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Issay comes to him at winter's end, when the ground is still cold and the plum trees are still barren. To Atsushi, the winter is a source of comfort blanketed by snow; all reminders of the things he can no longer have wither away with the frost, and the dark nights stretch for long, silent hours, entreating the living to stay behind doors, beside fireplaces. But this year the darkness, the creeping cold, seems to diminish him, and the isolation he imposes upon himself soon turns oppressive. He grows weak during his seclusion, starving; left with nothing but his own thoughts and the wind, sharp-fanged and howling against his shuttered window.

But the wind's teeth are nothing compared to Issay's, and when he steps through the door and brushes the snow from his long, wet hair, Atsushi can see the glint of them in the dim light of the farmhouse. Above them, the rafters stretch and lock like folded hands, and the smell of mildew and straw permeates throughout the room. Atsushi looks up at the ceiling from his spot near the hearth, where embers smolder and smoke but provide little in the way of warmth, and when he feels Issay's gaze come to rest upon him, he can hardly stand it. He doesn't want to be seen like this; by Issay, least of all.

Kill me, he thinks desperately as the rustling of Issay's robes grows louder, fell me like one of the trees you walk beneath and let me rot like them. Be done with me. He feels tired, pathetic. He can't bring himself to bear his claws, to hunt and feed and thrive. All he wants, at this moment, is for everything—for his thoughts, for the pangs in his stomach and the gnawing at his heart—to cease; but then Issay descends on him, expression softened into something like a smile, and it's like being caught beneath the rays of the sun, so warm and bright it leaves white spots before his vision. Awash in something radiant, something that shimmers like gold, the darkened thoughts in Atsushi's mind begin to slink away, back into the shadows that always seem to linger in this farmhouse, no matter how brightly the hearth fire burns.

"Come here," Issay murmurs, arm drawn up against his mouth, obscuring his face. It's unclear what he's doing, hidden beneath the dark fabric of his sleeve, and Atsushi's movements are halting at first, joints stiff from the cold, and from being so still for so long. In time, he manages to draw near, only to be faced with the sight of Issay's lips, ruinous and red with his own blood. Shining more brilliant than any pigment, and offered up to him freely. Atsushi realizes his intentions at once, right as he feels himself being pulled into a tight embrace, stumbling over long locks of his hair in sudden desperation to be near him, to taste him.

No, he counters as their mouths meet and the soft, blood-slick press of Issay's lips overwhelms his senses, not ruinous. They make him ache, down into the depths of whatever's left of his soul, and he never wants it to stop. Swallowed up by all the yearning he'd locked away during winter, shrouded by his hair—or Atsushi's, or both; some lank and razor-straight, some falling in waves, shining with melted snow—and always, always, tasting him, long after he's licked the blood clean.

In time, Issay pulls away to bring his punctured wrist to Atsushi's mouth, and he drinks for long minutes, until Issay finally has to wrest free of his grasp with a smile and a scolding word. "No more," he whispers, pulling away long enough to stoke the dying embers, bathing the cold room in flickering light, and in warmth. At his feet, Atsushi shudders, red-cheeked and breathless, and Issay curves forward to stroke through his hair. He doesn't ask Atsushi any questions, although the curiosity and concern are plain in the way he looks at him, and together they move the musty futon beside the hearth, cocooning themselves amid the blankets and watching the flames before them.

I missed you, Atsushi doesn't say, fingers curling tight in the weather-worn folds of Issay's robes. "I love you," he does say, faint beneath the fire's hiss and crackle, and urges up into a slow kiss, hands sliding beneath fabric to touch cool, smooth skin. It's simpler this time, without the ardor and incessant hunger of before. But the one thing he finds more intoxicating than blood is the taste of Issay's lips, his mouth; and the feeling of him returning all affections in kind. They're affections he feels unworthy of receiving, most days. Why me? He'll ask himself, and the question gnaws at him as much as his hunger pangs do.

When he's alone it feels right, how things are meant to be, even if he grows feral, wasted away from the isolation. But Issay never lets it come to that, urges him close and kisses him in a way that abates his heavy heart, and it's then that Atsushi comes to his senses, eyes sliding shut as he loses himself to the simple bliss of it. No, he thinks to himself, and he thinks it each and every time they return to one another, like the the moon beckoning the tide. This is the way things are meant to be.