Mei is strong, okay. She knows what she's doing. She can handle herself in a fight. She's one of the few shinobi in Kiri with a kekkei genkai that's managed to survive not only the academy graduation exam, but more generally, living in Kirigakure.
Her family originally hailed from Earth Country and came to Kiri as immigrants during the First War. She's been in the bottom of the Kiri caste system since she was born. The only thing that has kept her and her family from being one more notch on Kiri's genocide post is the fact that with their Lava Release, they can manage the active volcanoes under Uzushio.
Mei's a low caste almost nobody from Kiri, but she knows her stuff. She can handle the Chuunin Exams. Taki is a pretty place covered in water, but it's got nothing on Kiri's pervasive mists and stifling fogs. Mei and her team glide through the exams like they're a joke because they kind of are. She and her teammates literally had to survive almost being murdered just to get past their academy exam, not to mention to make it to fifteen years old without dying first. Solving some riddles and survival training is cake compared to that.
Except for the pair of hazel eyes that watch her every time she steps into a room.
Mei's a Kiri shinobi. She's known what it felt like to be watched, to be assessed and categorized as threatening or non-threatening since she could walk. The first time she steps into the examination room for the written exam is no different. There are several eyes on her and on the few teams from Kiri; they're justifiably feared. Many genin didn't make their first kill for months, or even years after their promotion. In Kiri, committing mass slaughter was the promotion.
She takes a seat down center so that her teammates can take the high left and right corners of the classroom. They've all got eyes on the door; they'd intentionally dressed so that Mei would get the most attention. She's the only girl, and she's pretty.
The boys are dressed in nondescript blacks and grays. Mei is in a sharp royal blue that compliments her hair. And her fingernails are painted. The fingernails alone are enough to get her clocked by any shinobi worth their salt. Fingernail polish on a kunoichi meant paralytics, poison, or both. Fashion was functional and dangerous.
The written exam is cake; Mei doesn't need to know the thousand shinobi ways to be able to cheat off those around her. The light perspiration she feels sliding down the back of her neck happens in morse code; Shin is a very helpful boy.
She breezes through the exam until she feels a pair of eyes lock singularly on her. Mei doesn't tense; instead, she looks at her fine black nails. She turns her head towards where she feels the gaze.
A blonde girl, her same age, with a Konoha hitai-ate tied loosely around her neck. She's got a wry expression on her face, like she knows exactly what Mei is doing. Her eyes are an astonishing amber color, and her white blonde hair is pulled back in a tidy tail behind her head. She's wearing a white short sleeved top with a long sleeved fishnet undershirt, and she's watching Mei like she's got all the time in the world.
Mei is pretty sure that the combined scores of Shin and Mamoru will let all three of them pass. If this Konoha kunoichi wants to play a staring contest, Mei is game.
She thinks little of the Konoha kunoichi as the survival portion of the exams begin. They have to get through seven gates in a massive maze, and the only way to get through the gate is to answer a proctor's riddle. Mei is about two minutes from burning down all the gates with hot lava and Shin is inclined to agree, but Mamoru has enough patience to last all three of them.
When they pass the seventh gate and enter the center of the maze, there are medic shinobi there to assess their minor wounds. They hadn't had to fight many shinobi, but Mei's got a nasty scrape on her left thigh from the first time she tried to climb over the high gate instead of answering the riddle. There was definitely a learning curve; there were some genin already gathered who had broken bones. Clearly hopping the gates had been everyone's idea.
As Mei scans the area, she can see the Konoha kunoichi fussing over a white haired boy. She's splinting his fingers, and Mei winces in sympathy. Finger breaks were bad for shinobi. Few people had enough deft chakra control to not have to weave hand seals. If this kid wasn't good at kenjutsu with his opposite hand, he probably wouldn't make chuunin.
The girl is rolling her eyes at him and lays her hand over his before she does the impossible. She heals the break. Her hand glows green, and the boy relaxes immediately. Mei is floored. Medical ninjutsu was possible, but there were few alive in the world who could do it effectively.
It makes her reconsider the Konoha kunoichi. She files her from 'cute' to 'dangerous/cute' and tries to figure out how to write her report back to jounin sensei about what she's just seen. Knowing that Konoha is teaching their genin medical ninjutsu is definitely something the Mizukage will want to hear about.
When the Konoha kunoichi throws a kick into the earth that makes a crater, Mei changes her classification from 'dangerous/cute' to 'dangerous/stunning'.
Mei - Mei might have a crush on the enemy.
She and her team make it to the final combat portion of the exam because they have to, or they'll face their Mizukage's wrath. His ire is the subject of their constant concern. It is difficult to not perform properly when you know that if you don't, you might be killed.
Her opponent in the second half of the exams is a boy from Ame who tries to use a suiton against her. Mei turns back his jutsu on him with a Boil Release, which leaves the entire front of his body blistered.
She wins the match, because if she doesn't, she quite literally might die when she gets back home.
She heads back to the stands, but Mamoru and Shin aren't in their seats because their matches all happened in a row. She sits down primly, having bypassed the medics after her match because she suffered no injuries.
"Nice fight out there."
Mei turns, and just behind her is the Konoha kunoichi. She's in different clothes today; a pink combat skirt with fishnet armor that rolls down her legs, and a long sleeved white shirt.
"Thanks," Mei replies.
"I didn't know Kiri shinobi were allowed to have kekkei genkai."
Mei bristles, but she gives the girl a sweet smile.
"I didn't know Konoha shinobi cared about anything that happened outside their village walls," she coos.
The kunoichi gives Mei a wicked smile.
"I didn't know Kiri shinobi were capable of caring."
They stare each other down for a good moment before their mean smiles crack into something slightly more genuine. Kunoichi are harder than shinobi for a reason; their pain tolerances are higher, their psychological strength is more formidable. Being a woman isn't easy anywhere, but it especially isn't easy when killing people is your livelihood.
So if there are certain greeting rituals amongst kunoichi that make the men balk, it's only because they don't understand. The world is easier for them. Kunoichi have to tread carefully.
"Tsunade," the Konoha kunoichi says, offering her arm.
Mei takes it and offers her own. They shake, and they both smirk at the feeling of the knives that are strapped to the other's forearm. Mei is delighted to see how short Tsunade's fingernails are.
A real smile, not a kunoichi one, curls over Mei's lips.
Tsunade raises a fine eyebrow at her.
"A pretty girl who dresses like she knows it, has short nails painted with a neurotoxin that can literally freeze the blood, and can do that," Tsunade gestures to the vaguely scorched arena walls, "with her mouth is pretty hard not to notice."
Mei smirks because she can't help herself.
"And what else have you noticed about my mouth, Tsunade-chan?"
Tsunade returns her smirk and puts her hands on her hips.
"How about I tell you after I beat your teammate?"
With that, she places her foot on the railing of the arena. She gives Mei a jaunty salute, sticking out her tongue just the barest bit. When she lands, she does it in a show-offish way. She makes a deep crater with her landing with herself at the center. She rears up to her full height with a bloodthirsty smile on her face, and Mei has no doubt that when she takes the hat, Tsunade would make an excellent Mizukage's wife.
She winces as Mamoru enters the arena. Traitorously, but prettily, she hopes he loses.