A/N: I try not to make a habit out of posting notes before the chapter, just wanted to apologize that this took so long. Just... stuff happened that I don't want to get into, but yeah. If I ever write another big fanfic I am writing it ahead of time not to make people wait so long, sorry about the one last great hiatus, my forever suffering fans.

Chapter 43: Merry Christmas


The Goddess of Life looked at Madara for a moment before turning to Minato with sad eyes and saying, "There have to be easier ways to find men." and popping out of existence.(1)

Madara watched in disbelief as the Goddess of Life fled her own domain at the sight of him.

"Sad to say she is only the second most disgusting god I have seen today," he glanced down at the spot where the Assistant used to be. "A pathetic deity who thought he could control me with promises and bribes. A testament to the follies of thinking little of your supposed lessers." Madara glanced back up at Minato as he said this. "A mistake that isn't applicable here."

Minato's eyes burned a hole through Madara's skull as his hands clenched and unclenched at his side. "You've made two mistakes. The first was killing my wife. The second was not fleeing when you had the chance."(2)

Madara chuckled darkly, the slow spinning of his Sharingan a reflection of the madness that had all but consumed him. "I have no reason to flee from the likes of you. Do not mistake your place just because you have titles to your name. We are not equals."

The darkness inside of Minato pulsed at the jibe from Madara. The blond clenched his hands harder in an attempt to quell the rage burning through him. It didn't matter if Madara deserved to be cut into small pieces, Minato was going to do it on his terms or not at all. This power was his to control, he wouldn't allow it to control him. The words sounded fragile even as he thought them. "You're different from before," Minato observed, trying to focus his attention on anything but the murderous feeling whelming up inside of him.

Madara twisted his neck to relieve some of its stiffness. "I have shed myself of the guise I wore previously. Splitting my soul up as I have done came with some unexpected complications. I have regained much of my composure which previously had been lost to me when I met with the Shinigami. A lucky happenstance for him that he was unable to seize fully. I'll be sure to give my regards to him when I am done with you."

Minato's eyes became slits as he felt a pressure well up inside of him. This man had gone so far to control the living world, to spread his influence into the foundations of society. It didn't matter to him how much innocent blood had to be spilled in order to accomplish the goal. "Why?" Minato asked with a strained voice. "Why are you so obsessed with the world of the living? You could have had anything you wanted here. You could have put the endless battles behind you. Why do you always need conflict?"

Madara let out a barking, humorless laugh. "You have done things, seen so much, tugged on the hems of the Shinigami himself and yet you still ask such naïve questions. There can be no peace for me, Namikaze. That was decided long ago. When I finally passed on I sought the sage to seek his guidance. Of course he was nowhere to be found. He had locked himself away somewhere unknown, and refused to make himself available to me. I wasn't bitter though.(3) I understood the truly strong want to keep their secrets to themselves. So then I sought out my brother. My precious brother." The way Madara spoke of his brother felt poisonous just to hear. "When he looked at me do you know what he did? He flinched. Flinched! My own flesh and blood, the boy who I devoted a lifetime to avenging wanted nothing to do with me. Said I had become a monster in our family's name."

Minato, despite his anger and the shadow now scarring his soul, still felt compassion for even a wicked man being rejected by someone he loved. Then he remembered Kushina's last moments and his resolve intensified. "I will be sure to give you a suitable amount of pity when I'm done mutilating your corpse," he snarled.

"Arrogant as ever!" Madara shouted, and the room darkened. "I don't need nor want your pity. For you see it was then that I realized just how far the infection had gone. Even my own brother could not sustain himself against Hashirama's teachings. He was misled by that fool and people like him. People like you! Who lifted yourselves up as paragons of what it meant to be a shinobi. Oh and how your legend had grown even before my death. Imagine my surprise when your deeds, underwhelming and over-hyped in life, got you a position of real power in the Afterlife. Judge of the Dead. You sit in judgment of those that you helped to damn with your idealistic dreams. Every Hokage has had them, Namikaze. They all died without changing anything just like you. Who are you, who failed in every ambition you ever set for yourself, to judge anyone?"

"I never asked for any of this," Minato said in a whisper, his head bent down and to the side in shame. Minato was no fool, he realized the feelings of shame he had buried deep within himself about all of these circumstances were exactly what Madara had been hoping to expose. Even so, the cuts you give to yourself are usually the ones that go deepest.

"No, I do not doubt that," Madara confessed. "But that didn't stop you from using your position as judge to further your own miserable brand of justice. You tortured people, unable to let go of their past. You say I could have been at peace here, but what of them? I have committed far worse crimes in your eyes than any of them ever did. I manipulated the members of Akatsuki to my whim, even after my death. We both know that if I did not disguise myself in my pathetic descendent's skin my judgment would have harsh, even if it had not come from you. My fate was sealed years ago in the eyes of the self-righteous.

"I would have been willing to let that go," Madara said in a tone that conveyed just how generous that would have been. "After I had doomed you and your wife to death, killed countless Leaf ninja with a plot I myself hatched, turned your own protege against you, and set in motion a plan to take over the living world forever I would have gladly given you your Afterlife to enjoy in whatever pathetic and ultimately unfulfilled way you deemed fit. I even would have been kind and allowed your son to join you one day. But you would not have done the same for me, so why should I hold to any concept of honor? I spit on you, Namikaze Minato, and everything you believe you stand for. That the Shinigami uses your foolishness for his gain is yet another crime he will be made to pay for. His sins are truly countless."

Minato stared at Madara for a few moments but gathered a new understanding of the man in that brief time. "Just words," he replied to Madara with a dismissive wave of his hand. "You want the Shinigami gone so that when you are revived you may live forever."

Madara smirked, completely unashamed by the accuracy of Minato's statement. "An excellent side benefit of being on the right side of history, I do not deny." His face suddenly became murderous. "I have watched you throughout your life, young Namikaze, and now I have watched you throughout your death. You sit here, bucking up to me as if you are an equal. Foolish! I sit in judgment above you, and I find you wanting. The death of your fragile love was but the first step. I am your reckoning."

Minato could feel the dark energies rebel against his control at the goading statement from the Uchiha. Distantly, almost as if he imagined it, he could hear Kurama's voice pleading with him to not fight this battle. He wished he still had the strength to heed her warning as it seemed very wise to him right about now. Instead, he chose to listen to his heart. "When I was a small boy," Minato said thickly, tears trailing steadily down his face, "I met an energetic girl with the most beautiful red hair I had ever seen. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to be with her, although she took a bit of convincing about the subject." Minato smiled wryly. "Uzumaki Kushina was a woman who always needed a fair bit of convincing about everything, and I loved her for it. She would have made a wonderful mother, and every bit of news I hear about our son makes me believe he inherited the best of her. I am so very glad I had many wonderful years with her, and I miss her dearly."

Madara knew he had just gotten done with the whole speech thing but compared to his awesome one this was a bit underwhelming and downright sappy. "Know your audience, Namikaze Minato. I simply do not care."

Minato's eyes hardened and he fixed Madara with a death glare that the Shinigami himself would have been proud to behold; actually that's incredibly unlikely, but it could be reasoned that delusions of grandeur were another side effect of whatever it was that Minato had swallowed. "Sometime soon, Uchiha Madara, you are going to ask me a question. The answer is going to be Uzumaki Kushina. I just thought you should know."

"Enough!" Madara shouted, unsure if his mind could consume any more feeble threats without breaking. "You wish to have your revenge. I am standing in front of you, act like a man and take your shot. Avenge that disgrace of a ninja, Namikaze. You believe yourself able. Do it then."

Minato's hands blurred and suddenly there was a giant black dragon made from fire flying towards the Uchiha.

Just before impact the dragon was consumed by the more potent black flames of Amaterasu and a large explosion rocked the palace. The fire quickly lost form and when it dissipated Madara's eyes were spinning, madness clearly defined in them, and looking right into Minato's blue orbs.

"Pathetic attempt, Namikaze."

Minato forewent more ranged attacks and dashed forward to engage in melee combat with the similarly built Uchiha. He threw a left only for it be countered with a firm block that knocked him off balance. Minato barely had time to register the sword slashing through the air aimed at his throat before he successfully teleported a few feet away with practiced grace.

"Hmph," Madara said as he easily parried another punch. "The Yellow Flash indeed. Your taijutsu is allowed to be sloppy because of your ability to infuse ninjutsu into it at any moment." Madara tilted his head to avoid another slash. "Your use of Tobirama's technique is effective, I admit. Not effective enough, though." Madara charged towards Minato and launched into a flurry of sword swings that the blond barely managed to stay ahead of by positioning his body at just the right angle to avoid the successive strikes. Madara made a wild swing which allowed Minato to get inside of Madara's guard.

"Baited," Madara stated simply as Minato's kunai went straight through his head. The illusion of his head, at any rate.

Minato did not have time to form a plan as a sword buried itself into his chest from behind. Minato felt incredibly faint as he fell to his knees. He had suffered wounds in the Afterlife before but this, he knew, was different. He could sense himself slipping into the dark.

Madara came into view with a smug expression on his face. "Drawn out battles have never been my style. While other ninja relied on flash I just get to the...point."

Minato didn't know what hurt more: the horrific wound in his chest or that pun. As the pain pulsed through him again he decided it was the wound, if barely. He clinched his fist in an attempt to pool his strength but found there was nothing to draw from.

Madara calmly watched Minato's struggle. "Since I allowed you your speech about revenge, love, and other related nonsense I am going to give one of my own." Madara pointed to the sword in his hand. "This is not a normal sword. It was specifically crafted with the destruction of Death in mind. It actually would not have harmed you at all if you weren't aligned with the Shinigami on an intimate level. This weapon is only supposed to work on the God of Death, but I suppose a tool can not tell the difference between the master and the dog who protects him. Not that I am complaining."

"Fuck you," Minato bit out.

Madara raised an eyebrow. "Excuse me?"

Minato tried to move but failed, yet remained undeterred. "I said fuck you. I'm not going down like this. Especially when you couldn't even nail the speech. Jiraiya-sensei would be really pissed off at me for dying to a guy who can't even get his dialogue right."

Madara had heard the mortally wounded often lost their minds before their body gave out, but admittedly had never left someone alive long enough to witness the event for himself. How quaint. "Go on, get it all out."

"You took everything from me. My student. My wife, my life, and the future we had together with our son! You robbed me of EVERYTHING!" Minato's voice had grown sinister at the end as vile intent began to roll off of him. Minato, who had lived his life with an intimate understanding of the dangers that vast power often held, for the first time no longer cared to hold it in anymore.

"Minato! No!" Kurama screamed with all of her willpower to reach out to warn Minato, but it was for naught.

Suddenly Minato jumped back onto his feet, his eyes now a much darker shade of blue and a cruel smile on his face. Dark energy crackled around him and once every few seconds a spasm would rush through Minato's soul as the power warped it.

Madara narrowed his eyes as he took in Minato. The first thing he noticed was the wound he had inflicted upon the man was gone. The second was that the thing in front of him could no longer be correctly described as Namikaze Minato.

"Getting desperate now, are we?" Madara taunted.

"Prepare to perish." Not giving Madara a chance to respond, Minato threw a kunai at the man's heart.

Madara effortlessly swatted it away, but he had left himself wide open to be stabbed in the side by a teleporting Minato. Madara grunted in pain as he whirled around only to find Minato no longer there.

Minato reappeared in front of the Uchiha and tackled him into a stone pillar. Minato immediately followed up with driving an elbow right into the Uchiha's smug face. Blood spurted out from Madara's nose as the elbow struck true. Before Minato had much of a chance to revel in the damage he had caused he was thrown violently away from Madara as a dark protective shell formed around the man. Minato rolled back to his feet, negating much of the power that had thrown him, and saw now that it was no shell that had repelled him. It was the skeletal frame of Madara's Susanoo, his most impressive defensive technique.

'It won't be impressive for long, Minato-kun. Embrace me and accept the inevitable', a dark voice whispered inside of Minato's head.

Kurama, still present if worse for wear, shuddered at the malevolence of the voice. Minato, she said, Don't listen. You love women! Not creepy male evil voices!

There was silence for a moment. 'Fool! I am the darkness! I reign over death itself! Do not compare my powers to petty-'

Minato mentally sighed, cutting off whatever denial the darkness had. Kurama-chan, don't take me lightly. I already know that this situation is fucked up. But I no longer have a choice. If I let this man get passed me I don't know what awaits.

Kurama scoffed scornfully. Your soul is on fire, Minato! It is burning. Can't you feel it? A human soul, much less one as unstable as yours, isn't meant to handle this type of thing! You aren't going to have to worry about Madara finishing you off!

'You knew the cost, mortal. Do not let this sentimental creature turn you away now. Even if I do turn you into ashes, at least your objectives shall be met. Use my power. Strike down his monster and then rip the fragile man to shreds.'

Minato let a sad smile come to his face. "Sorry, Kurama," he said aloud.

DAMN YOU NAMIKAZE! KUSHINA WOULD NEVER- her voice was cut off once again as Minato charged forward.

Madara performed several hand seals and reinforced the structure around him. He could tell his enemy was pooling energy for one massive strike. When his Susanoo withstood the assault he would crush the spent man.

A pitch black Rasengan formed in Minato's right hand as he performed his famed Flying Thunder God technique to appear mere feet in front of of the Susanoo. Minato had only a moment to delight in the surprised look on Madara's face before he slammed the spinning sphere into the massive bone structure. As soon as it impacted a massive explosion erupted from the point of contact. The explosion raced outward and soon consumed the entirety of Life's castle in a matter of seconds.

After several minutes the debris of the castle, consisting mostly of stone and large shards of twisted metal, stopped raining from the sky and the two men once again stood opposite from one another.

Madara looked up at the bright sky overhead and hid his shock as best he could. To think this man would be able to break Final Susanoo into small pieces with one attack... even stating it after the fact felt absurd. He would have to tread very carefully going forward. He knew the measure of Minato's strength before, but his recovery from the otherwise fatal stab wound had changed the circumstances of this battle. Madara eyed the blond carefully and tensed as Minato prepared to charge again.

This is it! Madara thought to himself to counter whatever strike Namikaze had planned.

Minato sprinted forward a few steps before suddenly the darkness popped in for a visit.

'Whoops, looks like time is up. Well we only had a few brief moments together, but know I will treasure it for the rest of your life,' the dark voice intoned with obvious amusement.

'Come on, cut me a break here. I only need a little bit more,' Minato pleaded desperately to the vile substance inside of him.

'Oh, well now that you have given me your emotional plea let me think upon your request for a moment.'

Minato sighed and waited patiently for the voice inside of his head to consider his argument. After several very long, very sad seconds Minato had a thought. 'I'm not getting a response, am I?'

'You think?'

Before Minato could respond further his body seized up as black electricity emitted from his body, disabling him entirely. Minato struggled to move but found his body completely unresponsive. No, he had to remind himself, not his body. His soul was unresponsive. Minato tried desperately to move but no matter how much effort he exerted he did not even budge.

'Come on! You can't quit on me now! You have to help me!'

'Oh very well. I will give you the best possible advice in your exact situation: duck.'

Before Minato had time to question the sinister voice about his meaning his head was cut clean off of his shoulders by a katana wielded by Uchiha Madara. Blood, symbolic as it was, spurted out from the wound as did black gunk which immediately charred the ground upon contact. So overjoyed was Madara at killing the piece of trash that he did not notice the tiny and beaten soul of Kurama escape the scene.

Madara let out a maniacal laugh. The Shinigami's champion was slain. Now for the God of Death himself. Madara spit on the quickly dissolving corpse of Minato before exiting for the Shinigami's realm. By the time the portal had closed, Minato's fresh corpse had turned to nothing.

His soul had been obliterated from the Afterlife.

'Help me he says, I need you he says. Can't even tell a command from a bird. Deserved what he got lousy airhead...'


The Shinigami steadied his shaking hand as he put the pen he held down as gently as he could manage. The Shinigami was feeling a tad under the weather, still stronger than ninety-nine percent of everything that would be idiotic enough to pick a fight mind, but that was not the reason he was careful with the pen. He had gutted his new friend's soul to the point that even the slightest sound made him wish he was buried alive than in the chair. It was a good thing then for his 'friend' that the man was able to keep his agonized groans silent. On the other hand, it was a good thing for the Shinigami that he could throw a knife without making a sound. The Shinigami glanced down at the desk and found a knife. The universe was truly mysterious in its Shinigami threw the knife into the man's chest in one smooth motion and listened as the man did not make a single sound. A worthy challenge, the Shinigami decided.

Uchiha Izuna had been surprisingly brittle all things considered, lack of screams aside. The Shinigami glanced over at the flayed soul of Uchiha Madara's brother to see the boy looking at him with undisguised terror amidst the silent suffering. It was his favorite type of terror, really. One time the soul of a beloved prince had looked at him with disguised terror in an attempt to feel better about his fear. The Shinigami had ripped out his eyeballs and eaten them. He had to confess to himself that he didn't really know if the eye sockets of the prince facing his general direction counted as undisguised terror or not, but he had jotted it down as a win regardless of any technicalities.

"So, Uchiha-san," the Shinigami whispered out of respect for their game, "what tool should I use next on your pathetically weak soul, perhaps-" before the Shinigami could complete the sentence a powerful ripple tore through his office causing everything to crash all around him. The Shinigami sucked in a breath and rose from his seat. The energy that had run through him had been very familiar. So familiar in fact he had managed to absorb a fraction of it back into himself. There weren't many scenarios that would have caused this to happen.

Before the Shinigami could think more on the situation Kurama burst through his office door.

"Shinigami! Minato-kun lost to Madara! He is gone!" Kurama boomed out.

The Shinigami did not appear to register what Kurama had said as the soul of Uchiha Izuna had blood dripping out of every pore and he was frothing at the mouth from the extreme overstimulation. The Shinigami watched a particular trail of blood going down the man's face from his eye for several seconds before he realized the person who interrupted the game - not that the final scorecard need indicate that event - was decidedly male. Which could mean only one thing and it wasn't good, as it threw the entire cosmos into disharmony.

Oh well, one for two wasn't so bad. For him anyway, and really wasn't that what really mattered?


Minato opened his eyes. He was in line. Why? He blinked. Failed to blink. Blobs in front of him. He looked cooler than them. Minato attempted to look down but was unable to. He got a blobby feeling. The last thing the former blond remembered was Madara's smug face. What a shitty final image. He had been talking to the presence within his soul when Madara had struck. He couldn't feel the presence. Or Kurama. Where was Kurama? Oh. He must have died. Or whatever passed for dying. Was Kushina a blob too? Maybe he'd get to see her again. That would be nice. It was then that Minato took notice of a foggy feeling encroaching onto his conscious making it harder to focus. As he fought to stave off the feeling a sign appeared near the edge of his vision to the right.

Welcome to the After-Afterlife!

In small print just beneath that it read:

Judge of the Dead-Dead shirking responsibility every other chapter, please be patient.

"You've got to be fucking with me," Minato deadpanned.

"I am afraid you're not exactly my type. A little on the dumb side, too," a voice said.

"Who is there?" Minato asked. Years of being emotionally abused by the Shinigami had dulled him to the insults he received from voices unseen to the point that he just ignored them now.

Somewhere the Shinigami marked off a life goal of his.

"Me. I thought that was rather obvious," the voice said in a clear attempt to be charming. It was not a successful attempt.

"You're God, right? Like, the God?" Minato ventured.

"I'm an alternate reality version of you sent to the past in order to guide you!" the voice said in oddly convincing fashion.

Minato gawked. "R-really?"

There was a long silence. "I am so disappointed in you right now. I am the Almighty, Namikaze Minato."

Minato recalled something he had put together earlier and decided to put it out there. "You're the Keeper too, right?"

There was a very long pause. "What's 'the Keeper'?" the voice attempted to feign ignorance.

Minato gave an empty space a dirty look. "The guy with the exact same voice as you, genius."

"I am not the Keeper you are looking for!" the voice said in a faux convincing voice.

"Listen up!" Minato yelled while in blob form, which didn't accomplish much but not accomplishing much never stopped Minato from existing in this story, "I had this really cool connection worked out where because the Keeper interfered in a really weird and random way against Bob and the Goddess of Life said the Almighty wouldn't let any deity truly go rogue that the assistance from the Keeper proved you two were the same. But I don't need all of that logic because you have the same voice! I worked on five separate graphs and I even degraded myself to the point where I made a pie chart just to illustrate how obvious it was that you two are the same! And you ruined it by not even managing to change the pitch of your voice, so shut up and just admit it! This is bullshit! Bullshit I tell you!"

"Okay first off pie charts are how your father attracted your mother show some respect," the voice said.

I didn't need to know that! Minato thought.

"Secondly you are no fun, and it is a universal fact if you had gone to Hitomi's chuunin graduation party fifteen years prior the Kyuubi would have remained where it belonged: in Kushina's cute tummy," the voice continued.

What does Hitomi-chan have to do with any of this!? Wait, what did he say about my wife?

"Thirdly...yes, I am the Keeper as well. Good job on acting like an Uchiha(4) and revealing it instead of letting it come naturally in our dialogue with one another. I hope you are proud of yourself. Now sit down and drink tea with me."

Before Minato could get anything in edgewise he found himself seated at a fancy desk with a cup of tea in his hand and the Keeper in front of him with a matching cup. Minato, not really in a position to be picky at this point, took a drink of his tea before the Almighty decided to do something more destructive with him.

"So," the Keeper said in between sips of his own tea. "Drinking the essence of death. That would not have been my first move."

Minato felt compelled to take a sip every time the man in front of him did. "Not the result I expected," Minato admitted.

"The Shinigami gave you something. And you used it. Ergo, you're a fucking idiot."(5)

"Hey," Minato objected, intent on defending himself. "I have been pretty savvy since I came to the Afterlife. Name one bad decision I've made besides this one-"

Before Minato could finish his sentence a staggering stack of files slammed into the corner of the desk to his right, causing part of the desk to crumble beneath the weight.

"Alphabetical, chronological, or amount of idiocy involved?" the Almighty asked lightly.

"Using my own techniques against me, that bastard! Minato thought before saying, "We all make mistakes in new situations."

"These files are just the past year, Minato-kun."

Minato wondered if the After-After-Afterlife was better than this bullshit.

"Oh," Minato said meekly instead of verbalizing his more rash thought. He glanced at the numerous files. "I think we can avoid reading too far into those."

The Almighty waved Minato off. "Oh, these old things? I've studied them extensively in my off time. I know them cover to cover!"

Minato got a ludicrous expression on his face as a sweat drop appeared on the side of his face. He just wanted to show off.

Suddenly the Almighty turned serious as he steepled his hands underneath his chin. Immediately Minato shifted in his chair, understanding the shift in the atmosphere. The small talk was over.

The Almighty inclined his head in a sign of appreciation. "Minato-kun," he began, "I assume the Shinigami has already explained to you the instability of your soul."

Minato nodded mutely.

Seeing Minato's affirmation he continued. "As you may have guessed, this is the primary reason I wanted you to spend time with me under the guise of the Keeper. I had hoped to study you without rousing any suspicions but that opportunity has passed us now that your soul was destroyed. Your … accident was a unique circumstance, which I rarely encounter being who I am and all. In the end I suppose my curiosity will need to find something else to attract it."

Minato had stopped listening after the bit about his soul being destroyed. "Uh, not to sound stupid or anything but if my soul was destroyed then how I am here?"

The Almighty didn't have the heart to let Minato know it was far too late to avoid sounding stupid, the man seemed so hopeful about it. "I reassembled it – minus the defect of course – in an instant. From blob to blond just like that." the deity chuckled at his own joke; it was a strike against his infallibility. "If I hadn't interfered the remaining bits of your essence, little more than cosmic dust with your some of your awareness in it, would have stayed in that blob until it was completely reconfigured and reassigned."

Minato bolted upright. "Then Kushina is-"

"-Long gone," the Almighty said, much to Minato's visible deflation. "Once souls are brought here they do not linger long. The Universe wastes nothing, and the woman once known as Uzumaki Kushina has been repackaged and sent on her way back to a world amongst the living."

Minato blinked. He considered himself an intelligent man, but he didn't really understand what the deity in front of him spoke about. Kushina was alive again? Only... not really?

The Almighty saw that nothing was going to be clarified for the man in front of him by sitting at a desk and decided to vanish said desk. "Follow me," he said to his blond companion before walking away from him.

Minato was quick to do as he was told. Before he could ask what this about the white floor under them shifted and as far as his eyes could see movie-like images flashed to life, each panel of the floor depicting something wildly different.

"This," the Almighty pointed to a panel to Minato's right, "Is your world."

Minato's eyes went huge as he saw Naruto sitting around a large group of toads. The young man looked very confused for a moment before his eyes opened wide and he began to babble excitedly next to an elder, who looked amused at the emotion displayed. Minato let a gentle smile work its way onto his face. So his kid was getting training from the toads. Jiraiya would be pleased.

"And this," the Almighty continued, "is another." The Almighty tapped a foot on the panel and suddenly an explosion of sound could be heard from it.

"BAN-KAI!"

Minato watched with interest as an orange haired kid held a long, black sword in his hand and looked like he was about to do some real damage to whoever it was he was looking at. He wondered how he stacked up to a guy like that? Eh, probably just him being silly, after all it was useless to compare his skill set to that of a stranger from another world. No one would ever bother with such nonsense.

The Almighty stepped on the panel again and the sound ceased. "Each a different world. Each, in fact, with a different Afterlife. Yet all with the same After-Afterlife. All of these worlds, thousands on top of thousands, lead back to here eventually. I dare say, just call this a hunch, that this isn't the only such hub and I am not the only Almighty out there. The possibilities are truly endless. Like I said though, it is just a hunch."

Minato snorted. He didn't need the truth shoved in his face much more than that. "So when Kushina-chan was killed... she came here and," Minato swept his hand to the many panels on the floor. "She was born again somewhere else."

"Exactly. Satisfied now?"

A few tears hit the ground as a shadow covered Minato's eyes. "Not in the slightest. But it's enough for now, yeah." Minato's voice was thick with emotion as he wiped the tears out of his eyes. "So, what comes next? You said yourself your reason for wanting to study me have come to an end. I can be reassigned now, right?"

The Almighty smiled kindly. "Indeed. I just have a question before I send you on your way: How did you think you did as Judge of the Dead?"

The question was asked lightly, but it immediately had Minato on edge. Something inside of him, something to be trusted, said it was gravely important that he answer this question honestly. The blond closed his eyes as he tried to recall all of the souls he had judged since being spat out of the Shinigami's stomach. All of the children who had died well before their time, how he had helped them. He was proud of those times. He had helped a lot of people both deal with their death and adjust to their circumstance. Then he remembered people like Zabuza who had become his assistant, where he got to see a different side to the man. A zany, loyal side that probably no one would have expected out of the man. Minato was proud to say he had become a good friend. Then he thought of all of the members of the Akatsuki he had judged. The work he had not finished left a bitterness inside of him. There was always someone who needed to be judged for the heinous things they did. Then again, was that really true? Uchiha Madara was a reprehensible man, but many things he had said to Minato were not entirely wrong. He and Jiraiya had often talked about the future of the world where the cycle of hatred could be disrupted in favor of peace. In his grief he had let his own hatred consume him more than once.

Minato set his eyes on his son once again. Naruto's eyes, the same color as his own, were warm when he spoke to the toads. Minato wondered how his cold eyes looked to the enemies he had killed and tortured. They inspire change through overwhelming fear... was that the answer he had sought? Looking at his son's smiling visage told him the answer to that.

The Almighty let out a huge sigh in order to catch Minato's attention. Honestly, one of these days the hero of the story was going to just have an answer ready for him when he asked for it. The next universe he ruled over was never going to get to the stage where inner monologues were in vogue or he'd just blow the thing up and try again.

Minato smiled at the Almighty's honest annoyance before becoming serious once again and speaking. "I was a flawed Judge, I think. I never wanted the position, which I guess was obvious considering how much I avoided judging at times. I tried my best to be fair, but just like in my life I was unable to show mercy to my enemies. I think my actions could be justified in each and every case but... being justified in one's actions does not make them right. I can say with a clear heart that I did what I thought was right, but I don't think I was the right person for the job. Honestly, Shinigami-sama just didn't want to deal with the paperwork and threw me there. As a punishment for upsetting his stomach, I imagine."

The Almighty mulled over the answer for a few seconds. "A decent answer, I suppose. It is hardest to judge ourselves, I think. Accurately, at any rate. I agree with your assessment, not that it matters much in hindsight." The Almighty was lying through his teeth about the last part, not that Minato needed to know that. "As you say no freshly killed mortal should shoulder such responsibility with so little training. Of course, the Shinigami knew this as well. He thinks he is clever, but really I see through his movements well enough."

Once again Minato was lost as to what the Almighty could possibly be talking about. Before he could ask the Almighty continued on.

"Anyway," the Almighty said, "Our time has come to an end here. This is where mortal souls depart the After-Afterlife onto their new adventure."

Minato gave a bob of his head and closed his eyes, waiting for what came next.

And waited.

And then he waited some more.

You know what? Minato was feeling particularly patient today, so he waited even more after that.

Eventually he opened one of his eyes to find the Almighty looking at him incredulously

"You know, for someone who is very famous in his world for being highly intelligent you sure look stupid a lot of the time. You need to work on that...I think it is a defect that even my mighty power appears unable to correct."

"I...I don't understand," Minato muttered.

"Well you see, a defect is when-"

"The other thing!" Minato said with absolutely zero patience and a vein pulsing in his forehead.

The Almighty chose that moment to display some of his capacity for pity. "As stated, I had my eye on you for quite some time, Minato-kun. I do not get to say this often, but I really do enjoy your company. If you desire to simply move on from this part of your existence I would not blame you. However, because of recent events the Afterlife is imbalanced. If you were to help me correct it I would be grateful." the Almighty paused and looked Minato right in the eye, all humor gone. "I am not grateful often."

Minato tilted his head back and closed his eyes, mulling over the Almighty's words. It had been awhile since he had an actual choice to decide his future. He didn't know what he was going to do.

The Almighty saw the uncertainty in Minato's eyes and decided to sweeten the pot. "Then again...there's always the comedy option."


Footnotes:

1: I hear being kidnapped by Kumo ninjas is an excellent conversation starter.

2: Obito gets mentally manipulated for years and doesn't even get a mention from his beloved sensei. Is it any wonder the guy flipped out?

3: By the definition of Uchiha Madara the following things are no longer considered bitter: Lemons, Limes, Kale, Eggplant, Cumin, Taylor Swift.

4: Being an Uchiha has been described as many varied things, but in this context the top translators in the world believe what the Almighty was trying to say "being a bitch."(4b)

4b: You know, now that this story is almost over as an actual footnote I have to say some of my favorite characters in the Naruto canon are actually Uchiha. I actually like Sasuke most of the time, even. I don't make fun of them because I dislike them, I make fun of them because I find it really funny. I just thought you all should know that.

5: This guy would be really good at Phoenix Wright.


A/N: If you saw this one coming, great job. I dropped a lot of hints this way throughout the story but I tried to be subtle. With just two chapters left I had a lot of fun writing this one and figuring out just what I wanted to say. We have one last door to open until just about everything is laid out in the open.

On that note if there are ANY plot threads not related to the Shinigami and Minato that you want to see, be they central characters or side scenes, you should review and let me know. The last chapter I am going to try to tie up random loose threads with a myriad of scenes (and it should be the biggest of the story by far) but I might miss something. So please review and let me know what you want to see.

Thanks for sticking with me guys, now review and tell me what you thought of this. I... really wanted to get to the heart of Naruto with this one. I don't know how I did, but it was interesting.

Until next time.

Chris