Írissë wakes from her sleep with light behind her eyes.
There is almost no light on the Helcaraxë, but gold still burns beneath Írissë's eyelids, making the canvas of the tent's roof seem as if it were awash with the light of Laurelin—
The light of Laurelin falling on Niélë's skin, turning it golden-brown, her hair speckled with moles of light, cascading across Niélë's shoulders as she laughs, leaning towards Írissë.
—but when Írissë blinks, there is only grey and blue and white, colours barely visible in the darkness, which caresses Írissë and enfolds her in its embrace—
The two of them pressed into a narrow bed in the inn.
So far away from Tirion that Írissë would not be recognized, and even then they had asked for two beds, but they use only the one, and it is a feeling beyond anything Írissë has ever experienced to simply hold Niélë beneath a roof, to sleep with her arms around her lover without the pretext of a hunting trip.
—and Írissë extracts herself from the others pressed again her for warmth, undoes the tent flap and steps outside, and the chill immediately wraps its fingers around her—
Hands on her shoulders, holding them down, and Niélë's voice in her ear, low and rough, “Stay still,” even as Írissë wriggles, a litany of pleas on her lips, her body aching with pure want.
Niélë denying her touch, a masterful musician playing an instrument, only her hands on Írissë's shoulders, radiating warmth, her body hovering over Írissë's, not quite touching her.
Írissë, unable to move, pinned down, searching for the slightest stimulation, and tears of pure need wetting her face, “Please, Niélë, please.”.
—her eyes stinging from the cold, and the frozen tears which are not only the doing of the Helcaraxë—
Tear-tracks running down Niélë's face, even as her voice is steady: “There is nothing we can do.”
But a part of Írissë is still watching, helpless, as the chill of the Court's displeasure fell on her aunt Írimë because kissing another woman on the steps of the Palace was something one simply did not do, and then Maitimo had found the child, running from the strictures of the Laws which cannot be escaped and they had seen the despair in his eyes but sent him back anyway.
And Írissë is sheltered, oh-so-sheltered, protected by her father's love and her grandfather's position and the careful webs of half-truths and lies that have been woven about those who must be protected for the good of the Ñoldor, and she knows this, and is scared of the truth, of darkness she has yet to see.
And so she says, “We will leave Aman. We will leave Aman, I promise you,” and maybe that makes her a coward but so be it she thinks and kisses Niélë, and lets herself hold onto this hope.
—and the wind blowing harsh in her face, biting and cold and cruel.
Írissë closes her eyes, stands by the entrance of the tent, watches the pinpricks of lights that are tonight's watch, who, she knows, will be pacing, watching both for shifting ice and for other threats—
There is blood on her hands and on Niélë's, their grips against each other slippery and warm, and Írissë feels her gorge rising as she looks at the carnage around her, but there was a fight, and the Teleri were attacking her people, her family, and she—
And Niélë, who followed her, but—
“Írissë,” Niélë breathes, and Írissë almost cries, but she cannot, not here, not with her sword still clutched in her free hand and covered with blood.
And Írissë untangles their hands, reaches up to cup Niélë's mouth, ignoring, for once,the open spaces and the people around them, and—
Írissë is kissing Niélë when it happens, and there is a moment of horrible wrongness and Niélë stiffens and goes slack beneath Írissë.
Írissë does not understand, for a single moment, but then she breaks away, and Niélë's eyes are glassy, living but not, somewhere in between and she knows, and anger roars in her chest, thrums in her veins before she can articulate another thought, and the owner of the fish hook buried in Niélë is dead with a single stroke of Írissë's sword.
Niélë is gasping, her head on Írissë's shoulders, and Írissë is murmuring, soothing, something that comes to her in an unnatural instinct, and there is no hope, she knows that with a desperate calmness and yet—
And then, she hears the last words her lover's lips will speak: “Leave Aman. We will leave Aman,” and Niélë goes slack beneath her and is dead.
—cold, so cold, and the wind breathes over Írissë as she whispers (always whispers, because sleep disturbed on the Ice means almost certain death and Írissë tries not to think because she is afraid of what she will find in her thoughts), “Please, please, leave me alone.”
But the chill caresses her cheeks, and Írissë wipes furiously at the streaks of ice on her jaw. “Please. Whatever I did—I failed her, I failed you, but please.”
Then, more broken, a single sob escaping Írissë, “Please.”
And there are memories of fingers on her lips, and Írissë stops fighting, lets herself give in, as she does every time she wakes from the horrors that haunt her dreams into the horrors that haunt her waking hours.
And she swears she hears, somewhere:
We will leave Aman, I promise.