Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto. Some other bloke does…
Notes: Written ages ago, when I was stupidly ill, for eloquencelost/bittereloquence. The first of many Crangst-fics I've written since then! I've tweaked it a little, but it works so much better with the picture! XD
The Battle of the Bridge fiasco had taught Momochi Zabuza a lot about the Hidden Leaf, but it hadn't been the first time he'd been matched with Hatake Kakashi.
The first time he'd met the Copy Nin he'd been fourteen. Stuck in that awkward age between wanting absolutely nothing and wanting to hump grass. That little-boy limbo, between maturity and childhood, shrouded in a new, bungled lust. Kakashi had been fifteen, a Jounin, a faceless representative of a country far away; and had wanted nothing.
Some dark cloud followed Kakashi – like a dust storm, hot and dry and coiling - and Zabuza followed that, entranced by the glimpses of metal on fabric and small limbs – like his – not filling out like they should. Zabuza had been a ninja for a while now. A prodigy, apparently, and he'd heard of this envoy's name when other prodigies were discussed, and he could sympathise with the way Kakashi dug tiredly at his thigh as he sat tensely by the Konoha camp. Injuries took longer to heal when the muscle hadn't finished developing. Zabuza'd bet one of his smaller swords that no one had explained that to Kakashi when they'd encouraged him to wriggle through the ranks of the Hidden Leaf.
Zabuza had approached the boy days later, when the Talks had ended and diplomacy had triumphed and Kakashi seemed to be doing little aside from staring through the mist, to where the lapping waves licked the pocketed shorelines of their village. His comrade, a mousey little medic nin with some glint of…something… in her eye, had left long ago. Too small to catch Zabuza's attention.
"Hatake-san." Zabuza had greeted, thankful of the new gravel roughness of his voice as he greeted the other prodigy, the tip of his sword bobbed a little against the ground. Kakashi never moved a fraction, his gaze sweeping slowly across the length of that sword to snap back at Zabuza, his single eye narrowing in a way that made Zabuza feel a hundred times exposed. Zabuza wasn't an attractive boy, he knew that, but he was skilled and strong.
"Shut your mouth." Kakashi's voice, though short, was calm, controlled. "I've heard enough bullshit this week to last me a life time."
A wry grin, a twist of his sword, and Zabuza knew exactly where the Copy Nin was coming from. The governing of his village, at least, was something Zabuza had an opinion on. "The Mist council will say anything to get their way. They're… unworthy of leadership. They'll probably want us to attack the Leaf in a few weeks."
"The Leaf isn't a nation that takes promises lightly." Kakashi murmured, subtly fingering a kunai in automatic response to having an exposed weapon so nearby. "It's a really fucking stupid idea to mess us about."
Zabuza took a step closer, oh so daring, his sword tracing small dashes into the sandy mud. "Why do you serve your village?"
"It's my duty as a shinobi of Konoha, for as long as my Hokage is true." The tone was bored, drawling, and Zabuza knew by the nearly recited line that their conversation was over. Two little boys speaking about politics, and Kakashi couldn't know that mere months later a mighty coup d'etat would wash upon Wave's doorstep. Zabuza bowed before turning, slowly, taking the boy to memory just in case they never passed each other again, and allowed his sword to tease along Kakashi's arm as he stole away into the mist.
A genius, then; just like him.
Now, on the bridge, Kakashi can see something twisting in his opponent, can sort of recall an ugly little boy that followed him around one hard week amidst a hundred hard weeks. A genius, apparently, compared up and down to Hatake Kakashi, the famous Copy Ninja.
'The severity of this mission turned unexpectedly more intense, and we were confronted by at least one hostile missing nin, A-Class' This is how Kakashi's report will eventually read for the dedicated eyes of the Chuunin on the mission desks. A pleasant little code for 'This simple little mission is rapidly going all to shit.'
Uchiha Sasuke has been injured behind Haku's icy hall of mirrors – and severely – Kakashi can tell by the fierce waves of chakra that only moments ago stopped rolling from Naruto, waves that smelled like his Sensei's kitchen used to just before he announced they'd be better off eating out tonight, kids. The bright streaks of murderous intent probably don't smell quite like that to anyone else, but Kakashi's moments of pleasant nostalgia are rare and fleeting, and he's learned to just take strength where he can get it thank-you-very-much.
Zabuza probably doesn't think that way.
He's all wrapped up in what Kakashi is sure is fashionable angst – the kind that is anchorless and radiating because that's just what A-Class Missing Nin are supposed to be like. But then, Zabuza is the youngest of the Seven Swords of the Mist and his actions now prove it – he's a mercenary. There was never any moral conviction there, so no dreams were shattered, right?
Momochi Zabuza is a strange reflection of Kakashi, face all covered and hitae-ate askew. He's more heartless on the outside then Kakashi is now, but probably started off the other way round. He probably never had anything to prove, but he's doing an alright job of being Kakashi's double. The Copy Nin is secretly just glad the man isn't stalking him. It's only happened a few times, but nobody stalks Gai the way they do him, or Genma. He can remember teasing Sensei about his stalkers, the blonde man's valiant attempts not to throw them into a tree, and Kakashi doesn't really feel he's worthy of that mess.
Haku's starting to notice Kakashi's changing stance, he's starting to wonder about Kakashi's sudden calm, and Kakashi's starting to wish that Sasuke was conscious (Because he's not dead. They're never dead until Kakashi's buried them. It's the rule.). Because Sasuke would see what Haku can see and find a way of distracting those glassy eyes. Naruto can only vie for his attention, but Haku's too much Sasuke's double in skill – a pretty boy prodigy with no clan and a bloodline limit to haunt him with – to notice Naruto's worn out grief, or listen to Naruto's almost childish proclamations. Naruto's never had a family either, and one day someone's going to listen when he says that, because Kakashi's never going to let him stop talking. Despite how annoying that's going to get.
"You're too dangerous to allow to live." Kakashi explains to Zabuza, just before he pulls the dogs out. He means it; there's no reason to take little boys and use them in death games, there's no reason to allow someone with a personal interest in you and really big fucking sword to just live on. Kakashi has no real interest in Zabuza, and it worries him to see that metallic, knowing glint in his eyes and not understand what his opponent is getting out of all this.
Kakashi has no sympathy for child prodigies or child geniuses – he was one, he knows how much work it takes to make it look effortless, he's honed it to a fine skill. There's only one more thing that annoys Kakashi to the point of chidori'ing someone for the sake of it, the show of it – and he even yells a little as the electricity reaches its furious peak, because what's the point in giving an enemy something original, if you're not going to give them a show? – Zabuza doesn't care about his comrades. He just wants to look like a great ninja, because he stepped from that path when he killed half his village.
Zabuza doesn't care about his comrades, and Kakashi hates fan-boys.
Then Haku gets in the way, and Kakashi isn't sure who's reflecting whom.