It was bigger than any dog he had ever seen, with sleek dark fur and a narrow snout and eyes that reflected the moon in the sky. Masayoshi hesitated and the creature fled, around the corner quick as a dart, vanishing into the darkness like a shadow, like a thing that never-was.
The encounter left him with a strange unease, like he had seen something he was never meant to. Even Gotou noticed his disquiet over dinner the next night, all furrowed brow and worried frown. "It was just a dog," Gotou said when Masayoshi related the encounter, waving it off with a hand around his beer. "There are strays all over the place lately, I wouldn't dwell on it."
But there weren't, not like this. He had seen strays on his patrols, cats that darted into dark alleyways, small hungry dogs who eyed him suspiciously, their fur patchy and ragged. They were small and ill-fed, their eyes didn't reflect the night sky.
Thoughts of it consumed him. Masayoshi smiled and laughed, he pouted at Gotou's gentle teasing and got excited by the release of a movie - but when he got the time for patrols, he lingered. Around that dumpster, down around the corner, through the park - places where a larger hound might skulk, hidden away from the prying eyes of daylight pedestrians.
He saw it one night in the rain - he was on his way home, to his apartment, when he saw the slick flash of hindquarters dart around a corner into an alleyway. It was closer to people than he'd thought it would be, and Masayoshi ran after it with reckless abandon, the hood of his sweatshirt falling off his head and rainwater streaking down his back. He thought he lost the canine but caught a glimpse of a tail and turned down the alley - and interrupted a mugging in progress, some young thug wannabe with a switchblade and a startled expression.
It wasn't a dog, Masayoshi realized when he looked up and saw the creature watching from above, ears alert as it supervised from a ledge. The mugger groaned, face down on the pavement, Masayoshi's knee in the center of his back - but Masayoshi was staring, the reflected florescent light making the water trapped in its fur glitter like stars.
It was a wolf.
"There haven't been wolves in Japan for a hundred years," Gotou said, rolling his eyes, chin in his hand and elbow on the booth's table.
Masayoshi knew what he saw, knew that the wolf led him to the mugging. If Gotou rolled his eyes further they would fall out of his head, so Masayoshi didn't talk about the wolf any more. He didn't mention how he saw it sometimes out of the corner of his eye, stalking him during his patrols, irregular as they were now. He didn't talk about how it looked like the night itself, fur weaved of darkness with a dusting of starlight, how it never let him get close enough to get a good look, but was always there when the moon was fat in the sky.
There were no wolves in Japan, Masayoshi thought to himself as he stared at the waxing moon through the blinds in Gotou's apartment instead of watching the television. It was on its way toward full again.
"Stop it," Gotou said gently when Masayoshi showed him an image captured on his cellphone, a blur of motion because he hadn't been quick enough, he'd never be quick enough to catch it.
The moon waned. Masayoshi stood in the burned-out wreck of his apartment, the spectre of Gotou's ghosts hanging over him. He didn't go out again, he let the fear claw itself into his gut, nestle and burrow like a living thing.
He saw Gotou pushed in a way he never expected; the hunch of shoulders and the uptick of his mouth into a snarl, the almost mindless fury he pled Gotou out of by dint of his sheer stubborn will, by the realization that oh, yes, love….
He saw something else, too.
"You shouldn't be here," Gotou said, exhaustion painted heavy on his features as Masayoshi stood outside his apartment, both hands on the strap of his courier bag, the sun setting low on the horizon.
"I know," Masayoshi said.
Gotou let him in anyway, and when the full moon rose over the buildings the black wolf laid his head gently in Masayoshi's lap.