Dear Readers, I am very happy to present for you, the eleventh chapter of "Vala of Changing Light"! It's been more months than I thought it would be and a shorter chapter than I'd intended, but these things take the time they take and I felt that where this chapter ended was right and now I can start working on the next one and updates for my other tales (but not today, I'm chilling today). I hope you enjoy and I look forward to hearing what you think! And as a side note...for all you Whovians...yes I did. :D

Oh yeah, HAPPY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!

Standard Disclaimer: Not my worlds, I'm just playing in them.

Vala of Changing Light

Chapter Eleven

Hating and Loving

After plans were made to leave at dawn, Sakura swept out of the gathering sight alone. She headed back to her room, suddenly uncomfortable in the clothes she wore. She tugged at the sleeve of her right arm and frowned. She didn't acknowledge anyone as she took different turns and ascended stairs, light golden from the setting sun.

Before this moment she had been alright with the beautiful clothes and the way her hair looked when she left it down. But the world had tilted on its axis and unsettled her when Frodo decided to take on a hero's destiny. The mission she had believed would be over soon was now looking like it would go on indefinitely and her charge heading strait for mortal peril. She didn't feel prepared in these clothes; she missed her boots and her leggings. She wanted her traveling clothes. She wanted, wanted, her cloak. Yes, she wanted her cloak.

She made it to her room and sighed, seeing her cloak spread across her bed sheets, picking it up. Beside it her clothes had been laid out in neat stacks along with her weapons and her pack, her boots on the floor by the bed. She was grateful for her host's thoroughness in that moment and started loading things into her pack, leaving aside a set of clothes to change into in a little while. She paused and turned a knife in the light and saw that the blade had been sharpened. A quick check revealed that they all had. Some of the discomfort disappeared.

"Are you alright?" She whirled to see Lord Elrond in her doorway. The brunette haired elf was looking at her with concern.

"I'm fine." she responded, pushing some of her hair over her shoulder. She offered him a bow that he returned before casting about for something to say. "Thank you for your kindness Lord Elrond and my apologies for not meeting you before. My only excuse is that I have been alone for a very long time and I've managed to somehow lose my manners along the road."

"Do not worry," he reassured, "you at least did not mean ill. The dwarf's for example, were deliberately trying."

Wow, she had not expected that from the head elf. He sounded almost exasperated.

"Yes," she agreed, "they seemed to be angry to be here though they came willingly. Is there a reason why?"

"The elves and the dwarfs have been at odds for hundreds of years. They live longer than man and have longer memories; there are some things they have not forgiven yet, though time nonetheless has worn away some of the hostility."

"It was worse?" Sakura asked sardonically. "That must have been difficult."

"They were." He assured and she smiled for him, lines of her face softening and he wondered at how old she could be for she was very young still. "You will have to ask Estel and Legolas for the stories. I would not have time to do them justice before you left."

Some of the cheer bled out of her face and she looked back to the bed and sorted her weapons away and some curious glass vials filled with powders and oddly colored liquids. There was a thinking silence from Elrond.

"You care a great deal about the halflings." He began slowly, and Sakura idly caressed one of the glass bottles before tucking it away in a padded pocket. "It upsets you to see Frodo put himself through this. There is no guarantee for his safety save for the words of others. You do not trust them."

"I trust no one." She murmured. "But it's not about trust." She faced him again, the weight of her fear plain on her face. And her frustration. "The hobbits are small. They're soft. For all that Sam is loyal and Frodo's heart is in the right place, and Merry and Pippin are game for anything, this is a willful disregard for their reality of being from the most docile race on Middle Earth. Frodo wants to charge face first into blood and death and certain doom!" in a blur of motion she palmed and flung a blade out, pinning a leaf to one of the walls that had drifted in. "It is that easy to end a life and that is a mercy compared to what else could happen."

"You fear for him."

"Don't you?" She asked, brows drawn up, heavy hearted, "he should be going back to his hobbit hole and relaxing with a pipe of old Toby. He doesn't deserve this."

"But it is happening." Elrond said gently, moving a little closer to the petite woman. "Frodo is the Ring Bearer. He will go into Mordor, enter Mount Doom and destroy the Ring of Power. With him he takes nine others to defend him, one of which is you," he reminded her when she sighed heavily, "he will be guarded by some of the best warriors each of the different races can provide, and friends that will support him when he falters." He lifted one of her hands, covering it with one of his in a comforting gesture. "You will not fail your friend."

Her slender fingers curled around his palm, hand dainty compared to his. He watched her face with dawning interest as emotions fell away one by one like chips of ice falling away from stone until all that was revealed was what she wanted. This was no release of worry, this was the efficient packing away of feeling so one could go about their mission with a clear head. She hadn't dealt with her fear, she had banished it.

"So long as I breathe." she swore. She pulled her hand away and shoved her hair back again. A thoughtful look passed over her face and she stared at Elrond. "Who is Estel?"

Elrond smiled, paternal affection plain.

"Estel is Aragorn's elvish name. I gave it to him when I adopted him as my son."

Surprise passed across her face then a smile that hiked higher on one side than the other.

"No wonder he loves it here," his head shifted to one side in curiosity, "he told me he grew up here. The love he has for this place is more than just for childhood shelter, he was loved here."

"Still is," he agreed. Turning he went to retrieve the blade Sakura had used, quietly taking in the ease with which she used her weapon. He made a mental note of how deep the knife was buried in the wall as he pulled it out and returned it to her, handle first. She accepted it back and tucked it into a seam of the bundle of cloth she was holding.

"Estel told me that you have a touch for healing" Elrond said, bringing up something he had wanted to discuss with her since Estel had come to him the evening before. His son hadn't been able to tell him much but what he could say was intriguing. "literally."

She smiled a bit at his wording.

"It is something I have always been able to do," she responded, "I generate a healing ..aura.. if you will, that I use to treat others. I learned how to harness it in my youth; I was," a quick calculation, "twelve I believe. I wanted to be a great healer."

"With a natural aptitude for it, I imagine you were destined to succeed." Elrond concurred. "Did you also receive training in more traditional methods as well?"

"Of course," Sakura's lips tilted up in the corners, "can't fix what you don't understand." A thought occurred to her and she held up a hand, palm up. "Would you like to see?"

Elrond was glad she offered -he couldn't quite find a polite way to request it- and relaxed a bit.

"Thank you, I would if that's alright."

"Only fair," she returned and with nary a twitch or focused gaze a green light bubbled up from her skin to pool around the appendage. It curled and flickered like flame, but almost lazy like gently running water, and it gave off a softly burning glow like banked coals. She moved a step closer so he could examine it.

"Amazing." He said, reaching up but not touching, satisfied to feel the slight buffet of air around it, "it's warm."

"It comes from within," she said, trying to explain, "a part of myself. The healing is actually my sharing a piece of myself to hasten my patient's body to rebuild." This earned a sudden sharp look from the elven lord that sparked some curiosity from her.

"Do you mean you willingly push your spirit outward to help others?" There was concern there and she found herself touched by it.

"It doesn't hurt Lord Elrond, and it's not dangerous." Unless I will it, "I am not risking my soul, that I can assure you. It's as much physical as it is spiritual, and the two together are what create what you see. I can direct it outward and what, if anything, I allow in. Nothing can touch me this way."

Lord Elrond considered that for a bit, and Sakura took that moment to let a drop of that energy fall from her hand and splash across his own. He started when it hit, watched it sink under the flesh and pulse warmly as it absorbed, and he marveled at the sudden burst of life he felt from it. There was a beat of a heart not in sync with his own in the energy, and the sense of things growing; breath and blood and continuance, bound together by a heart bent on healing the sick. Survival driven by the will to flourish. It was incredible. He stared hard at the point of contact as if he could still see the liquid light underneath before looking to her again, mightily impressed by her strange -but still so amazing- gift.

"You have been greatly blessed," he told her warmly while the light dimmed and faded back into her body, "and I am honored to have met you. It would mean a great deal to me to know your name my lady."

At this her face pinked in embarrassment and his own face pulled a little at how endearing he found her, flustered by a social gaffe. She bowed to him over the bundle of cloth still held in one arm.

"I am Sakura Haruno," she rose, "it is an honor to meet you too."

Elrond gestured to her arms where she held her cloak, changing the subject.

"Preparing for your journey?" he asked, to which she nodded, unraveling the spill of dark cloth. "If there is anything you need, we would be more than willing to provide it."

"Thank you, Lord Elrond," she said, turning to the bed, "but I have everything I need already. The offer is appreciated though."

Flinging the bundle in her arms out he saw a cloak spread out across her bed in a pattern he had never seen before. The lines it followed and folded over at were odd to him and carried almost nothing he knew pattern wise, other than being meant to hide any and all distinguishing features. He saw her move some things aside, her pillows, and pull out a sword to his surprise. A scimitarra, favored by the Haradrim of the south. He frowned at the blade.

"How did you come by that sword?" He asked Sakura, making her look up and take notice of his expression.

"I picked it up in my travels for protection." she answered, brow creasing in concern. She looked back down at it, "why? What's wrong?"

He moved to her side to gingerly pick it up.

"This sword was made by the men of the south, the Haradrim. They are enemies to the Men of the West." He told her.

"You mean enemies of Boromir and Aragorn right?" Lord Elrond nodded to this, pulling the blade free of its sheath when she gave her permission at his inquiring look, "do you think they'll care? I've not had trouble with it before and it's the only sword I have."

He examined the weapon carefully for a moment, thinking, before putting it back and handing it to her.

"I cannot say. I don't believe you'll have any trouble from Estel; Boromir however, you would have to wait and see." He looked thoughtfully at her. He seemed to settle on something. "Would you accept a different sword if I were to provide you with one? It would be no trouble."

"Oh," she looked surprised by his offer, green eyes widening slightly at his generosity. To her, a weapon was a precious commodity and one didn't just give away a sword; but from her quick perusal of Elrond's features she could see he was perfectly serious about easing her way into the group and she felt a little warm and fuzzy about his consideration. She didn't want to give up her sword, she was a little attached since she'd had it so long, but she couldn't deny his logic in taking precautions. "That would be kind of you."

Elrond's mouth twitched into something like a smile, amused at her answer.

"Will you accept?" He inquired, not really addressing her statement, "I can have it brought to you shortly."

Sakura hesitated only a moment more before nodding.

"Thank you, Lord Elrond," she dropped her head in a bow, "for your kindness."

..o0O0o..

Sakura woke up early the next day, having indulged in a long bath the night before in a moping farewell to cleanliness, and once more donned the clothing she wore when she was traveling the wilds of Middle Earth. Everything had been cleaned and touched up, making the outfit she wore soft against her skin and comfortable. The deep blue of her top wrapped around her throat while stopping at her shoulders to leave her arms bare -while at the same time disguising the length of chain mail that she wore between it and a cotton shift-, and it was covered across her middle with the wide black leather of her corset, the detailing of butterflies and vines giving the leather definition and style while the deep blue appeared beneath the corset's bottom edge, falling down to her knees and tapering to a point at her knees. Her leggings were gray and loose enough to allow for maximum flexibility, tucked into the knee high dark gray boots she favored, with a higher than average heel and reinforced by thin metal plates over her shins hidden in the leather, lacing up in the back rather than the front like she had seen the elves and men wear.

She grinned at the small arsenal of soap she'd nicked from a supply room, tucking it into a pocket of her pack next to her stash of medical supplies.

She sat at her vanity, hands behind her head while she wove the lengths of her hair back into the braid she preferred when she traveled. Eventually she got it long enough to work the rest over her shoulder, long bangs -longer on one side of her face than the other- framing her face as she tied off the end, tossing the plait back. She checked herself in the mirror. Good as it gets, she mused, picking up and strapping on the new sword Lord Elrond had had delivered to her room the evening before. The blade was curved like her scimitarra but not as severely, and it had no guard, and the handle was brown with gold inlays of vine and leaf. Sakura positioned it across her back like the last one and practiced drawing it a few times before she was satisfied that she could do so as easily as with the previous one, arm a blur of motion whipping forward and back with the song of metal.

It was still dark out but the sky was lightened above the swaying leaves still holding on in the changing season. There was the bite of coming winter in the air and she picked up her cloak, fingers running across near invisible designs sewn into it, before shrugging it over her shoulders and pulling it closed in the front. With deft hands, she tugged, tied, and tucked at the fastenings and loose ends until she was once more hidden in the semblance of shadow. She closed up her pack and shouldered it. The weight was grounding, centering.

Her mission had not changed, only the duration. She would look after Frodo and see that he got home safe.

She exited the room by the door and made her way down to the meeting point so she could attach her things to the horse and maybe explore a bit before the time came to leave. She'd have to thank Elrond for the weapon provided when next she saw him too, but first a last look around.

..o0O0o..

Sakura remembered this one, the female elf that had helped get Frodo to Rivendell with herself. This female showed amazing spirit in the face of terrible odds and the fire she recognized in the elleth's eyes was one she respected, but right now there was only an intense but quiet sadness there mixed with embers of willfulness. She wondered what could have happened recently to put the elleth in her somber mood.

"Are you alright?" she asked the woman as she moved out from the trees. Concern for the female was enough to keep her from taking amusement from startling an elf.

The lady gave her a gentle smile, turning to her.

"Yes, there is no need for concern" the elleth assured Sakura who paused a few feet from her. The elleth collected herself. "I apologize but I never did give you my name; I am Arwen Evening Star, I am Elrond's daughter."

"It is a pleasure to meet you," Sakura offered the elleth a respectful bow. "I am Sakura Haruno." Her brow crinkled. "Are you sure you're alright?"

"Yes," the elleth said again, gentle amusement at the question, "I will be fine. I was only thinking." Arwen said, looking away. She heaved a sigh. A light went on in Sakura's mind.

"Dangerous thing, thinking." She said lightly, digging in one of the hidden folds of her clothing, "gets you into trouble, soon you start getting ideas." She shuddered, making Arwen smile, "and next thing you know you're running from villagers who are shouting about ten pins." Sakura made a noise of triumph, revealing a square of paper. "Myself," she started folding pieces of it around. Arwen, curious, drew closer to see, "I would ra-ather" quick, nimble fingers twisting here and there, "be kissing frogs to find a prince," she held up the finished product proudly, "than listening to sore losers."

A tiny paper frog. Arwen blinked.

"Hold out your hand." Sakura urged gleefully. She waited until the elleth's hand was opposite hers, held flat as her own was, then with a finger pressed the lower back of the frog. Her finger slipped off in a flick of movement and the frog 'hopped' from her hand to Arwen's.

Arwen burst into surprised laughter, lighting up her face and dispelling her somber mood. Sakura grinned, glad she could help. She watched Arwen experimentally mimic the action, and laugh again when the frog bounced toward her wrist, not enough power to get out of her palm. Sakura took a moment in Arwen's distraction to really look at her, having not done so before. She thought about Aragorn and she could see it -not just the fair, elven elegance and eternal grace- but what he saw when he looked at the elf, and it made Sakura smile to see it too. When her face cleared of sadness and nothing troubled her, Arwen shone; she was beautiful, not just in appearance but personally. Honestly her joy changed everything about her and once you saw it, you couldn't miss it, the fact that she was radiant beneath the surface, lovely though she already was.

A giggle brought her out of her musings. The elleth was smiling wide, charmed by her little bit of fun.

"I've never seen this before," her eyes met Sakura's, blue irises dancing, "where did you learn to make these?"

"My mother taught me when I was a girl." Realizing that they had both hunched forward to watch the frog, she straitened up, her own mood lighter than it had been. "It's been a long time since I've made anything but I thought you could use some cheering up. A frog prince to brighten your day while your real prince is being stupid."

Arwen's expression broke into shock.

"I didn't see anything," she assured, "however, I couldn't help but notice that you look like someone had disappointed you. A certain too-noble prince, yes?"

The elf maiden's face gave her away.

"Did he try to convince you to break ties with him?" Again, a wide eyed stare of great surprise, "That it wasn't working out, what you have between the two of you?" A slow, hesitant nod. Sakura gave the female a lopsided smile, "not hard to guess. Aragorn/Strider/Estel/High King of the Beardless Wonders," snort, "whatever you call him, he's trying to do the noble thing," the near sneer when she said 'noble' gave Arwen a healthy clue to how Sakura felt about that, "by driving you away he's hoping to protect you. Honorable," Sakura said flatly, "but unfair. Being in love does not give him the right to manipulate you into making bad decisions.

"He's pulled the oldest trick in the book," confusion; not a term the elleth knew, "means he's not the first man to do this to a loved one and he won't be the last. What you have to keep in mind Arwen," she tapped the little frog to get a smile from the elf again, "is if you are going to let him get away with it."

..o0O0o..

Sakura found herself perched on top of a spire overlooking the gathering site, crouched low on the narrow point she stood on, once more like a bird of prey as her mind organized itself. Her pack was already hitched to the pony and her compatriots were starting to appear one by one. The elf came from out of an alcove with his bow across his back and two crossed knives with white handles. Legolas (she remembered) was looking around, likely for the others, but couldn't see her from so far below. She watched him attach his gear to the creature for a moment before directing her attention elsewhere, sunlight only just reaching far enough to touch the crown of her head at this angle. Her hood was around her shoulders so she could enjoy the morning light and an unencumbered view.

She had left Arwen to think with her new 'friend' not that long ago, stopping only once in the kitchens to liberate a last container of wine and converse a bit with the cooks who asked her if she had seen the Wizard wandering nearby, to which she replied no. She'd hidden the jug in the folds of her robes while she wondered about her new acquaintance's choices. May I not have done more harm than good when all I wanted was to cheer her up.

Wind rustled her on her perch but she did not sway. Standing tall Sakura soaked up the faint heat that came from the rising sun, eyes closed and face relaxed in a stolen moment meant to be held close. She sighed as the light sent prickles of warmth across her skin while the wind, contradictory, brushed a chilled kiss over the warmth. Opening her eyes she dropped sharply, heedless of gravity or danger, and made her way to the ground.

Passing around the building she had been lurking on she saw the hobbits arrive from her left out of Lord Elrond's home carrying their gear in both hands. Merry and Pippin were chattering at the front, lighthearted as always while Pippin nearly went sailing head first over his pack when he tripped over his own feet, the grace of god the only thing keeping him upright. Merry checked him over quickly, the action smooth with experience, and laughed at something Pippin said. They looked back and she saw Sam and Frodo following behind them and this is where she made her entrance.

"Sakura" Pippin greeted her in high spirits, the trip ahead nothing more than an interesting adventure to him still, and she didn't feel like disabusing him of that yet, "did you sleep well? We weren't sure where your room was, otherwise we would have come to see you."

"Don't worry about it" she assured the halflings, touching shoulders as she passed by him and Merry and drawing up to Frodo, "I was up just before the sun so there would have been no one to see."

She looked down at Frodo who met her eyes with feigned confidence. She nodded to his wound.

"How is it?"

His smile became more genuine as he expressed his gratitude, Sam smiling too as Frodo had explained to him what Sakura had done for him.

"It's fine. It's like it's not there at all."

"That's good" Sakura said. Her eyes looked him over, one of her oldest habits, just to be sure. His face was flushed with good health, and he looked well rested, which was a relief to her after the harrowing ordeal of getting him here before he died, but there was a line in his shoulders that she didn't like. He held them carefully but she didn't think he actually knew he was doing it. The hobbit said it didn't hurt and she believed him, but that didn't necessarily mean he wasn't uncomfortable. Likely the entry site was starting to feel tender which meant that what energy she had left behind was wearing off. Not wanting to draw attention to it, she clapped both of them on the shoulder and summoned up the same energy she had shown Lord Elrond and delivered a small load of pain killer to the hobbit's wound that would see Frodo through the day.

Immediately Frodo's shoulders relaxed, his breath getting a little easier. The surprise on his face was gratifying and she left them to converse between themselves while she made her way back to the pony.

As the morning light spilled more readily between the spires high above, the rest of their companions made their way to them while elves started appearing to see them off. The elf of their Fellowship, Legolas, seemed curious about her but she gave him no thought as Storyteller arrived and gave her an acknowledging nod, the short, bearded fellow close on his heels with his own party rumbling lowly to each other. The sight of them had her biting back the grin that threatened to cover her face. Instead she looked around for the wizard, wondering where he could be, and found to her surprise the figure of Arwen drawing up to her. Sakura summoned up a smile for the elleth, wondering what type of greeting she would get from the female.

She needn't have worried for when Arwen drew even with her, her face was gentled with ethereal friendship. The elleth smiled.

"So you are loyal as well as kind" Arwen said to her, light catching on the silver circlet in her hair, lightning flare in earthen tresses, "Frodo will be in good hands."

Sakura's smile became wry, her sense of humor bleeding through.

"Hopefully more than just mine. He'll be hard to juggle with a sword," A familiar whuff of noise let her know Boromir had heard her and was as equally amused as he had been the night they'd first met, "but I will do my best for him. I keep my promises."

The elleth smiled and the flickering of her eyes to the side and back let Sakura know a tiny bit about Arwen's thoughts. She watched, inwardly pleased, at the way Arwen tilted her chin up just so; the fire was back.

"As do I."

Sakura did not need to look to know that Aragorn was meant to hear the elleth's words. In the company of so many people she refrained from drawing any undue attention to Arwen's comment, choosing instead to bow like she had seen done here to the elf with her hand pressing briefly to her heart before drawing away. When she came back up, Arwen was there, eyes alight with good humor.

"I enjoyed meeting you Lady Arwen" Sakura said, meaning it, "maybe someday we can sit down together and really converse as friends."

"After your journey" Arwen ventured, her gentle smile widening into a grin, and she reached to take Sakura's hands, "I would enjoy that. Go with the grace of the Valar, Sakura Haruno, and my prayers for your safety."

The elleth let go and moved back from her to join the wall of her kinsmen, serene and beautiful. The prickling of her senses let her know that she was being stared down by someone and when she turned to look she wasn't really surprised to see it was Aragorn. The Ranger was looking at her, blue eyes narrowed into a hard look, like he couldn't quite figure her out. She gave him nothing, choosing instead to check that her hair was still in it's braid and that the tie was firmly knotted. She knew she looked odd compared to everyone else in her cloak with her begone-from-me air and general sense of does-not-belong, but she didn't really care; she came from another place where being unlike anyone else was the thing, not to mention the time she spent wandering this world alone had left her -as she'd hinted at with Lord Elrond- a disregard for proper conduct as defined by those that dwelled in the West.

She was what she was and she wasn't apologizing for it.

"The Ring Bearer is setting out on the quest of Mount Doom," Elrond's voice cut into her musings, making her focus on the moment. The focus of the elves were on their group with not a few curious looks being shot at her in particular. She was indifferent, not blind. Her fellow companions were drawing themselves up to appear confidant in their mission though to Sakura's eyes, Frodo and his kith and kin looked small and breakable. "And you who travel with him no oath nor bond is laid to go further than you will." Elrond met each pair of eyes, solemn, "Farewell. Hold to your purpose. And may the blessings of elves," He looked to Legolas, "and men," Boromir, "and all free folk" and Gimli, "go with you."

The wizard moved and spoke, voice the aged rumble of ceremony, separated from Sakura by Aragorn and Boromi,

"The Fellowship awaits the Ring Bearer."

And that was it for the leaving ceremony. Frodo took an uncertain step and they filed out in silence except for a question that Frodo probably thought no one but the wizard would hear that made Sakura give one last lighthearted smile before that too melted away, leaving behind nothing but somber lines on a face that was more suited to smiles than the blank canvas she affected. The weight of the sword against her back was a comforting reminder of her own strength as she followed behind everyone, Bill the pony on her left as they trekked through the fall leaves and dappling sunlight. Soon enough, she knew with grim certainty, she would need her weapons.

Looking up she took silent measure of her companions for this mission and wondered about them; which of them would make the return trip, which of them wouldn't finish the first one?

She looked back once to burn the image of Imladris into her mind, then patted Bill's flank as she resumed her march. Sakura was at least sure that she would return; she was going to return Frodo to the Shire after all. She'd promised.