Author's Note: This was written as a request from sekra on LiveJournal. I'm starting the rating out as Teen, but please do tell me if you think it should be moved up to Mature.

"So, you came alone after all."

Naruto narrowed his eyes at the implied insult. "What, you thought I was lying when I said I would?"

Orochimaru smirked. "Nothing against you personally, demon child, but in my experience Konoha shinobi have no problem disregarding their honor when it comes to dealing with someone such as myself, no matter how moral they usually consider themselves."

"It's Naruto. And I'm not a Konoha shinobi anymore." The last sentence came out surprisingly bitter.

The snake sannin's dark grin deepened. "Tsunade threw you away? How amusing. You seemed so confident earlier that she would support you in this endeavor, but I suppose you aren't as high on her list of priorities as you thought."

The was a noticeable pause before the blond shinobi responded, and even then, the words that next came out of his mouth were strained. "The Godaime had no choice. I deliberately disobeyed her orders by meeting with you the first time. She already gave me a second chance. It's not her fault I wasted it."

"Mm. She fails to provide you with adequate protection, then deliberately puts obstacles in your way when you attempt to remedy your problem yourself? Your continual defense of her is nothing short of pathetic, Naruto-kun."

The thing Naruto had recently started noticing about Orochimaru was the contradiction his appearance and voice presented. The snake sannin did in many ways resemble a serpent, what with the golden eyes and thin face, but Orochimaru didn't hiss. He purred, making every word, no matter how seemingly innocent, sound somehow suggestive of something else. Naruto was hard pressed to tell whether this was intentional. And in all truth, he didn't care. With Orochimaru, you didn't listen to the tone so much as the words, because the sannin could make ordering a plate of sushi sound more menacing than a death threat, and often did. Which was precisely why Naruto had refused to meet at a restaurant after the first time. There were really only so many waitresses you could go through in a meal.

All this meant, of course, was that Naruto was still perfectly able to take offense when Orochimaru insulted him. As he just had. "Even though I think a lot of Konoha's policies are stupid, it doesn't mean I'm going to sit here and let you insult the old woman. I knew what I was getting into when I left Konoha. And I'm not meeting with you to protect myself. If I wanted to do that, I'd just disappear."

Orochimaru's eyes glittered. Naruto had yet to figure out whether that was intentional, either. "Succumbing to feelings of vengeance, are you, Naruto-kun? And after all Sasuke-kun told me of your laudable efforts to detract him from his own path. Rather hypocritical, don't you think?"

"Sasuke was leaving his friends behind. There's nothing for me now in Konoha. Besides, he didn't know what he was getting into, the prideful bastard, and that's what got him killed. I know exactly what I'm doing."

"All Sasuke-kun was trying to do was kill one Akatsuki. You're going after all nine, and you think you have a better chance?"

"That's why I'm here. Now that Sasuke's dead, you're never going to get the Sharingan, and since that Akatsuki have eight of the nine jinchuuriki, you're next on their list. You want the Akatsuki dead as much as I do. And I am going to kill them. All of them."

Orochimaru raised one eyebrow. "Awfully confident, aren't you, Naruto-kun. Any particular reason?"

"I'm confident because I know you're not going to say no."

Naruto met Orochimaru's gaze evenly as the dark-haired sannin looked the younger man over. The picture Sasuke had painted of the blond shinobi during his three year apprenticeship had been one of a foolish and hopelessly naïve child, one who only succeeded through pure luck and by relying on the demon inside of him. But then, Sasuke wasn't the most reliable person when it came to collecting impartial information. Naïve the jinchuuriki might have been, once, but four years had passed since Sasuke's departure from Konoha, and loss had a tendency to destroy innocence. And by all reports, Naruto had lost almost everything. His mentors, his teammates, and the majority of all others close to him. All that remained now of the child was the determination. Everything else had been replaced by either bitterness or the demon's essence. Even now, the blond shinobi's eyes glowed red, slitted in the near darkness.

After a few minutes, Orochimaru allowed himself a satisfied smirk. An innocent child he couldn't work with, but a demon was another matter. "You do realize that even between the two of us, we couldn't hope to take on the entirety of the Akatsuki."

"Of course not. The Akatsuki only travel in pairs. We can take them down two at a time."

So the boy had already made plans. Orochimaru couldn't decide whether to be irritated by the blond's impetuousness or pleased at his forethought. "That will only work once. They aren't stupid. They will not be careless after several of their number are dead."

Naruto shrugged, and the ghost of a grin that momentarily graced his mouth glinted slightly as the fading sunlight reflected off sharpened teeth. "We'll just have to be smarter, then."