Disclaimer: why must I waste space to tell you all this? you know where to look.

Rating: PG-13 though language has lessened, its still there. also a tissue warning, apparently i've made people cry before (kind of sorry about that ; P )and I believe a warning is needed for this one.

Pairings/Characters: NaruSaku, implied NejiTeten, ShikaIno, and onesided KibaSaku; Sakrua.

Word Count: 2899, roughly

Stage Five-Acceptance

acceptance: the mental attitude that something is believable and should be accepted as true.

"I'll catch up to you later!" the girl shouts over her shoulder as she steps out of the quaint shop. She doesn't hear the muffled, and most likely exasperated, reply. She steps out onto the dusty street, gravel crunching beneath her shoes. She takes a deep breath of the fresh morning air, tipping her head back up towards the sky. She stands there for a moment before turning on her heel and walking away.

The streets aren't crowded yet, it's still too early for the citizens of Konoha. She has no problem navigating her way around the vendors and few people bustling about. She pays them no mind, the item she just purchased held carefully in her grasp. She passes the familiar ramen stand, the only stand she used to eat at daily and still does. She contemplates about stopping for a bowl, she skipped breakfast. She shakes her head, food later; she has somewhere she needs to be.

She continues her journey without any more stops. She runs into no familiar faces, and there is no one else she really wants to see. The sun is climbing high in the sky, warm rays beating down on her exposed shoulders. Spring is in full bloom in Fire Country, the time of the year that really attracts tourists. She has had no time to enjoy the beautiful weather, keeping herself busy because her work at the hospital is never ending now that she is the top medic Konoha Hospital has to offer besides the Godaime. Time has passed swiftly, the village hasn't changed greatly it seems, no it has changed, there is no doubt about it. Or maybe she's the one who changed.

Finally she reaches her destination. The path she has traveled so many times before is well known to her, she could make her way here in the dead of night without any trouble. She walks through the gates with ease. A sadden one yes, but she no longer hesitates or trembles like she used to. This place has become one of her haunts (no pun intended) and if you can't find her at the hospital or on top of the Hokage Mountain you will most certainly locate her here.

Konoha's Memorial Shrine.

The cemetery that honors the village's fallen shinobi.

Death is a universal component of the world we live in. Life and Death, Light and Dark, a never ending circle that shapes our lives. Without one, the other is lost, and there is chaos. Death, it is unavoidable, it is definite. That is why to survive we must learn to heal.

She skillfully manuvers around the graves, jade eyes passing over names and dates that have little meaning to her. Right now, she is the only one here. Others may come later, most won't come at all. But that doesn't matter to her; she prefers her time spent here alone, with him and only him. She is standing before his grave soon enough. She stares at it, as usual speechless and choked up, even after all this time. A sudden gust of wind whips around her, blowing pink locks in her face. The black cloth of the headband on her head whips with the breeze, billowing around her shoulders.

She feels a sense of peace. The wind is strong and persistent, but calming and gentle at the same time. Her mind easily makes a connection between him and the elusive element, and she smiles. It's as if he's right here with her, the gusts really his arms wrapping themselves around her in a comforting hug. She is able to move again, whatever sadness that had overcome her before has been carried away by the wind.

She steps up to the grave. She carefully frees the purchased flowers from their bindings, a large bouquet of bright yellow daffodils, she just picked up from Yamanaka Flowers. She sets them in the vase, throwing out the wilting flowers from her last visit. She takes the remaining water and uses it to wash away the dirt that has accumulated on the stone. She'll have to talk the care takers (more like threaten) about the uptake on his grave. Again. She notes that someone has already lit the incense, recently too. She suspects Kakashi or Tsunade has already been here. Once she has finished fixing up his grave, she sits back on her heels, satisfied with her work. Delicate fingers trace lovingly over the familiar name. She sighs as another breeze wafts around her.

"Hello again Naruto," she says softly.

Denial. The inability to accept the truth of what has happened, whether it be a conscious or unconscious effort. It is a natural defense mechanism against a horrible truth. It is a method of avoidance, an attempt to run. However death is unavoidable, no matter how hard and how fast we run.

"It's been a while, I've been really busy at the hospital these days," she tells him. Sakura moves into a sitting position, she can already tell that she'll be here for a while, her promise to meet Ino on time forgotten. "Things are going well, all things considered. Neji and Tenten's wedding is next month, it's going to be quite the party I believe, no matter how stuffy the Hygua's may be. Tenten is a party girl you know?" She leans back, head tilted and eyes lazily scanning the cloud lined blue sky. "Ino and Shikamaru are dating now. I was right about them, you always thought he would end up with Temari remember?" she chuckles lightly, remembering the heated debates they sometimes had about their comrades and their love lives. Who would have thought Naruto was such a match maker?

She talks; she tells him everything that has been going on. She tells him about the new genins, and Team Kakashi, and her work at the hospital. She tells him about the shenanigans she and Ino get into in their shared apartment, the new team Lee is leading, how Tsunade beat Jiraiya to a pulp (again) the other day when he was caught peeking. She informs him about how relations with Suna are going, and that Gaara plans to come by some time this week. She updates him about the going ons with the Rookie Nin, who recently joined ANBU or became a jonin and everything that he has missed. She talks for hours, arms positioned in a relaxed position against sun soaked stone facing his grave. Her voice is light and soft, a hint of laughter and yearning tinting her tone.

Anger. With it possibly comes the most pain from grief. It is a powerful and difficult emotion, one that can form a deep seeded resentment that can waste away years. Anger comes in various forms, and sometimes needs an outlet. Anger is hard to deal with, and if left to fester, can leave you empty, bitter, and alone. Anger only burns, it never heals.

The sun stretches high in the sky, it's past noon now. She has no plans to leave though, her visit still feels incomplete. She has spent hours in front of his grave before; a few times even stayed the night. Oddly enough she feels comforted when she is here, feels more connected to him then anywhere else with the exception of the Hokage Mountain. She hasn't been out here in a while; she has a lot of catching up to do. She moves from her relaxed position to a huddled one, previously stretched out legs now bent to her chest and arms wrapped around them.

"It's hard to believe it's been two years already huh? It still feels like just yesterday you were leaving…" her chest tightens a bit, and she takes a shaky breath. She didn't come here to cry. "It's, it's not the same without you. I know I say that every time I come here, but…its the truth." Her eyes rove from the grave to the sky again, as if searching for some heavenly reply.

As always, there is none.

"The others think I'm finally back to normal. They don't say it out aloud of course, but they've started mentioning you more often lately," she noticed his name wasn't such taboo subject among their peers any longer, most likely because she has stopped flinching every time he's mentioned. "I'm not you know, back to normal that is. I never will be either. A little part of me died that day with you; they don't seem to realize that." It's true. She won't be the same, can't be. Sure, she smiles more, and laughs more. She still scolds the young pervert that is Konohamura and knocks the daylights out of Sai when the bastard calls her a hag. There is some of the old Sakura in her. But her smiles aren't the same. Only Naruto could truly make her smile, something genuine and soft. Only Naruto could make her laugh, her voice carrying on the wind like chimes. Whatever genuineness she had was lost, no one else but him could bring it back.

It twists her heart, a sharp tug. His laughter rings in her ears, childlike and wondrous. Sometimes she swears she can still hear his whining call of "Saaaakuraaa-chaaan!" or sees a flash of yellow and orange out of the corner of her eye. A sense of melancholy settles over her, and the light smile that had settled on her features morphs into a frown.

Bargaining. A desperate attempt to reverse what has happened. Bargaining is our last ditch hope at preventing the unpreventable. Bargaining is where we will do anything to change the situation. Desperation envelopes our being, fueling us with a feverish resolve to do whatever we can for one last chance.

She decides that while she in a somber mood that now is a perfect time to break out the more serious news. "Sasuke-kun might come home soon. His latest message is that he has almost caught up with Kisame," she says. Sasuke had caught up with his homicidal brother seven months after Naruto's death. The details are sketchy at best, but he returned bloody, limping, and carrying Itachi's dismembered head in his hands. She healed him to the best of her ability, but he will always carry a slight limp in his left knee and a deep scar on his right cheek. He took off again afterwards, vowing to kill every Akatsuki member. She only wished him the best of luck, wondering if he'd ever come home to stay.

"We might actually beat them, especially since we've halted their operations," she says hopefully. "Jiraiya's spies have noted their slowed activity. I've asked Tsunade-sama if I can go out on the next scouting mission," she says.

Shortly after his death there had been fear going around that since Akatsuki now possessed the nine tails that they were unstoppable, the Toad Sanin said differently. He theorized that five of the nine tails were still sealed; he never gave Naruto the scroll to unlock them. He believed with the fox's power cut in half the Akatsuki couldn't carry on with their plans. Sakura remembers him mentioning how complex the Fourth's seal was, and that something about it was odd when Tsunade examined the body. The theory wasn't foolproof, and even Sakura could spot some large holes in it, but it was the only hope they had. And since Akasuki hasn't unleashed the world's doom, it's believed the Sanin might be right. Immediately both Konoha and Suna sent out search and destroy teams. Sakura herself had been on the most successful one, she herself crushing Zetsu's two-faced head with her bare hands.

They have had some success so far; however the group's mysterious leader still remained elusive. "It's possible we can beat them. Well, even if we lost I'd still try to fight them. I'll never let them get away with what they did to you," she vows furiously. Her rage against his killers will never fade; it has been the hidden but driving force for her through the two past years. She never lusted after revenge like Sasuke, but if she was given the chance to hunt down the renegade ninja she always took it. She delivered justice mercifully and painfully. Their deaths were ones she never will regret.

Depression. When life feels that it has all but stopped. You can't go on; you feel that living is impossible. Sorrow has a painful grasp on you, and nothing seems to be ok. Life for you has faded at this point, and the bleak future promises only death.

"It's been so hard Naruto," she confesses. She moves again, this time resting on her knees, hands in her lap, head bowed down. Her hands fist the material of her skirt. "Even after all this time I wake up expecting to still see you at Ichiraku Ramen or our training grounds. When I come out of the hospital I still expect to see you waiting for me. I miss you so damn much," she whispers. "I see you everywhere. In some ways, I think you're still here with me." Her hand goes up to touch the headband, his headband, that she has worn since his death. Her fingers trail downwards, playing with the black silk.

She has only a few of his belongings. Most of his ninja gear was given away, and he had little possessions to keep. A potted plant of his sits on her windowsill, and a few of his T-shirts are tucked away in her closet. What she mostly has left of him are memories, the things that she cherishes the most. However she is horrified to find they are becoming a little hazy. She plans to start a journal, a place where she'll put all her memories of the beloved kitsune to always keep, to fondly read when she is old, if she ever has a chance to be old. She has mixed feelings on that subject.

"Somehow though, I keep going. I don't think I could have gone on without Ino, or Tsunade-sama, or Kakashi, or any of our friends. It's been weird to have you gone, this village hasn't been the same…" she trails off. Should she tell him? "Ino says I need to start dating. Well, more like insisting, because she is Ino," Sakura smiles faintly. "But, I don't think I can love anyone but you. Every boy I talk to I can't help but compare to you and it sucks so much when he isn't much like you at all," she sighs heavily, pushing her short bangs away from her face.

She knows she shouldn't do that, compare guys to Naruto, because there will never be anyone in the world quite like Naruto. But she finds herself turned off by any guy who doesn't like ramen, or doesn't kid around with her, or listen to her when she needs someone to talk to. She prefers her guys to have tan skin, bright smiles, and blue eyes. It's horribly unfair to her and the boys that have taken an interest in her but she can't help it. "I think, I think Kiba might like me, he's been dropping all these hints lately." She bites her lower lip, fine brows furrow in thought. "I'm not sure what to think of it. I know he'll be more understanding then anyone else but…" she sighs again, "it's hard to image myself with anyone but you."

The wind whips around her, somewhere the sound of chimes carry in the air. Its late noon now, and she is very late for her shopping date with Hinata and Ino. For today, she has nothing else to talk about. She may visit again tonight just to bask in the peaceful company his grave provides. If not, she'll be by again next week with more news, as always. She stands, knees cracking from the prolonged disuse. She rearranges the flowers once more, and relights the incense. She stands before his grave, studying each groove of his name. It's still hard to think of him gone and dead, that vibrant and lively boy. Every day she sees or hears something that makes her think of him. But for the first time in a long time she feels alive, truly living and breathing and feeling. Sorrow is no longer her constant companion, and it has been a long time since she has cried herself to sleep. Perhaps she'll think a little more about dating, a little more about laughing for real. Perhaps tomorrow will bring something new.

Her fingers trail over his name once more before she bends over and places a soft kiss on the cool stone. She steps back and turns around, almost wistfully, before looking back once more.

Acceptance. The final stage towards normalcy. It is a releasing of all the guilt and grief resulted from loss. It is the step forward, the step to the permanent change. Once we have begun the process of moving on, to accepting the change, only then can we heal.

"Goodbye Naruto, I love you." The words that have always haunted her, always lingered on her mind, are finally said to him. The wind rushes around her, a flurry of leaves roll across the grounds. She feels light all of a sudden; some weight has been lifted from her. She can't explain it, never will, but suddenly it seems that everything will be all right from now on. She thinks she has been forgiven, has been since day one but never realized it until now.

She turns around, and steadily walks out of the cemetery. Her steps, her heart, are lighter, and a smile blossoms on her face. She thinks she may be ready. She thinks she can live again.

The wind echos around her, a soft voice carried on the wind whispering to her.

"I love you too Sakura-chan."

AN: It is done! My first multi-chaptered work is COMPLETE! This is a accomplishment for me I must admit it. I didn't think I'd get this posted so late but parents kept perstering me and well, this chapter was a bit difficult. It was a different change of pace from the previous ones where they where all negative, wild emotions and this one was calmer. Overall, I am very happy with and hope it meets your expectations. Thank you so much to everyone who has reviewed for this story and/or put it on your alert or favorites list. I'll try to reply to your reviews this time. It was a fun but wild ride folks, thanks for hanging on. One last time, please review!