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Disclaimer: Naruto doesn't belong to me. I'm just borrowing the characters for my and (I hope) my readers' amusement only and have no intention of trying to make money off of them in any way, shape or form.

Warnings: None to speak of.
Fandom: Naruto
Rating: G

Author: The RCK
Website: http://www.therck.org
Last updated: 3 June 2010

Written for Remix 2010, remixing fourthage's Rainy Day.

Thanks to Olna Jenn for cheerleading and to Hope of Dawn and my husband for beta reading.

Substratum (The Diamonds in the Rough Remix)

Leaving them out in the rain was probably cruel. I hadn't meant to leave them so long to begin with, but I'd been watching them, hoping for inspiration. I had no idea what to do with a genin team. 'Teach them' offers limited guidance, and nobody'd offered so much as a mission plan or more than the roughest objectives. 'Get them ready to be chuunin' was hardly more helpful. I had no idea where to start.

It didn't help that I looked at them and saw children. Never mind legalities-- Becoming genin didn't magically change a child into an adult. Only experience could do that, experience I had to make sure wasn't fatal.

My colleagues were enjoying seeing me stuck with a team too much to be helpful. It's hard to gather intelligence subtly when everyone's laughing at you, and I wasn't about to expose my ignorance by asking questions and so further weaken my position.

The rain came down harder. I stowed Icha Icha Paradise where it wouldn't get wet. There was no point in ruining another copy of the book. Instead, I picked up my telescope.

Yards away, unaware that I was watching, my genin scuttled for shelter, or rather, Sasuke and Sakura did. Naruto seemed to be trying to stay dry by dodging raindrops, moving from one tree to another to another. I couldn't hear him from where I was, but I could see that he was talking. If he'd looked my way, I'd have tried reading his lips, but I doubted he was saying anything new. Mostly, no matter what words he used, Naruto simply said, "Look at me! Look at me!"

I wasn't sure I could break him of that. It would get him killed eventually, but I wasn't sure he could change. I could think of a dozen different ways to destroy him and not a single way to heal him.

I didn't like the realization that I thought of it as healing.

Sasuke had put his back against a tree trunk. His arms were folded across his chest. He glowered in the direction of the Hokage's tower. After a few seconds, he shifted his gaze to glare in another direction. Then he shifted his eyes again and again.

I belatedly realized that he was looking for me. I was a little embarrassed I'd taken so long to figure it out. Sasuke was looking for me, blaming me for his current predicament. He had no idea where I was or from which direction I'd come when I finally showed up, so he was giving equal time to all of them.

Sasuke worried me. He had intention, focused intention, and no room for anything he perceived as irrelevant. He lacked the experience to know what was actually irrelevant. He still trusted my status and experience enough to respect my authority, but it wouldn't last.

It particularly wouldn't last if I left him out in the rain much longer. He wouldn't see how that made him stronger. Having had his trust betrayed so profoundly once, he was poised to avoid additional betrayal even when it wasn't coming.

Sakura hovered around the edges of Sasuke's personal space. She alternated between glaring at Naruto and gazing hopefully at Sasuke. She inched closer to Sasuke then backed up when Sasuke turned his glare on her. She looked up at the sky for a few seconds.

I guessed that she, as I had done earlier, was evaluating the cloud cover, trying to figure out when the rain might end. I frowned. She might not have the stamina to handle a prolonged drenching. Her file said she was physically weaker than either of the boys. I shook my head. She couldn't be that weak. They wouldn't have let her graduate if a little rain would overwhelm her.

In her own way, Sakura spent as much time saying, "Look at me!" as Naruto did. She was pickier about what sort of attention she wanted, however, and about who she wanted it from. Naruto wanted us to acknowledge that he existed. Sakura wanted praise. She wanted to be pretty, to be smart, to be welcomed. Unfortunately, she had rejected Naruto's easily won regard in favor of trying to impress Sasuke and me. To impress me was possible if she worked hard and focused on her fieldwork. To impress Sasuke-- She couldn't. He could barely see her. She stood outside the frame of his vendetta.

I looked at each of them again in turn. They weren't a team yet. Even a well matched trio wouldn't be a team after less than a week, and these three weren't well matched. Of the three of them, only Naruto really wanted this team to work, and he was hoping for something bigger and deeper than mere functionality. He was willing to love Sasuke and Sakura.

Sasuke wasn't willing to care. That was why I couldn't treat him as team leader. The other two would cede him the position if he showed any interest, but he wouldn't. Leading a team required connecting with the other members, acknowledging them.  At the moment, Sasuke was a hole in the potential team, not an asset to it. He wouldn't lead, and he wouldn't follow anyone but me.

Sakura also wouldn't lead. I hesitated to say 'couldn't.' I hadn't had quite a week to see what she could or couldn't manage, and I had no way of knowing what she'd grow into-- or out of. She wouldn't lead now unless Sasuke pushed her to, and he wouldn't. If he would, I'd not have so many problems.

Naruto would happily lead. Whether he had any aptitude for it, I had no idea yet. He'd take off running, only to stop when he realized nobody else was coming along, then keep coming back and hoping someone would finally pay attention.

Time to stop putting it off. I sighed and put away the telescope. I needed to do something with the kids. The rain would make D rank missions scarce, so it would have to be training. Ninjitsu drills were the place to start. That would give me the opportunity to form my own opinion about Sakura's stamina.

She was the one on the team for whom I felt the most sympathy. Placing her with either Naruto or Sasuke, given her reactions to each, was a mistake in team formation. Either the other available choices for the team's third were worse, or it was politics. I suspected politics.

Whether Sasuke and Naruto knew it or not, every breath they drew was political. They had allies and enemies they'd never met. Every event carried a weight beyond what was obvious.

Tying Naruto's success as a genin to Sasuke's was an astute political maneuver. I had to salute the Hokage's strategy even as I resented having the mess dropped in my lap. Most of Naruto's enemies wanted Sasuke's success more than they wanted Naruto's failure. Several of them had made a point of talking to me in the last few days, a very decided point.

Wanting Sasuke to succeed, however, did not include willingness to take great risks. Most of Sasuke's partisans wouldn't want their own children on his genin team. Itachi might come back, after all. No one knew why he'd spared Sasuke to begin with. That exemption might have an expiration date.

Naruto and Sakura were on the team because they were expendable. I was on the team because there was no one else who could teach Sasuke about the Sharingan.

I stood and stretched again. Right now, the danger was largely theoretical, and we had training to start. I started toward my genin. It was time to see what they could do.

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