December that year started with an almost suspicious amount of normalcy. Each day closer to Christmas had his students wound tighter and tighter with a mix of excitement and far too much sugar. Like a virus, Christmas cheer was slowly spreading through the village and the school was not immune. Christmas carols greeted Iruka every time he walked into the staff lounge and it seemed that there was some sort of baked good or candy at hand no matter where he went. It was the same as last year and the year before and all the years before that, since Iruka had become a teacher, down to Iruka balanced up on a ladder hanging decorations by himself in the hour before the mission room opened. Perhaps it was a sign that he was a little too set in his routine that he was caught completely off-guard when his holiday suddenly took a sharp veer off into the unexpected.

In retrospect, he blamed the garland.

Red garland was wound around the top rung of the ladder, looping down one side. Iruka perched easily at the top of the ladder, garland in one hand, staple gun in the other. He'd already made it half-way around the room - just a little more left. The staple gun thunked into the wood walls as Iruka completed the loop in front of him. Hooking the handle of the gun over one end of the ladder, Iruka unwound a long strand of garland to give himself room to move. Carefully, Iruka tilted the ladder up onto one foot and quickly swung around until his back was to the wall.

After years of putting up decorations by himself Iruka counted himself a master at moving around from the top of a ladder. He wasn't a ninja for nothing. Tilting the ladder onto the other leg, Iruka spun around to face the wall again.

He wasn't expecting the door to open. Admittedly, he probably should have locked it.

The corner of the door knocked the ladder, sending Iruka tilting backwards. In his mind, he saw a brief flash of garland ripping off the wall, destroying his last hour of work. That was not going to happen. Quickly, Iruka kicked the ladder away from him and forced his body to relax before he hit the floor.

He never quite made it to the floor. Blinking, Iruka looked up into the face of his savior. The very close face of his savior.


The copy-nin looked just as startled as Iruka was. Iruka could already feel his face reddening in embarrassment. If his students found out, he was never going to live this down. Scratch that. His students he could deal with - pop quizzes existed for a reason. No, if Anko found out, he was never, ever going to live this down.

Neither of them moved. Iruka's blush deepened. Kakashi was staring at him, and Iruka had no idea why he was still in the jounin's arms instead of back on the floor where he belonged. He'd never realized before how hard it was to read someone who used a mask and eye patch to cover the majority of their face.

"Um... Kakashi-san? You can put me down now."

His feet hit the floor. Kakashi took a step back and Iruka had the irrational thought that it was somewhat lonely without Kakashi's arms around him.

The season must be getting to him a little more than normal.

Still blushing, Iruka looked at the floor and rubbed the back of his neck nervously. "Thank you for catching me, Kakashi-san." He neglected to mention that fact that he wouldn't have needed Kakashi to catch him.

Kakashi looked around the empty room. "Where is everyone?"

Iruka bit his lip to keep from grinning. Even with only one eye visible, it was clear Kakashi was confused. "The mission room doesn't open for..." Iruka glanced at his watch. "...another hour."

"Oh." Kakashi pulled a wristwatch from his pocket. The band was almost completely destroyed and the glass was cracked. It also leaked a little. Kakashi glanced between the watch and Iruka, scratching the back of his head. "I guess watches don't work after they've been in a lake."

There was a story there. Iruka wasn't sure whether or not he wanted to know.

The ladder was thankfully still perched against the wall, the garland only a little tangled but still attached. Iruka made sure it was balanced solidly before climbing back up.

"Do you need some help?"

Iruka looked down in surprise. "If you'd like."

Kakashi stepped over, holding the ladder for him as Iruka untangled the garland. The staple gun seemed to have disappeared.

"Need this?"

Iruka jumped as Kakashi spoke from right next to him. The jonin squatted on the wall next to him, holding out the staple gun as if it was the easiest thing in the world to stand on a vertical surface.

"Thank you." Iruka took the gun and resisted the urge to glare.

He couldn't help but glare a little as Kakashi stood and walked down the wall.

"Show off," he muttered under his breath as he stapled the garland above the door. Unwinding a bit of garland, Iruka looked down. Kakashi was looking up at him. Iruka had the distinct feeling Kakashi was smiling.

"I need you to step back so I can move the ladder."

Kakashi was smiling. Iruka was certain of it. "Nah. I have a better idea." Suddenly, Kakashi picked up the ladder with Iruka still on it.

He most certainly did not squeak. There was no unmanly, un-ninja-like squeal coming from Iruka as he clung to the top of the ladder. Absolutely not.

From the way Kakashi was laughing, apparently he'd heard it. The ladder settled back against the wall.

"Sorry. Didn't mean to startle you." The bastard was still laughing.

Iruka's forehead hit the wall. No, he was never going to live this down.