Mizuhi sat quietly, fidgeting, beside her new partner, Zabuza, in the corner. They were away from all the others, and Mizuhi didn't mind it too much. If Zabuza tolerated her enough to not ask for a partner swap, then she didn't need anybody but him. None of these other kids mattered.

"Hey Zabuza?" she whispered, bringing her knees to her chest.

She received a small grunt in response, probably indicating that he was listening.

"Can we... I-I mean... you and me... can we be friends?"

"Friends."

"Yeah. I mean, I know we're partners and all, but that doesn't mean we gotta be friends. We just gotta get along. But can we be friends though? Would you mind being partners first and after that we're just friends?"

He shrugged. "Why not? I just don't see why you'd wanna be friends with your partner."

She shrugged back. "I dunno. I just think that... we're gonna train together, right? A lot. And when we're done every day, I don't..."

"You don't wanna just leave each other?" Zabuza finished softly, find the words she couldn't. "You wanna be able to say 'Good job today' and 'see you tomorrow'? So you know you're, like... not totally by yourself. You know someone's going through everything you are."

Mizuhi nodded at his wise words. He'd certainly put it better than she could have, being two weeks shy of six. "Yeah. If I get hurt, I... I wanna know someone's gonna help me fix it. I won't hafta do it without no help."

"Yeah." He draped an arm over his knee, letting out a small yawn. "Guess that wouldn't be so bad. But hey, just 'cause you're a few years younger, don't think I'm gonna baby you. If we fight - and we will fight, you and me - I'm comin' at you with all I got."

"No problem. I can do that too."

"Good. 'Cause if you ever lose to me, Mizu-chan... I'll hafta help you train harder, okay?"

"I don't care. I gotta be a ninja - whatever it takes!"

"Cool, cool. Me too." He put his hands behind his head, trying to provide some comfort against the cold, hard wall. "Hey, did you hear about that iniciation thing - the one where the sensei make you drink water outta their shoes they been wearing all day? I wonder if it's true."

Mizuhi made a face. "Oh, yuck! I'm not ever doing that."

"Even if it'd make you a ninja?"

"Well..." Mizuhi considered this for a minute or two, wondering whether or not she really would do it, if she could become a shinobi because of it. "I, um... I dunno. Maybe?"

Zabuza rolled his eyes, grunting softly. "Feh. 'Maybe' isn't good for anything, Mizu-chan."

"Sorry, Zabu-kun... I'll make my mind up by the time we gotta do it."

"Whatever. All I know is that I'm gonna do whatever I have to."

"Me too."

"... You better, or I'm not gonna be yor friend anymore."

Mizuhi looked down, her hand drifting up. She debated taking Zabuza's hand in her own, but then her hand dropped back into her lap. Even if she was only five, she knew what personal space meant. And she could tell that Zabuza liked his personal space, so she ought to keep her hands to herself... for now. "I guess we're always gonna be friends then, 'cause I'm never giving up!"

"Well, Mizu-chan, I think you're gonna want to give up... sometimes, I mean. When it's really hard. But no matter what anyone says to you, no matter what you say to you, no matter how much you wanna quit... do yourself a favor, and don't."


It was nearly sunset when everyone had found their partners. Mizuhi had almost fallen asleep against the wall (and half kinda on Zabuza's shoulder), and Megumi had been using the time to sharpen and polish her kunai knives, grinning whenever she finished the task on one of them. Everyone else had been waiting with their own partners - some talking, some just regarding each other with callous boredom. They were all just killing time until the last few pairs had found each other.

And at last, all the partner matches had been completed. Everyone was either sitting or standing next to their new "training buddy", and they were waiting for Megumi to begin.

Megumi glanced up from her kunai, and now seemed to notice that everybody had been paired off. "Good, good. I wasn't expectin' to get to it before midnight at the earliest. Gimme one sec." She stashed her knives away in her sensei bag, and shook her brown hair, showing off the shiny Kirigakure headband beneath her bangs. She was teasing them, asking if they thought they were good enough to wear one just like it; issuing them a challenge. "Okay. Now, when I ask this question, none of ya are gonna just shout what you think the answer is. You're gonna raise your hands like good children an' wait till I call ya. An' the question is..." She clasped her hands behind her back, facing all of them. "What do you think is most important when bein' a shinobi of the Mist?"

All of the kids looked at each other for a minute, their eyes wide. Zabuza and Mizuhi did so as well, though their eyes weren't as big as everyone else's. Zabuza looked more resentful of Megumi for asking such a weird question, and Mizuhi looked more frightened because she didn't know the answer. How were any of them supposed to know the answer to that? Sure, some of their parents had been shinobi, but teaching their children anything about the secrets of the trade was taboo until the kids had entered the Academy. And it wasn't like they could run home and ask their parents real fast; some of their parents weren't even around anymore. And no doubt that Megumi would say no to that.

The black-haired girl from before, Misa, slowly raised her hand, the bravest of them all at the moment.

"Yes, Misa," Megumi called, tossing her caramel locks again and once more making the children ache for the feeling of the forehead protecter against their own skin.

Misa put her hand down. All the children in the room held their breath, leaning forward for her answer. Would she be right? They hoped she wouldn't answer wrong. They knew what this village did to failures. "Isn't it, like... being loyal to Mizukage-sama? Never, ever being a missing-nin and staying here always and being awesome for the village?"

Megumi smiled, but there was a hint of something else hiding under that smile. Condescension... patronizing laughter, maybe, mocking that the girl had not been correct and the answer was so simple to someone like Megumi. "Good answer, but not quite. Bein' loyal is pretty important. But loyalty isn't always everythin' it's cracked up to be. Suppose someone is very loyal to our village, but they're not much of a shinobi? That's not as useful as, say... a stronger shinobi. A younger one, faster, who can execute everythin' the way they're supposed to. But loyalty... heh. Loyalty ain't worth shit. You can be loyal to a village your entire life, right up till your dyin' breath, and never get nothin' for all of it. Nah... loyalty ain't most important."

Misa shrunk back down, her blue eyes pointing toward the dirt ground in disappointment. "Oh. I see."

"Anybody else willin' to give it a try?" Megumi's dark eyes scanned the room for any raised hands she may have missed. She crossed her arms over her chest, which the thank top over her long-sleeved shirt left somewhat exposed. "Come on, don't tell me ya all are scared. It's just a question. The worst that can happen is that you get it wrong, ne?"

All of them looked at one another again. After Misa got it wrong, nobody else really wanted to come up with an answer. What if they were wrong too?

"Okay, fine. If nobody's gonna, I guess I'm gonna hafta pick somebody." Megumi's eyes made a thorough sweep of the room, looking for any scared little shinobi-to-be, before they rested on Mizuhi, who was inching close to Zabuza by the second. "You!" She pointed a slender, shoddily-painted finger at Mizuhi, who was trembling. "Mizuhi. What do ya think is most important? What are you gonna focus on?"

Mizuhi blinked a few times, and Zabuza glanced over at her. She looked like she was about to cry, and he groaned mentally. Great, now you've done it, Sensei.

Mizuhi took a breath, and swallowed. "U-Um..." She reached down to play with the hem of her plum-colored dress. "I-I think... I think it's... i-is it friendship that's most important? G-Getting along with your squad and... and... respecting..." She shook her head. "Is that it?"

Megumi let out a "pfft" noise. "If you think that's most important, Mizuhi-chan, you ain't gonna last long. I think you ought shape that up and start thinkin' a little harder if you're gonna be a shinobi. I ain't sayin' friendship ain't valuable, but shinobi don't need friends. They can have 'em, sure. But what good is it gonna do if they get killed or their friend gets killed? Havin' no emotional ties is best for shinobi. It's their choice, but if they fall apart after their friend gets killed, they're not gonna be much use, are they?" She blew her bangs up, giving them all a third look at her hitai-ate. "How about her partner? Zabuza?"

Zabuza glanced up at Megumi, then at Mizuhi, then back at his sensei before answering. "Strength."

Megumi grinned, in a sort of sadistic way. "Strength? That whatcha said?"

Zabuza shrugged. "Yeah. I mean, a village is only as strong as its weakest ninja, right? So we all gotta be strong."

Megumi let out a wild laugh, throwing her hair once again. "Ha-ha-ha, strength! I think we just found the brightest crayon in the box! Zabuza, you're absolutely correct!" She took one of the kunai out of her bag, then began tossing it up and down, always catching it by the handle and avoiding the tip. "Are any of you able to do this? Throw a kunai and never cut yourself with it?" She caught the kunai, and held her hair up. She tied the kunai into her hair to hold in a bun. "Or use it to put your hair up without drawin' blood?" She lowered herself down to sit on the floor again, crossing her legs. "Zabuza-kun is right. When you're goin' on bein' a shinobi of the Mist Village, you can't be a weaklin'. Ya gotta have heart, ya gotta have brains, ya gotta have the will to go on when everythin' says ya can't. No matter how much it hurts, if you don't go past it, you're weak."

Everyone looked at their partner. Mizuhi immediately grabbed Zabuza's hand, ignoring personal space for the moment. She wanted to be strong, but it was going to be hard if she had to push on even if the pain was the worst she'd ever felt in her life. She squeezed Zabuza's hand, mentally asking him if he was going to help her through it.

He squeezed back, not as tightly, and then let go. "Hey, don't worry," he said lowly, his eyes never leaving Megumi. "I told you I'd be with you every step of the way. I'll make you strong, Mizu-chan."

She smiled a little, just a little, and leaned closer to his ear. "You don't worry either," she whispered. "I'll get strong for you, Zabu-kun."


BA-NA-NA-NA-NA. Behold. XD

Reviews please! They ish my food source. *pulls out giant fork* OM NOM NOM.

I hope this wasn't too out of character for Zabuza... he IS only eight after all, he's still widdle...

Hope you liked! ^^