If you're just tuning in to the latest chapter, check back to chapter 40, I've uploaded the end of the story as a bundle. Merry Xmas!

Plucking Strings

"A few can touch the magic string, and noisy fame is proud to win them. Alas for those that never sing, but die with all their music in them!" - Oliver Wendell Holmes, Snr

"It looks good," Naruto said as he and Hanabi walked into the mission office.

He grinned as Jiraiya jerked in place, having been hunched over the little crystal ball that the Sandaime used to play about with.

"Ah-wah?" He greeted eloquently, blinking as he looked up at the pair, half-scowling, half-abashed at being interrupted. Eventually, he followed Naruto's eyes out of the large panoramic window behind his desk that overlooked the village. More specifically, to the latest addition to the Hokage monument, proudly grinning out at Konoha in the mid-morning light.

"Are you kidding? They got my nose all wrong," he muttered petulantly, thumbing it for emphasis. "Ain't no way some rock is gonna catch my manly handsomeness." Although, even saying that, there was no disguising the slight smile he wore when he saw his own face up there, alongside his sensei and his student.

"Whatever," the blond drawled, motioning airily with his hand to pull Jiraiya out of his nostalgia.

"So, a mission I'm guessing?" Jiraiya continued on smoothly, after coughing into his hand. "What'll it be today?"

"B-rank, if you would."

Jiraiya simply clicked his fingers at the nearby Chuunin, getting him to rifle through the dossiers until he found something appropriate.

"Going hard, huh? That's gotta be the third this week."

"Yeah, well, I sort of promised," the blond admitted slowly, glancing down at Hanabi. She was doing her best to avoid his gaze, staring forward stoically and only moving to step forward and take the offered mission. "Chuunin exams coming up and all, figured it would be best to make sure she can handle anything."

Hanabi just huffed, grabbed the folder, gave a respectful nod to the Hokage, turned on a heel and smartly strode out of the room. She didn't give her sensei so much as a second glance.

"Still giving you the cold shoulder, eh?" Jiraiya offered with a crocodile's sympathy; he was loving it really.

"She'll come around," Naruto replied without much conviction. Nearly three months since he had defeated Orochimaru, and Hanabi was still brushing him off for not telling her what he was doing. As if he would ever take her somewhere that dangerous, not that she particularly cared for the logic of the situation. "Eventually." He waved his hand dismissively. "Speaking of women coming around, you managed to track down Tsunade yet?"

Jiraiya's grimace was all he needed as an answer, but the man motioned to the little crystal ball on the desk anyway.

"It might go a lot better if you'd just tell me how this thing worked. Sarutobi-sensei must have told you something."

The blond merely smirked. "It depends, are you going to use it properly, or to peek into the hot springs?"

Jiraiya couldn't have hidden his perverted blush even if he wanted to, prompting the Jounin to roll his eyes.

"Don't answer that, the Chuunin shouldn't have to hear their Hokage lie like a five-year-old."

"So mean, Naruto. Being Hokage is a lot of work you know – which I still blame you for by the way!" He scowled at the blond without much menace. "Still don't know how you managed that, but I know it was you." He sighed, thumbing his nose. "You just had to drop this in my lap during one of the biggest ongoing political crises in recent memory, huh? All this fake-Daimyo business would be turning my hair prematurely white if it wasn't already." His shoulders slumped and his lower lip quivered. "And you won't grant an old man his creature comforts in his twilight years?"

Naruto's lips twisted together. "Don't… don't do that. It's something the Sandaime would say, and on you it just looks… wrong."

Jiraiya gave the evil eye to a couple Chuunin that broke out in sniggers at that.

"Whatever, brat. Just get out and go scrape up to your student until she forgives you. One of these days I'll make you the Hokage, and see how you like it."

Naruto snorted as he gave the man a mocking salute and sauntered out.

"Good luck with that, the Daimyo actually likes me."

He closed the door behind him before Jiraiya could get his last comment in, grinning at the small victory. It wasn't like Jiriaya hadn't had him on the shit-list for the past few months ever since he found out what he, Anko and Sasuke had done. Although, he was far less concerned with the older man's opinion of him, than he was with the young girl's that was waiting for him in the annex just outside.

He sighed at Hanabi's purposeful avoidance of his eye, simply walking off as soon as he joined her, passing him the folder that she had no doubt already read. He'd have to think of something to break the ice soon.

Still, Jiraiya's words drifted through his head and briefly made him wonder how he would be as a Hokage. It didn't last long, and his previous thoughts on the matter still stood. He wouldn't be a good leader; didn't have the compassion for it. He would make a good advisor though, or spymaster. Hell, he had effectively taken up Jiraiya's old job ever since the man settled into the chair.

For a moment, he glanced down and regarded his apprentice curiously. His gaze apparently lingered long enough to garner her attention, and she looked back up at him, meeting his gaze for the first time in what felt like days.

"What?" She was a little surprised by the bright smile he gave her, patting her shoulder fondly.

"Nothing, just imagining how you'd look wearing a certain hat." He made sure to ruffle her hair, ignoring her glare with an irreverent smirk. "Don't worry too much about it, yet."

He walked off, and it took a moment for Hanabi to get over her surprise and remember that she was supposed to be angry with him.

"Oi! What's that supposed to mean?"