**I don't own any characters, etc, etc
Iruka had a bad crush. He truly had it bad, and he told Kurenai and Genma so one day.
“Aww, I’m so happy for you!” Kurenai said. “What’s his name?”
“Umm, I don’t know,” Iruka replied.
“Where does he live?” Genma asked.
“What does he do for work?” Kurenai said, frowning.
Iruka’s face brightened. “He’s a train conductor on Konoha rails!” His friends smiled, finally they were getting somewhere!
“And how did you meet?” Genma asked.
“Ru!” Kurenai shouted. “What the hell?”
Iruka rubbed his face and drank his beer. “We haven’t met, like met-met.” He started to blush. “He’s the conductor on the train I take home. So, he walks by to see my train pass, but we haven’t talked or anything.” He sighed and placed his elbow on the table, leaning his cheek on his open palm.
“Huh,” Genma said, moving the toothpick around his mouth, and Iruka scowled at him.
“I told you, it’s just a crush. I just like seeing him every day, it’s the highlight of my day sometimes,” Iruka murmured. “He’s tall and cute, and you can tell he works out. He…he looks like my favorite character in the anime I really like, one of the badass ninja sensei,” he said laughing. Iruka shook his head as if to clear it. “Anyway, it’s just a crush, but I found myself feeling jealous when he talked to a group of young guys the other day, I guess they had to buy their tickets on the train rather than ahead of time or a full pass like a lot of us who commute regularly. Silly, I know, to be jealous that he was only doing his job….”
Kurenai placed her hand on his. “It’s alright, it’s only natural.” She scrunched her face up in thought. “Invite him out for your birthday next week! It’s a great way to break the ice!” Both men stared at her. “What?”
“Are you crazy?” Genma said. “That’s way too much!”
“Yeah, plus, let’s face it, I don’t even know if he’s into men. I take the train every weekday, I don’t want to embarrass myself!”
“Is it the only train car?” Kurenai asked.
“And is he the only conductor?”
“Then ask! Worst case you just hide out in another car for a while.”
“More like the rest of time,” Genma muttered, and Kurenai punched his arm. “Oww! I’m just saying, that’s kind of a big risk.” He turned to Iruka. “I don’t know, maybe just enjoy this as a crush and let it all go.”
Iruka sighed as he finished his beer. “For the record, I only told you guys I have a crush, never that I intend to act on it!”
And so, Iruka put it out of his head. Mostly. Except for when he saw the man most weekdays. And when he found himself starting to stare at the man more often than not. And when he felt a pang of jealousy when the man talked to other people, even though a rational part of him knew it was only a few words and mostly about train tickets.
Still, he didn’t think anything of it. He was busy at work, and his birthday was just around the corner, so he had plenty to occupy his mind.
Thus, Iruka found himself very surprised a few days before his birthday when Kurenai showed up at his work as he was getting ready to leave.
“Is everything okay?” he asked her worriedly, as soon as she was brought to his office.
“Yeah, why wouldn’t it be?” she answered, looking around the space.
Iruka stared at her. “You’re here. At my work. I’m guessing for a reason?”
She shrugged. “No reason. Thought we’d spend some time finalizing last minute details for your birthday on Saturday.”
Iruka kept watching her as he packed his bag. “And we couldn’t do that by phone because?”
“No reason,” she said, shrugging again. “I just thought it would be nice in person.”
Iruka frowned but didn’t push it further, and they left soon after, walking the few blocks to the train station. They were reviewing the reservation for dinner as well as where they would go for drinks after, as not everyone could make the dinner.
“Is that him?” she suddenly asked as the train pulled up.
“Him who?” Iruka said, still scrolling through his phone for the restaurant.
“Him, the guy you have a crush on,” she said, lowering her voice and nudging him. Two conductors had gotten off the train, one in the first car and one in the second, as there were only a few cars on this train. One was short and squat, the other taller and leaner. She was clearly indicating the second, who was helping an elderly woman down the few steps from the train car.
Iruka returned his gaze to Kurenai, eyes widened in fear and anger.
She smiled at him, feigning innocence.
“Didn’t what, Ruka dear?”
His mouth tightened. “You came all the way out here for this? When Gen and I both told you –”
He was cut off by the conductors announcing the train destination and allowing passengers to board. Iruka started towards the first car but was pulled into the line for the second one by Kurenai, who could be very strong when she wanted to. Before he could argue and move, she was forcing him up the stairs, to his embarrassment, as the train conductor was right next to the entrance.
Iruka sighed and was about to sit down in a seat meant for two people when she grabbed him and threw him across the aisle, where the seat was meant for three. He glared at her as she pushed him into the window seat and sat herself closer to the aisle. She smiled sweetly at him as the train started to move.
The conductors announced the next stop and began to move to collect tickets and fares. Iruka pulled his pass out and Kurenai pulled out her wallet. The conductor came to their row and nodded courteously at Iruka. Kurenai told the man what stop she was getting off at and bought her ticket, looking at the man the whole time. After he had moved further down the car, she turned to Iruka, who was fuming at her.
“You’re doing this on purpose! I can’t believe you!” he angrily whispered to her.
“I had to see him for myself! You didn’t say how cute he was!” she whispered back. “But the hair? White?”
“Grey, there’s a difference,” Iruka murmured. “As if Asuma doesn’t have a few grey hairs himself.”
She punched him. “You leave my honeybuns out of this! And this guy doesn’t have ‘a few,’ it’s his whole head! What if he’s like, sixty?”
“Then he’s a good looking sixty, but it doesn’t matter, remember? I’m not making a move. And you’re embarrassing me!”
The conversation quieted as the conductor moved past them to sit at the far end of the car, facing inwards. He was about ten rows away from them, in full view, but reading a newspaper.
“You’re embarrassing me not asking him out! He totally smiled at you!” Kurenai said in a quiet voice.
Iruka huffed. “It’s his job, Kurenai, to be polite.”
“And it’s his job to steal glances at you?”
Iruka coughed. “What?”
“He’s been looking over here a few times, trying to hide it, but I can tell.” She and Iruka were facing each other, so she moved her head slightly towards the conductor. “Just look for yourself.”
Iruka frowned in thought and turned towards the window. A moment later, against his better judgement, he looked over towards the man, who, possibly having been caught, gave him a closed-eye smile and went back to his newspaper. Iruka blushed and ducked his head.
“Now do you believe me?” Kurenai asked as she scrolled through her phone.
“Yeah, yeah, but now what?”
She squeezed his hand. “Leave it to me.”
Fortunately for Iruka, or unfortunately, the train grew more crowded as they got closer to Konoha central station, and the conductor was busier. He still passed their row often, as new passengers boarded around them, but there was no further interaction, even from a distance.
Iruka and Kurenai spent the rest of the ride discussing his birthday, and as they neared their stop she stood and shooed him towards the end of the train closest to them, but away from the one the conductor was at. He didn’t think anything of it until he realized she was not in line with him, in the aisle. By the time he realized it there were other people in line behind him, so he couldn’t leave. He sighed and turned back to the door.
He met her again on the platform, and they walked towards the escalator to the main station floor. Once they were out of view, he turned to her.
“What. Did. You. Do.”
Kurenai smiled sweetly. “Invited him to your birthday drinks.”
“You what? How could you?”
She linked her arm in his and strode off the escalator. “You’ll thank me later. Tonight, dinner’s on me.”
Iruka didn’t argue. He just sighed and let her lead him out of the station. “Wait til Genma hears about this!”
Later that evening, the tall, lean, grey-haired, not old at all train conductor entered his apartment with his pet pug, having gone out for an evening walk. They both drank some water and settled on the couch.
“I didn’t want to tell you in public, Pakkun,” the man said, scratching the pug’s belly. “But something strange happened today.” The dog seemed to raise an eyebrow at him.
“You know the guy I’ve told you about? The cute one that looks like my favorite male Icha Icha character? He got on the train today, no surprise there, but there was a woman with him. For a minute I thought it was maybe his girlfriend, but they didn’t sit close together like that. I don’t know.” He scratched the back of his head.
“Anyway, he caught me looking at him but didn’t seem angry or anything. But the biggest thing is that when they were getting ready to get off at their stop, she approached me by herself. She said, and I quote, ‘my friend thinks you’re cute, and I think you like him too. It’s his birthday this weekend and a bunch of us are going out for drinks, you should join us.’ Isn’t that crazy?”
Pakkun didn’t reply, just stretched out more.
“I mean, it should be okay, right? I didn’t make a move on company time or anything. I didn’t make a move period, technically.” He paused. “Should I go?”
Pakkun stood and settled down in the man’s lap.
“Yeah, I think so too.”
To say Iruka felt pressure for looking nice for his birthday was an understatement. Who wouldn’t want to look their best when they’re the guest of honor, but especially when a certain someone might stop by?
He opted for a fitted dress shirt over jeans. A quick picture to Kurenai and a positive reply back, and he was ready to leave.
Dinner was a smaller affair at a new restaurant in downtown Konoha. Kurenai and her husband, Asuma, were there, along with their friends Anko, Izumo, Kotestu, and Tsunade. Anko, a publicist, had pulled some strings to get them the reservation, and they were treated like royalty while there, including with a delectable cake brought out with candles.
“I hear someone special is coming tonight?” Izumo asked, cheekily.
“Yeah, Gen and Raidou are joining us for drinks, they couldn’t make it to dinner,” Iruka replied. “So is Shizune, and I think a few others.” Kurenai rolled her eyes.
“Not them, the hottie from the train!”
Asuma coughed into his plate. “The who from the where?”
She patted his back. “Not my type of hottie, an into Iruka kind of hottie. But yeah, he’s good looking,” she said. “It’s a train conductor Iruka’s been crushing on, I just gave it a gentle push.”
“More like push off a cliff,” Iruka said, and the table laughed.
“Why am I not surprised?” Kotetsu asked.
“If he’s coming out tonight to meet all of us, I feel sorry for him,” Izumo said, laughing. “We’ll get to have our say sooner than later at least.”
“Leave it to Kurenai to get you a date for your birthday,” Anko said. “Puts us all to shame!”
Once dinner was over the group walked to the bar. It was not close, but not far either, and it was a nice, crisp evening. They were regulars and had set up an area for themselves to ensure seating and tables.
After starting in on their second round of drinks there and placing an order for some bar food, Iruka grew worried.
“What if he doesn’t show?” he asked, nervously.
Asuma shrugged. “His loss then? It’s still early for a Saturday night, we’ve only been here like an hour. Gen and Raidou aren’t even here yet.”
Kurenai reached over and squeezed Iruka’s leg. “I gave him the location, time, and my number, in case he got lost or anything. I’m sure he’ll show. And if not, I’ll pick you up from work for the next month.”
Iruka laughed and toasted that.
“You know what you need?” Tsunade asked, not waiting for a response. “Booze! Shots! Let’s go!” And with that she dragged Iruka to the bar.
Outside, the conductor was walking down the street to the bar, hands in his pockets. Though he slouched and walked at a lazy pace, he was inwardly panicking, a hundred thoughts running through his head. What was he doing? This was a mistake. Meeting someone he didn’t know, and the guy’s friends? And on the guy’s birthday? What if they thought he was a creeper for accepting the offer? What if the guy and his friends were creepers? What if he made a fool of himself? Oh no, that’s the place. Maybe he shouldn’t go in. Maybe he should go in, but keep his distance. Yeah, keep his distance and if it didn’t look too crazy…
As he was thinking this, he opened the door to the bar and stepped in the same time someone stepped out, practically bumping into each other.
“Oh! Sorry,” the conductor said to the other man, sidestepping.
“Nah, my bad,” the other man said, stepping past before pausing and turning. “Kakashi?”
The conductor stopped and turned around to see who had called his name. “Genma? Gen!”
The men embraced and Kakashi followed Genma outside. “What are you doing here?”
“Meeting some friends for a birthday, you?” Genma asked.
“Kind of the same thing, I guess. It’s a long story. But how have you been?”
“Good, man, good. Busy with life and work. Raidou’ll be here in a minute, I was coming out to make sure he found us as he had to take a phone call just as we were getting here. Gods, I haven’t seen you in ages! What are you up to these days?”
“Maa, work, the usual. My firm has me on immersive experiences for our clients these days, so it seems like I’m doing a different job every few months.”
“The security gig, right?” Genma asked.
“That’s the one. We have some bigger clients so they have some of us take on ground level jobs to see what needs to be improved from the inside out. Better than sitting in the office like I used to.”
“I hear that. No wonder we haven’t gotten together in a bit, that probably keeps you as busy as mine and Raidou’s work keeps us. Where do they have you these days?”
“We’re working with Konoha Transit. You’ll never guess where they have me working,” Kakashi said. Genma raised his eyebrows. “The trains, I’m a conductor!” Kakashi said, laughing.
Genma’s eyes went wide as he began to cough. And cough, and cough, which is how Raidou found him a moment later. He greeted Kakashi and thumped Genma on the back.
“What did you do to him?”
Kakashi shrugged. “Beats me.”
Genma stood, wheezing. “You’re a train conductor? And here for a birthday?”
Kakashi shrugged. “Yeah, though that’s a weird way of putting it.” He looked at Raidou, who was rubbing Genma’s back and looking between the two men before also shrugging.
Genma rubbed his face. “Come on, let’s go in. I think this night will be more interesting than any of us thought.”
The three men entered the bar, but Kakashi hung back a step.
“I have to try to find this group I’m meeting, I guess I’ll try to run into you guys later on?”
Genma laughed and shook his head. “I think you’d better follow us,” he said, to a quizzical looking Raidou and Kakashi. Neither argued, and they headed to a more private area of the bar.
“Hey, you finally made it!” Asuma said to Genma and Raidou.
“Who’s your friend?” he said, introducing himself to Kakashi. Kurenai turned and shrieked.
“You’re here! You came! I knew it!”
Everyone else turned to look at Kurenai, who was jumping up and down, and Kakashi, who was wishing his pockets were deep enough for not just his hands, but his whole body.
“This is him, isn’t it?” Genma asked her, and she nodded.
“Yeah, but why is he with you? How did you know?” She directed the second question to Kakashi, but Genma cut in before he could.
“Heh, long story, but he’s one of my best mates, known each other for years. I just didn’t know he would know Iruka until like five minutes ago.”
“And I didn’t even know that name until now,” Kakashi murmured.
Kurenai jumped on Asuma, she was so excited. “Did you hear that? This is perfect! It’s fate! Iruka has been crushing on him, he’s been crushing on Iruka, and now we find out Genma can vouch for him! He’s practically one of us!”
Asuma clamped a hand on her mouth before she continued. “I don’t think you were supposed to talk about Iruka’s feeling, Kurenai,” he said, trying not to laugh.
“Where is he, anyway?” Raidou asked.
A woman chimed in. “With Tsunade, at the bar, as if she’d be anywhere else.” She turned to Kakashi and extended a hand. “Shizune. Tsunade’s our resident boozehound, she dragged Iruka up for birthday shots.”
Kakashi began to make small talk with the group and learn everyone’s names, when he heard Shizune sigh.
“Oh, geez, here we go….”
Followed by a voice that was familiar to him.
“For the last time, we are not doing body shots tonight. Not on me, not for me, not at all!”
“Sheesh, grow up and let loose, Ru,” a woman said.
“Tsunade, you’re such a pain,” the man was heard to say.
“Drinks are coming!” A boisterous blond woman was saying. She looked at Kakashi. “What do we have here?”
“Hands off, Tsunade,” Kurenai warned. “He’s spoken for.”
“What’s happening?” said the birthday boy, following after Tsunade. He looked at Kakashi in surprise
“You! You came?” Iruka looked between Kurenai and Kakashi. “What…?”
Genma stood and approached them. “Kurenai may have set this up, but I can help a bit more. Iruka, this is Kakashi. I didn’t know it was him until tonight, but the gods have smiled upon us. One of my nearest and dearest friends, a great guy. Kakashi, this is Iruka. Also a good friend. Single and ready to mingle. And as you know, it’s his birthday.” He smiled around the toothpick in his mouth. “Okay kids, go have fun,” he said, pushing them back towards the bar and resuming his seat. The group turned back to conversations amongst themselves, leaving Kakashi and Iruka looking at each other.
“I’d offer to buy you a drink, but looks like I’ll have to wait for my turn,” Kakashi said, scratching the back of his head.
“Thanks anyway,” Iruka said with a smile. He motioned to some seats and he and Kakashi sat and began to talk.
The rest of the night was spent with good conversation all around. Alcohol flowed and stories were swapped. Kakashi and Iruka spent a good amount of time by themselves, before re-integrating with the group. The group caught up, and then told stories about Iruka, some more embarrassing than others. Kakashi helped Iruka out by telling a very embarrassing one about Genma, who in turn told a slightly less embarrassing one about Kakashi.
By about 11pm, Kakashi had to leave. He pulled Iruka aside.
“I’m sorry but I have to head out. I agreed to cover a shift tomorrow for someone several weeks ago, before I knew about this.”
Iruka smiled. “No worries, I’m glad you came, and that we finally got to meet and talk. It was nice.”
Kakashi gave him a closed-eye smile. “Agreed.” He patted his pockets, looking for something. “I didn’t want to come empty handed, so here.” He held out something small to Iruka, who took it and looked at it.
“Matches? Thanks, but I don’t smoke…”
“I know,” said Kakashi. “Turn it over.”
Iruka turned over the book of matches. “Ichiraku,” he read aloud, and looked at Kakashi with a puzzled face, but also a curious smile.
“It’s one of my favorite restaurants,” Kakashi explained. “I’d like to take you to dinner there, maybe next week? I would have made a reservation but I didn’t want to be too forward, plus I don’t know your schedule.”
“That would be great, Kakashi, how nice! Maybe Tuesday night?”
Kakashi smiled. “Sounds perfect.” He leaned in. “I put my number inside, if you wanted to call or text tomorrow, just to talk. Or even tonight,” he said, laughing.
“I’ll do that,” Iruka said, blushing. “Thank you.”
“Happy birthday, Iruka.”
Kakashi gave him a very cute crooked smile and left. Iruka looked down at his gift, a broad smile on his face, before making his way back to his friends.
“So?” Kurenai asked.
“So what?” Iruka said, trying to play it cool.
“Did he kiss you? Did you make out?”
Iruka and Asuma rolled their eyes, and Genma made a face.
“Not that it’s your business, but no.” Iruka paused. “But I did get a date,” he said, as his friends cheered.
Best. Birthday. Ever.