Title: Howling Wolves
Author: Tasha
Written: November 11, 2001
Category/Keywords: Post-Col, A, Other POV, implied M/S, D/S
Rating: R (language, content)
Spoiler: Season 8 as aired
Archive: Please just let me know where it goes.
Disclaimer: Anybody you might recognize most definitely is not mine, never has been, never will be. And please do not pay me.

Summary: "There's this guy in my neighborhood, and some people call him strange..."

There's this guy in my neighborhood, and some people call him strange. Those who came here after The Day, that is. Those who haven't been living here long - and there are more and more people coming here now these days - even call him weird. I dunno. Wouldn't call him weird. Strange, yes, but weird?

People say he's lived in this place a long time. And "a long time" means he's lived here long before The Day even. That sure is true. We came here a few months after the first fights had started up in those mountains that aren't there any more, and he was already living in the house he lives in now. Right there, across the street.

My wife Lizzie used to say he's handsome. To be frank, I never thought of him as handsome, but then again, who am I to judge, right? Yeah, well, he didn't look too bad first time I saw him, I'll give him that.

Rather tall and slender. Like a sports guy. Or a dancer, maybe. But we're not living in times where looks matter too much. Actually, last time I saw him he was scrawny. Like all of us. He's been sick or something. Like all of us.

The remarkable thing about him, though, is his eyes. I bet Lizzie meant them when she talked about handsome and stuff. They are this, well, this fiery blue, you know?

Makes you think he looks right through you.

People say he used to be a cop before They came. Some people here even call him Cop, since no one knows his name. Last names don't matter anymore. And no one can remember talking to him on a first name basis. So he's just Cop.

See, ex-cops and ex-soldiers are the ones most people here have a sympathetic smile for now and then. It's actually kinda like a mercy fuck smile. Oh, you poor stupid morons. Or they just bitch about them since they haven't been able to stop Them either. And wasn't that supposed to be their job? Huh? Anyway. It's not like it matters much what any one of us here in Section 4-B ever did before - well, you know. But when you hear the word 'cop', you go, "Well, well, was a cop and couldn't do one lousy thing about what happened that September, could he? Not more than any of us stinkin' losers could."

Yeah, well. I've even heard rumors about him being an agent of some sorts, but I'm pretty sure that's just crap.

There are also people who say that he fought Them in the first year, before he was almost killed during a fight.

And then he came back here to hide. Or to wait for something.

Probably crap, too. I have no clue who makes up those stories. Now that people can't just turn on the TV or the radio or the computer or God knows what else they used to turn on, they get bored. Now that they can't go to the movies anymore or to the library or to school or wherever they used to go before, they have too much time on their hands. Whenever they're not working, that is. So they make up stupid stories about people - about anyone who doesn't do a thing about it.

Cuz that guy, you know, he's really quiet. Secluded, even. Lives in that big house he's apparently lived in forever. When Lizzie and I came here, there was still smoking debris lying on every goddam corner of this stinking God-forsaken heap of shit we call City 4-B.

And he was living next door.

City, my ass. It's all going to hell, and there's nothing we can do about it. Not one thing. And that's the bitter truth, my friend. We better start dealing with it.

I've been living here for three years and I've been sick of this place since the very first day. But nowadays you can't choose where your butt finds a permanent home, right? Right. You can't. You gotta be grateful for what you have, Max, other people were not so lucky, times have changed, Max, bitching about it only gets you in trouble, right? Oh, please.

But this guy, I've never heard him bitch about anything.

I'm still damn sure he's in trouble somehow. He's up to something. Can't really say what, it's just this - this gut feeling I have, know what I mean? Last May, he was up and gone for almost a week. You can be pretty sure you get in big shit with Them if They catch you stealing away. You're not supposed to leave the Sector. Heck, and even more important, you're not supposed to stay away from work. If you break Their Rules, your ass is toast. I've seen things, so trust me on this one.

When he came back, though, he brought this lady with him. A pretty redhead. Tiny. Painfully thin. Crying like a beaten child. He led her, his arms wrapped around her as if he was afraid she'd fall. And there was this boy, too. She was clutching the poor kid's hand as if she was never gonna let him go again. I can't really tell you how old the boy was. Maybe six, maybe eight years old. That's hard to say these days. Not many kids left. And when there are kids, they walk around like dead shadows. Being a kid is hard these days. Being a small grown-up is probably easier.

This little guy was limping, and he was pale as hell.

White, even. You know those newts that spend their whole life in dark caves without a single ray of light?

They have this really white skin you can almost look through. That's exactly what this boy looked like. And I heard he doesn't speak one single word. Not ever.

I hadn't seen them here before, so they must have come from another Sector. And that's where the fun part begins. You're not supposed to stay in a Sector other than the one you were assigned to. Actually, come to think of it, you're not really supposed to do anything any more, except work, I guess. But They're pretty serious about the Sector thing. So I wasn't really surprised when They came the next day and took him away. He was gone for almost four weeks. They let the woman and the kid stay, though. Max, I said to myself, there's more to this than meets the eye.

Although we never really saw them, we knew they were there, and so Liz started preparing little food baskets for the two poor souls across the street. Not much, you know, since winter was coming, but Lizzie, God bless her, didn't want them to starve. She'd walk past the house and casually drop a bag or a box of food on the lawn in front of the Cop's house. She'd take it when no one was looking. I never went over there though to speak with that lady. I cherish my life, you know? It's all I have left.

He did come back, eventually. I'll never forget that hot and humid night in June, when screaming brakes and a low thud suddenly woke me. I haven't been sleeping too great since the climate changed. In fact, I'm hardly sleeping at all, and if I'm asleep I'm up at any noise louder than a flea breathing. "Don't, Max, you'll only get us in trouble," Liz said when I got up and tip-toed to the window. I knew it was asking for trouble. But I still looked.

It was him alright. They had brought him back for some reason I still don't really understand, but They'd made sure he wouldn't forget Them too fast. They didn't bother letting him climb off properly but just dumped him onto the street in front of his house.

When I saw him lying there in this puddle that could very well have been a puddle of his own blood, moving his arms and legs lethargically without making a sound, all of a sudden I knew what it was I had missed all these years. Dogs barking. There used to be a lot of dogs before The Day, at least where I used to live, but nowadays not one stinking lousy flea-bitten cur sticks his nose into the air at night to howl at the moon.

Sure, dogs weren't the first thing to vanish, but vanish they sure did. People gotta eat, you know.

Anyway. I'm not gonna tell you here that I'm one of these heroes who save people's lives and don't give a shit about their own, cuz I'm really not. I'm just an odd old guy who's learned that staying out of trouble is better than getting your ass fried, but I still believe you gotta do what you gotta do.

Even if the world around you is falling apart.

"Stay put, Lizzie," I said, and went outside.

Speaking of dogs - there used to be a time when I went for walks in the middle of the night just for the sake of it. The stars, you know. I was addicted to the stars. I mean, apart from being a die-hard insomniac who wandered around night after night. Not any more, though. I'm still awake at night, sure, but I stay in my bedroom. Wandering around is too dangerous now. And it's too damn depressing since there are no stars any more for tired eyes to gaze on, no sirree.

There's just that dirty red glow of burning cities now.

Burning remains of former cities, that is.

But I digress.

I hadn't seen him for a long time when I walked up to him that night, you know. I do recall shaking his hand in the weeks right after we got here, but that was years ago. And if this really was the same man I was looking down on now, I didn't recognize him.

He was so scraggy he actually looked fragile. His skin was crusted with mud and dried blood, and blood trickled patiently from a deep gash on his left temple, all the time in the world. He had nestled his twisted right arm against his chest in a gesture that looked almost like quiet resignation. He definitely hadn't had a decent meal in a long time.

Since I didn't have a clue how to address him, I simply knelt down beside him. It took him a while to notice me. With feverish eyes he looked up at me. Oh, great, I thought, what have you gotten yourself into this time?

Before I could jump out of his reach, he had extended a blood-covered, shaking hand and clasped my wrist.

"Was he... was he here?" he asked, his voice so breathless I hardly understood him.

"Who? I don't think anybody was here while you were - "

"They didn't take her?"

"She's here, son. She's still here. And the boy, too."

He actually smiled, and this smile from a man who was in so much pain and whom I was talking to in the middle of the night while everywhere around us hundreds of people were dying, like every night, almost made me laugh out loud. Oh, holy Christ, reality is such a sad little joke.

"He kept his word, then," he whispered.

I knew I probably shouldn't have asked, but I couldn't help myself. So I did ask.

"Who, son?"

"Mulder. He said I'd never understand why he did this, why he had agreed to - " His voice trailed off into a husky cough. " - to join Them."

He was burning up, obviously talking in a fever dream now, and I didn't bother asking what exactly he was talking about. As I looked into his eyes, and saw that the fever had turned their once fiery blue to a nervous gray, I didn't even try to stop him, either.

I just let him talk.

"I didn't know what had happened to her."

I nodded gravely, scanning the street for possible onlookers. Suddenly, he grasped the collar of my worn out, fading shirt - fading just like everything else - and pulled my face closer to his. I winced.

His breath smelled of fever, illness, blood, dust, and hope.

"Did you know that she left him? More than four years ago?"

I shook my head. His eyes began to close.

"Yes, she did. And I've been looking for her for so long... and she was just a few miles away..."

He gathered his strength to look up at me again. What was that I saw there, glimmering in his eyes?

"She made me promise her not to look for her when she left with him. I still did, though. Tried to find her. And then, when I heard what Mulder had done after the attack, I thought it was too late. I thought she'd stayed with him...


"Son, maybe you shouldn't spend yourself like that."

He didn't even hear me.

"I was wrong. All the time. She was waiting..."

I watched him as he sank into a merciful unconsciousness.

Then I got up to knock at the door of his house.

Two weeks later, he was up and running again, and they were also packing and ready to leave. Where they were going, he wouldn't tell.

One morning, he came to my house. Patiently, he waited at the remains of our former yard fence until I noticed him. He smiled when I approached him, and shook my hand like an old friend would have done.

"Thanks," he said. And, "I'm John."

I simply nodded. You know those moments when there's really nothing to say? Nothing at all? That was one of those moments.

Two days later, they were gone. Cop, the lady and the boy. I heard he was gonna bring them to the other side of the mountains, so that the lady and the boy would be safe.

And I heard he was gonna join the Unit again.

I wish him luck.

Man, reality can be one sad little joke.

- - - End - - -

Author's Notes: Thanks to Cattie, Beta Reader Extraordinaire and faithful keeper of titles, who keeps on forgiving me that I refuse to write more of the kind of stories she'd like to read while keeping me honest at the same time. You rock, girl.

Happy Birthday, Kit, and thanks for the fun.

Author's Notes, Part Two:

The title of this fic might not be clear at once. I still decided to keep it because I feel it makes an important point.

At one point in the story, Max talks about dogs. They used to howl at the moon, but they are gone now. From Max' point of view, the dogs stand for the life before "The Day", before everything has changed.

The night Doggett returns, Max remembers the time before "The Day", he recalls the dogs, then the stars, and he realizes that if he tries to hold on to the morals that were important before everything changed, the world can't be that bad. It's all much harder now, yes, but it is do-able.

The dogs didn't return, of course, but Max has found his wolf. He may not be howling loudly at the moon, but he's howling none the less.

So you decide: the wolf is either Doggett (who came back and thus proved to everyone, especially Max, that there is another way), Max' hope (which is coming back), days past (which he remembers), love (which basically everything is about) or mankind itself.

Or a bit of everything.

Everything in this story is fictional, of course, but certain recent events may have contributed to the atmosphere and to some details in the description of Max' world.

Thanks for reading.

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