirama simply pours them each a glass of her water, then suggests a tour of the fledgling city. Mito gladly accepts both.

AN: Thank you for reading. Visit my LJ for more information for this and other projects.