From this height Sasuke could barely see the preparations for the festival. He couldn't hear the music or the kids laughing as they ran through the streets, ducking between booths and playing tag. If anyone in the village glanced up at Hokage Mountain, they wouldn't be surprised to see his silhouette sitting between the spikes of rocky hair. It was where he spent much of his time and no one ever questioned it.
When he had first begun going up there nearly three years ago, many people worried that maybe, just maybe, it was more than even Uchiha Sasuke could recover from and one day they would look up to see that dark hooded form leaping from the mountain.
It never happened though, and his presence up there, like an angel in black Anbu robes looking over the village, eventually became normal, expected even.
"Are you going to join us, Sasuke-kun?" a soft voice spoke from behind him.
He'd known she was there – she hadn't been attempting to sneak up on him. He also wasn't surprised they had sent her to fetch him. "You shouldn't be making this climb in your condition," he chastised lightly.
"I wouldn't have to if you'd choose someplace closer to the ground to be alone," she responded wryly, picking her way around the spikes to stand next to him.
That was the thing about Hinata that had surprised him at first, a dry sense of humor that occasionally peeked through her quiet personality. "That would defeat the whole purpose," he said. The fox mask on his face – the same one from years ago, burnt so half was blackened, the other half white – hid his expression, though if she really wanted to she could activate the Byakugan to see his lips quirking, just slightly.
"True," Hinata said, smiling softly. She was radiant that evening in a white silk kimono that complimented her dark hair and white eyes perfectly.
The fox mask turned to stare back over the village. "Have you and Kiba decided on a name yet?" he asked. "With your eyes you can tell the sex, right?"
Hinata's hand came to rest on her very pregnant belly. "I could, but I deliberately haven't looked. We want to be surprised." She let out a soft laugh. "Of course Neji-nisan already looked. He hates to be caught off guard about anything."
Sasuke shook his head, his smirk hidden by the fox. There was a pause. "If it's a boy… maybe Naruto?" he suggested.
Hinata graced him with a gentle smile. "Kiba and I had considered that," she said. They were the first from the group to have a child, and to name a son after their friend was a way to help him live on. "But we thought perhaps you would like the name for your first born son, Sasuke-kun. I think Naruto-kun would have liked that."
Sasuke imagined Naruto would have found it hysterical. Uchiha Naruto.
He shook his head. "I think you should," he said, finally lifting up the mask to gaze sincerely at her. Red Mangekyou eyes looked into white ones. He didn't say that it was because he never expected to have any children, because he had devoted his life to protecting the village once Naruto died and he had no time for a family. He knew, however, that she had the ability to read people just by looking in their eyes.
"Sasuke…" she said softly.
"I know it would mean a lot to him," he said before she could continue.
Hinata bit her lip, then nodded. "We'd be honored," she said, bowing slightly.
"So would he." He twisted the duotone fox to the side of his head, leaving his own face visible – a rare thing these days. "We should go before Sakura gets up in arms about us being late."
She nodded. Sasuke offered her his arm, helping her maneuver across the uneven rocks.
"Kiba!" Sakura yelled as the brown haired ninja half danced, half staggered past her.
"What?" he yelled back, causing the rest of the people in the room to flinch. Nobody wanted to hear a screaming match between those two.
"I am not," he said, tripping over nothing. "And even if I was – this is a celebration. Every celebration calls for a bit of inebriation."
Ino appeared behind him, looming menacingly, and from his seat across the room Shikamaru was glad that for once that look wasn't directed at him. "This is a celebration of someone's life, you mutt," she hissed angrily. "Not a bachelor party."
Kiba cowered a bit.
"And what if Sasuke sees you like that?" Sakura said.
"He'll kick your ass," Kankurou piped up, sending a grin at Kiba before downing some sake.
"So you can drink but I can't?" Kiba growled at the sand nin. "And I still say this is a celebration. Acting all depressed every year isn't celebrating anything!"
"It's about respect, Kiba," Ino said.
"I do respect him. He was a damn fine shinobi and a good friend. And he would think this somber gathering of friends was bullshit and you know it." Kiba glared around the room, daring someone to challenge him.
His eyes widened when the redhead standing in the corner with his arms crossed – being about as social as an ex sociopath could be – suddenly straightened and walked a little further into the room. His movements were so smooth that only those who had been there would know he had nearly died from a vicious slash from the Kyuubi three years earlier.
"Naruto hated the quiet." He nodded at Kiba once, silent permission for him to carry on.
Kiba gave a low "whoop" in triumph, starting to sing, joined by Lee, who wasn't drunk, but never liked to miss out on a good song.
Everyone at the get together – the rookie nine, minus three (two of which were on their way from Hokage Mountain), Gai's former team, and their former teachers, the three sand siblings, Iruka, Shizune, and Tsunade herself, all found themselves smiling. Naruto would have preferred a rowdy party; there was no doubt about that.
Every year on the day of the festival they all gathered together in the same place to celebrate. The festival of the village was to celebrate the death of Kyuubi. The small get together of friends celebrated the life of Naruto. They also remembered the life and sacrifice of Jiraiya, who had finally been the one to put an end to Orochimaru.
The idea of the get together had been Sakura's. Everyone had immediately agreed.
Sasuke, however, had become an almost silent figure, remaining holed up in the Uchiha compound for nearly half a year after Naruto's death, coming out only for missions and necessities. So when Sakura had gone to see him about the idea she had been shocked when he had simply given a nod and told her she could have it at one of the large empty houses of the compound.
Sakura glanced around, feeling warmed by the fact everyone was together. "Kiba! Get off the table!" Warm feeling gone.
The rest of the group watched her storm across the room in amusement, though that disappeared when a soft voice said, "Kiba-kun, you're going to give Sakura-chan a heart attack."
Hinata stood in the doorway, her lips curled into a little smile. Behind her was Sasuke, his expression stony. Sasuke did not have much of a sense of humor, and none of them thought that his patience was very great on this particular day.
There was a long pause as they awaited his reaction, and Kiba stood frozen on his table.
Finally, he spoke.
"It's not too late to run away with me, Hinata."
Another long pause followed this, broken by Kiba screeching, "What!" and toppling off the table. Sasuke smirked, and a few jaws dropped around the room as they realized that Uchiha Sasuke had just made a joke.
Sasuke slipped out of the house. His absence would be unnoticed for a while, and when they did realize, no one would look for him. This day was hard for him – they all knew and respected that. He put in an appearance because Naruto would have wanted him to. Because the blonde had never wanted him to be alone. It was how Naruto had lived almost his whole life.
So, he tried, for him. But crowds eventually got to be too much – especially happy ones. He could almost see Naruto among them all, laughing happily and at the center of attention.
He found himself back at Hokage Mountain, not on top, but looking up at it. He could make out the sounds of the festival from here. Laughter, music.
"I'm trying, Naruto," he said, pushing down his hood and pulling off the fox mask as he looked up at the stone face of the Rokudaime. They'd carved him into the mountain not long after he'd died, and whiskered cheeks had beamed down on the village ever since. When Sasuke needed perspective or wanted to be alone he sat in the rocky spikes of his hair, knowing how amazed Naruto would have been to see his big goofy face up there with the other Hokages.
Turning, he looked towards the village, then towards the Uchiha compound where the party was still going.
"I'll keep protecting them for you. It's all you ever really wanted. And it's all I could ever really do for you." He looked back up to the monument. "You keep watching and I'll make you proud."
Sasuke slid the mask back on. That was how they'd both keep living. Naruto through Sasuke, and Sasuke for Naruto.
It was all he could do.
He cast one final glance at the monument before turning, making his way back to the Uchiha compound. They'd be surprised that he came back this year.
A/N: Well friends, that's it. I can't believe I actually finished it. I apologize for it taking so long. Sometimes you spend so long on a project you have to set it aside for a while, then randomly one day you tear apart your entire room for the notebook you've managed to lose, then sit down and finish. I'm aware it's short, but it's an epilogue.
Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart for all of the wonderful feedback, the professions of love, the hate mail for taking so long, the fanart, and everything in between. I loved writing this, and I can't tell you how happy I am that so many of you enjoyed reading it.
Hugs and kisses to everyone!