When Tsunade sent her on a mission with Team Gai, Sakura thought she'd have to weather through hell for the whole week. There couldn't be a team more different than hers. Granted, her team was fractured, all but officially disbanded, but she still thought of them as her team. Kakashi, Naruto…Sasuke…they all had familiar frustrating habits. They were like a family. Being thrust into Team Gai felt unfairly like having to vacation with someone else's family, with a whole host of unfamiliar frustrating habits.
She'd been wrong, as she often was. As usual, her miscalculation was her expectation that people would shut her out. Instead of behaving as though she were a guest, Gai, Lee, Neji, and Tenten let her into their family as if she had always belonged there. By the time that they were heading back from their mission, Sakura felt like she'd gained four new family members. An uncle and cousins, maybe.
They were stopped at a hotel a couple days' journey from Konoha, in north Fire. Because of her gender, she'd been rooming with Tenten the whole journey, and the boys in their own room, with Gai in a third.
Lying on her stiff hotel bed across from Tenten, who was already asleep, Sakura realized that looking at Tenten's slack face was just making her feel more awake than she was already. She slipped out of bed and padded across the room. Carefully, she opened the door and locked it behind her without making a noise that could disrupt the weapon master's light sleep.
Sakura headed down the hall.
Contrary to popular belief, aside from the manic training regime, Gai seemed like a normal, trustworthy human being. And she really needed to talk to an adult right now. Someone who could have advice to give.
By the time she reached the door to Gai's room, she realized it was one in the morning. Gai should be asleep. What am I waking him up for?
Sakura hesitated. But Gai was so much more open than Kakashi. He seemed to really bond with his students, to talk to them and share life advice on a day to day basis. Lee, Tenten, and Neji were all so much happier around Gai than her team was around Kakashi. She knew she shouldn't judge, shouldn't compare, when she'd vowed her loyalty to Kakashi. And she knew that her team had bonds with each other that were surely just as strong as Gai's team.
But it wasn't the same.
And Sakura thought her heart would burst if she couldn't talk to somebody. She couldn't talk to Kakashi or Naruto about this anyway. She'd just hurt them. Once they got back to Konoha, she'd probably never get the chance to talk to Gai.
She knocked timidly on the door. "Gai-sensei…"
She almost shrieked and fell over then he immediately opened the door, fully dressed in his usual green spandex, no less. The only difference was a lack of flak jacket. "What is it, sweet Blossom?" Gai gave her a bright smile.
Over the course of the mission, Gai had given her a nickname and declared her an honorary Adorable Student. Given that Sakura's father had never been particularly supportive, this kind of treatment was a bit of a shock. For all its flaws, Kakashi's laid back air of disinterest – yes, she knew it was a front, didn't everybody? – was much more familiar to her.
"I can't sleep," Sakura found herself saying in a small voice. Crap. I sound like a little kid. Why couldn't I come up with something better than that?
Gai rubbed his chin. "Then you better come in," he said seriously, ushering her in and then closing the door. "Loss of sleep is a serious matter. Is this a frequent occurrence for you, Sakura-chan?"
Now Sakura felt bad. She looked away. "Um…maybe?" Tsunade never asked such questions, even when Sakura had bags under her eyes. But then, Tsunade most likely knew why Sakura was losing sleep and didn't have any advice. Tsunade was a great healer, not a great relationship counselor.
Gai laid a warm hand on her shoulder and led her to sit down on the edge of the bed next to him. "Let's talk about it."
Since that was what she wanted, Sakura didn't argue. "How come you're up so late, Gai-sensei?"
"Me?" Gai looked surprised for a moment. Then he laughed. "I am too full of youthful energy."
Sakura should have known it would be something like that. She smiled ruefully. "I see. I have the opposite problem. I think I'm full of worried energy."
Gai squeezed her shoulder. "What are you worried about?" he asked gently.
Sakura fumbled for words. She looked down at her hands. She supposed she better start at the beginning, if there was one. She searched for a good opening. "Do you ever have someone on your mind? Like, constantly?"
Gai's smile turned into a dazzling grin. "Why, yes! I can say that I do, Sakura-chan."
Sakura was relieved. Thank god. I can't be the only person going through this, of course it makes sense, but I've felt so alone. "It doesn't matter if they notice you or not, does it?"
"Indeed, one's youthful feelings blaze on without any fuel," Gai agreed. "It is like a constant flame in my heart, resisting a fire extinguisher, even when they can be so cruel."
Sakura hugged him. She couldn't help it. "Yes. Exactly." She snuggled up to him. "Why does no one understand?"
Gai wrapped a strong arm around her in return, happily snuggling her like he would any of his other students. "I do not know – but I do know I find it most frustrating that others pretend not to understand my predicament."
"Exactly!" Sakura's chakra flared. She was gratified that Gai did not immediately pull away at the first sign of anger. "What kind of people are these, anyway? Friends? Family? Teammates? I share loyalty with these people! I share my life! The least they can do is understand." She scowled.
"I often feel this way," Gai admitted, his smile fading under the gravity of the conversation. "I tell myself my precious people are just being misguided. They understand, really, but their own failings cause them to not want to admit it."
"You think they really do understand?" Sakura pondered that.
Gai nodded. "Indeed I do. More than that, I think they share a secret sympathy their hearts will not allow them to express."
"Oh…" Sakura tried to fathom that, too. Sympathy behind Kaka-sensei's bland looks and Naruto's attempts to ask her out. "You mean…when someone has nothing to say because they don't know the answers, maybe they act like they didn't hear you, but they really did, and they're hurting inside."
"Yes," Gai said. "I think so." He squeezed her reassuringly.
"And maybe when someone tries to distract you, it's because they feel it's no good for you to be lovesick this way, so they're trying to ease your pain by offering an alternative: their love," Sakura said, feeling she was getting the hang of this logic.
Gai jerked, surprised, and looked at her in confusion. "Sakura-chan?"
"What is it, Gai-sensei?" Sakura looked at her new confidant with equal confusion.
"What did you say? Lovesick?" Gai looked astonished.
"Yes…" Sakura wondered what had happened in the conversation.
Gai's eyes widened, and he looked away, deep in thought. After a moment, he refocused on her. "So you're saying that when you think about a person and you can't get them out of your mind, you are in love? You are experiencing lovesickness?"
Sakura resisted the urge to laugh. "Gai-sensei…Yes. Everyone knows that. When you're driven crazy by the need for someone, that's called lovesickness." She realized suddenly that somehow, Gai had a gap in his knowledge. She took it upon herself to fill it in. "When you love someone, but you don't think they love you, it brings on lovesickness."
Gai's expression cleared. "Oh…Well, I know he loves me." He smiled. "So that's not the problem!"
Sakura almost fell over. What – What did he say? Did Gai-sensei say 'he'? She decided to tread carefully. Not that she thought being gay was wrong or anything. She'd never judge someone else like that. She'd hate to be judged for being in love.
Okay, she was being judged, and she did hate it.
"If you know he loves you…why do you think about him all the time?" she asked neutrally.
"Because I think that –" Gai stopped and shrugged, looking uncertain. His brow furrowed slightly. "…he doesn't notice me." His head bowed a little. "As much as he should…" He added quickly, "But I can never find fault with him. His behavior is not in the wrong, it's simply that…" Gai trailed off and fell silent.
Sakura thought she saw the part Gai was tangled up in. "You know he loves you…as a friend." She smiled, feeling smart.
Gai brightened. "Oh, we're more than friends, Sakura-chan! We are Eternal Rivals, always destined to equal each other in strength, good looks, and manliness! Including a desire for justice!"
If Sakura had been eating or drinking, she would have done a spit-take. You what? You're in love with Kaka-sensei? That effectively took a hammer to her mind. She felt brain-broken. Reeling, she attempted to solider through. For Gai and Kakashi's sakes. Oh god…Kaka-sensei…you better love me for this. You have no idea.
"So…you notice his good looks…" Sakura ventured.
"It would be impossible not to!" Gai grinned, his eyes gleaming with a very familiar, very obvious emotion: adoration. "He is one of the handsomest men on earth."
Sakura was tempted to laugh at that description of Kakashi, but she reminded herself that she could be seen claiming the same of Sasuke, and swallowed the knee-jerk ridicule. Oh, yeah. That's lovesickness alright. "And you wish that he would notice you more…"
"I wish that he would," Gai agreed fervently.
"And you think about him night and day," Sakura said.
"Always," Gai said. "I use any excuse just to get back into his presence."
"Then you're in love," Sakura said simply.
Gai took this news with a blank, wide-eyed look.
Sakura wondered who exactly had been derelict in their duty teaching Gai. "Do you enjoy being in his presence once you're there?"
"I live to be around my handsome rival," Gai declared. "Every moment is pure bliss."
"And does he treat you well?" Sakura asked.
"As I said, I cannot find fault with any of his behavior," Gai said.
"That's not the same." Sakura smiled wryly. "I should know. I excused a lot of crappy behavior from my object of affection."
"Oh." Gai rubbed his chin. "Well, he acts very cool when everyone else is around, but as soon as we're alone, he can be very warm. He's like a cat, really. He likes to be one-on-one with people before getting closer."
Sakura considered that. The one time she had felt Kakashi was really warm to her was, in fact, the one time she had been alone with him. She'd been crying about Sasuke, and that time, Kakashi had actually comforted her. Of course, the moment they'd been around the rest of the team, Kakashi acted like nothing had happened, and this confused her. But she thought now she understood, based on Gai's perspective.
"So you have nothing to be worried about," Sakura said finally. "It's okay to be lovesick about that kind of person."
"But he doesn't notice me," Gai wailed.
Sakura smiled at him. "Have you ever tried talking about your feelings?"
"Yes! Many times! How my heart beats passionately for our eternal rivalry, how we always watch each other's backs in battle, how many times we have come to rely on each other in difficult situations –" Gai seemed as though he could go on.
Sakura cleared her throat. "Ah…perhaps it will help now that you know you're in love. Adding the word 'in' to the front has a magical way of clearing things up. I said that to my loved one. Sasuke brushed me off…but that was because he was already cold to me, and a jerk. He didn't give me any signs at all that my affections were welcome. I rushed in there anyway because I was too hopelessly in love. It sounds like you're in a different situation." She still hurt to say Sasuke's name. But there was no point in not doing so. It was hardly a secret, and his name couldn't hurt her forever. She wouldn't let it.
She gave Gai a wavering smile. "So I think you should tell Kaka-sensei you're in love with him."
Gai looked at her uncertainly. "What do I say? Just, 'I'm in love with you'?"
"How will that be any different?" Gai asked. "Nothing else I tried seemed to work."
Sakura squeezed his arm. "Trust me."
Gai considered that. Then he nodded. "Very well, my lovely Blossom. I shall try to speak your suggested words to him, and see what I get in reply."
"I think you should," Sakura said quietly. She hoped that Gai's declaration went over better than her own. She only had Gai's interpretation of her sensei to go by. To her…Kakashi was just another person she didn't understand.
After that, Gai turned the conversation back to her. She unburdened a lot of feelings she hadn't known she had, and after a hug that made her feel as though she could actually stand a chance of having a normal life after all, she went back to bed and slept.