Kakashi would never admit it, but he was a little relieved that he didn’t see as much of Rin after Obito’s death. The Uchiha’s absence was a constant reminder that their team had been forever marred by tragedy. He could not seem to look at Rin without also seeing the gaping hole between them, so Kakashi welcomed the circumstances. Their leader had quickly risen to be a prominent figure. And, at first anyway, there was still a war on. It only made sense to split up Team Seven’s remaining two members to pad other teams as needed.
But even after the war ended, no one arrived to bring them back together and patch Team Seven’s hole. Their leader was now Hokage, and it wasn’t like Rin and Kakashi were still genin. So things continued on along this new pattern. Kakashi fulfilled his promise to watch over Rin from afar. And, in that guarded place in his heart where he kept just a few other secrets, he was relieved. It was just… easier this way.
So he was wholly unprepared when Rin suddenly reached in and pulled out one of those secrets to examine in the harsh light of their campfire. Rin had been selected as Kakashi and Gai’s medic for this particular mission, and the two were sharing a rare moment of privacy. Gai slept just feet away, and it was technically Kakashi’s watch, but Rin had remained awake as well, despite his protests. But this was not so bad. They sat in companionable silence for a long time.
Until Rin finally broke the silence with a quiet, “…Kakashi?”
He tilted his head ever so slightly to indicate that he was listening. “Yeah?”
“I’ve been meaning to apologize…” Her eyes were dark and sad, older than he ever wanted to see them. “For back then…”
His brows furrowed, though she could only see one of them. He was already feeling the strain. Kakashi had never exactly been the most social of their classmates, but when had making conversation with Rin become so hard? Scratch that. He knew. What a stupid question. The ghost of Obito sat between them even now. He cleared his throat. “Um… What do you mean?”
She looked him straight on then, and he had to force himself not to look away. “My little crush back then. Looking back I can see that it was just… totally inappropriate. I mean, we were in the middle of a war. Maybe if I’d only focused on my training a little more—“
“You did your part, Rin,” he cut in quickly. He could barely keep his head above the surface of his own guilt. He was in no position to rescue Rin from hers. “The rest was up to Obito and me. I’m the one who should be apologizing.”
She just shook her head and there was another moment of total stillness. But she wasn’t letting this go. Kakashi wondered if she had specifically requested a mission with him for this chance to get this off her chest. “Even so… It was an unfair burden to place on you. Unrequited love can hurt on both sides of things. I would know.”
And there was Obito. The unspoken presence between them that never seemed to go unspoken for long.
“…I guess we made for a pretty complete love triangle, huh?” he said at last, just to say something.
Rin’s look was heavy. Meaningful. In response she murmured, “Better than I understood at the time.”
Kakashi was starting to feel uneasy. He realized all too well that they’d reached the crux of the matter, what Rin really wanted to discuss. But he couldn’t quite see what that was yet. Or rather, he didn’t want to see it.
Her shrewd gazed focused in on the fire flickering before them. “I’ve been thinking lately… About how the way we think about love triangles is flawed.”
She stretched forward and grabbed a stick, one end scorched by the fire, and began drawing a diagram in the dirt. “In movies and books, there are usually two boys in love with the same girl. Or two girls in love with the same boy. But that’s not a complete triangle, see?”
Indeed, the lines did not connect. Rin had drawn two arrows converging on one point.
“More commonly in real life,” she continued, “there will be a girl who loves a boy, but the boy loves a different girl.”
In this diagram, the arrows formed three points in a mostly straight line. Kakashi’s heartbeat began to pick up speed.
“But in order for it to be a true triangle,” Rin went on, “it would have to look like this. Boy loves girl, girl loves other boy, other boy loves boy.” And finally, the three lines connected to form a true triangle.
There was a sharp pain in Kakashi’s chest. He realized he’d begun holding his breath and tried to inhale as quietly as possible. Rin turned back to look at him again, but this time he turned his head away. He wondered what she saw in that split second, though. A flash of panic? The pain from his chest of secrets being smashed open plain on his face?
He remained turned away from her for a long time. He couldn’t face her just yet. Not when she seemed to understand the chaos in his head better than he understood it himself. Somewhere along the way, his grief had taken an odd turn. He had no reservations about idolizing Obito and all that his memory stood for. But this… This was something else. Something he’d been afraid to approach, lest acknowledging it give those feelings a permanent place in his heart. Because he couldn’t think about Obito that way. It just… It just wasn’t…
“It’s okay,” Rin said quietly.
Yes, that. It was absolutely not that.
“Kakashi,” she pressed. “You don’t have to explain to me how someone could fall in love with Obito. He was… beautiful. Through and through.”
But you didn’t fall in love with him, he wanted to point out. He didn’t. He remained silent and unmoving.
“I just wanted to say… that I get it. I know all too well how much it hurts when someone doesn’t… when someone can’t return your feelings. And you still have me if you ever want to talk.”
Kakashi didn’t move until he heard her finally settle into her sleeping bag for the night. Until he went to rouse Gai to take over the watch. And if the third member of their squad noticed that the other two didn’t make eye contact for the remainder of the mission, he didn’t say anything.
Later, as the years passed and put some distance between his mind and his adolescent insecurities, Kakashi would be able to acknowledge the things Rin had known all along. How there had always been something charming and magnetic about their other team mate, despite being everything Kakashi had professed to hate. How Obito had always had a way of getting under Kakashi’s skin like no one else could. How ‘beautiful’ didn’t do Obito justice. But this was only after years of serious introspection. Years Rin did not live to see. As far as Kakashi knew, she had taken his secret to the grave, and for that he was grateful.
But, even after all his self-reflection, he still wasn’t totally prepared to see the cycle repeat itself right before his eyes. The new Team Seven had more in common with the previous one than even the Third Hokage realized. But Kakashi saw it.
He wasn’t sure at first. He already saw so much of himself in Sasuke, was he maybe just projecting the last part? But no. Because Naruto paralleled Obito just as strongly. And Kakashi caught sight of one too many complicated glances that Naruto didn’t—each one followed almost immediately by an angry outburst of some kind.
His heart ached on the young Uchiha’s behalf, it really did. Sasuke already had so much on his plate. But even with all the private lessons, that particular discussion was not one Kakashi could ever bring himself to have with the boy. Especially when Sasuke likely didn’t understand it yet himself. Feelings had never been either of their strong suits.
So when Sasuke did succeed in extricating himself from them, Kakashi knew he was running from more than one demon. Or rather, chasing after one in a desperate attempt to escape the other.
He felt helpless in the face of Naruto’s questions after the fact, though he understood it all too well. But how could he explain it? It wasn’t just his secret to tell. Not anymore.
But at the same time… He would be lying if he said he wasn’t just a little bitter about Sasuke so callously throwing everything away. Sasuke couldn’t face it. Kakashi had never gotten the chance.