Tara was excited, there was no other way to put it. Tomorrow, after months of training, was her very first fox hunt. After an exciting trip in a car with the other foxhounds across the English countryside, it had been hard to keep her tail under control.
But nerves struck when her human had leashed her and guided her into a large wooden building. To her right, there were really big dogs with long noses and metal on their feets that looked really scary, and to her left were large pens where there were so many other foxhounds. Tara was guided into a full kennel and winced when the door snapped shut. Immediately, she lay on her belly in a subordinate position before the other dogs, not knowing how they'd react.
Immediately, one cheerful dog, her tail wagging, stepped up to her. "Hi!" she greeted. "I'm Buffy. Who are you? Wanna play? I've got a ball! It's red and bouncy!"
"Um," Tara replied shyly before looking around. "T-tara."
"Oh, hi, Tara." Buffy licked her nose. "That's Faith over there."
"Oh, great, that's all we need," Faith yawned. "More bitches in the pen, wonderful."
"Don't mind her," Buffy barked. "Oh, the boy over there who's trying to eat his own waterdish is Xander."
"What-what-what?" Xander said, before starting to chase his own tail.
"And the old grouch in the corner is Giles," Buffy replied. "He's the oldest... Uh, I mean, most experienced of us."
"Pleasure," yawned Giles.
"And the laziest," Buffy whispered. "Dammit Anya, are you licking yourself again?!
"What?!" replied a huffy Anya.
Tara was relieved when Buffy brought her ball over to her to play with. She hadn't known what to expect, but it seemed she was making loads of new friends.
"What's gonna happen tomorrow?" Tara asked.
"No biggie," Buffy shrugged. "They let the fox go, and we chase it. Then the humans on the big dogs go after us and when we find the fox, the humans take out these long tubes and make the fox dead. Then we all go home and get fed. It's really easy."
Tara looked downward. "I've never even seen a fox. Not a real one, at least. I've seen a lot of stuffed fake foxes during t-training, though."
"Don't you smell her?" Buffy said and led Tara to the edge of the kennel. And then, Tara saw the fox. A tiny red-furred animal with a long muzzle who was in a small cage, suspended above the ground.
"She's so... tiny," Tara frowned. "That's a fox?"
"She's the fox," Buffy announced cheerfully. "Tomorrow we hunt her. The humans put her up here so we can get used to her scent."
"She's... she's so scared, Buffy," Tara whined softly. "I... I can smell her fear from here."
"Tomorrow we bite her!" Faith licked her lips in anticipation.
After a restless night, Tara and her pack were being led from the kennel on a long multiple leash. It was very exciting. There were so many humans there, making strange sounds with copper horns. All around her, the other dogs were barking, while she was being led to the front of the troupe, even in front of the really big brown dogs with the long noses.
Then, one of the humans emerged from the stable holding the cage with the fox in it. The dogs around her went mad, barking loudly and pulling on the leash. Tara simply watched the cage for a moment. The tiny fox was even more scared than before. When the human put down the cage, he pulled out one side... and immediately the fox bolted.
Tara and the other hounds were released shortly after than, and so began the most exciting day of Tara's life: her very first foxhunt.
The most exciting day of Tara's life quickly turned out to be the most nightmarish day of her life. Half a mile away from the stables, Tara got separated from her pack and was now aimlessly wandering the forest, hopelessly lost. To make matters worse, she had stepped on something sharp which she couldn't get out of her paw. On top of that, it had started to rain profusely and she was covered with mud after having slipped and slid into a small brook.
Tara whined as she limped alongside the brook, there being no sign at all of other hounds or humans near.
But then, a scent... faint, but it was there. It seemed like the fox had been walking through the brook to mask her tracks and scent, but she didn't quite succeed. The fox was close, very close.
Immediately, Tara went into hunt-mode and started sniffing the wet soil, until she same upon a trail of blood. The trail led to a hollow log on the side of the road, next to the brook. And there she was: the fox was lying curled up against the back of the log, panting and looked upon Tara with fearful green eyes.
Tara was transfixed on the creature for a moment. Even though she was covered with mud, the fox was beautiful, possessing of a grace that Tara had never seen before. She also noticed that the fox was hurt: one of the other hounds had bitten her in the hind-leg.
Then, Tara remembered why she was here. She raised her lip and let out a low growl, surprising herself with the sound of her own viciousness.
The fox trembled again. "Please," the fox panted. "Please don't kill me."
Tara stopped her growl and lay down on her belly, staring at the fox.
"W-what have I ever done to you?" the fox sniffed.
Try as she might, Tara could not think of an answer.
"Why are you hunting me?" the fox questioned. "Why did your humans kill all my brothers and sisters? Why did they poison my parents?"
"Y-you're hurt," Tara stated.
"I-I don't wanna die," the fox looked at Tara with big green pleading eyes. And at that moment, Tara didn't want the fox to die either.
"C-can I come in?" Tara asked. "I, um, it's really wet out here."
The fox regarded her warily. "You... you won't kill me?"
Tara lay down, blocking the exit of the hollow log, but not making a threatening move towards the fox. "I'm Tara," she said.
"Willow," the fox replied warily. "Oh, god, why is this happening to me? I wasn't doing anything bad. I never hurt anyone! I found this piece of meat lying around the woods and I thought to myself 'Hey, Self, look at that nice juicy piece of meat lying over there, all for me!' And then I'm suddenly stuck in this cage and now I'm chased by dogs. I should have stayed closer to the big cities. Nobody hunts us there."
"You, um, t-talk a lot," Tara said.
"You're not the first to say that," Willow replied.
"Are you badly hurt?" Tara asked.
"Why do you care?" Willow asked warily.
"I'm sorry," Tara lowered her gaze and let out a whine.
"Your paw," Willow noticed Tara wincing whenever she put pressure on her front paw. Slowly, Willow crawled forward to take a closer look and noticed a big thorn sticking out from the sole of Tara's paw. "If I help you with that, will you promise not to kill me?" she asked hopefully.
Tara thought for a moment. One the one hand, she was here to hunt foxes. On the other hand, her paw was killing her and there really wasn't any sport in killing a fox that was crippled. "I p-promise," Tara stated.
Willow slowly crawled closer to Tara, who rolled to her side. Willow clenched her teeth around the thorn and slowly pulled it out. Tara let out a painful whine, followed by a sigh of relief when the offending thorn was finally removed.
Tara started slightly when she felt Willow leaning into her, resting herself against her fur. "W-willow?" she asked.
"You promised not to kill me," Willow whispered. "And I'm very cold... and tired. Will you let me sleep for a while? Just a little while. I'm... just... so... tired," Willow yawned.
Tara agreed and for a moment, the exhausted fox slept while leaning against her. Willow's fur was soft and fluffy, and her scent became all the more sweeter by the second. And so Tara guarded the sleeping Willow, until she stirred again.
"We could make for the big city," Willow yawned. "I know all the good watering holes."
"I dunno," Tara said. "I'm supposed to hunt foxes, not pack with them."
"And why not?" Willow huffed.
"Because foxes are evil and steal chickens."
"I never stole chickens!" Willow scoffed indignantly. "I don't need to. I can get all the food I need from trashcans. You don't believe how much perfectly good food those humans throw away."
"Humans waste food?"
"Yeah. It's, um, enough for two, Tara. Don't you want to be free?"
"I can't come with you," Tara spoke with regret. "I've got owners... and a new pack."
"You're your own hound, Tara," Willow stated. "Nobody owns you if you don't want to be owned."
At that moment, the sounds of howls could be heard over the rain outside. Willow and Tara started to see a shadow looming up from behind them.
"Bark, bark, bark, bark, bark, BARK!" sounded Buffy as she snarled at the fox... only to frown when she finally spotted Tara.
"Oh, hi, Tara," Buffy wagged her tail. "Hey, what are you doing with that fox?"
"Oh, uhm," Tara lowered her head and hung her tail low. "We, uh, we're sorta... f-friends. Please don't scare her," she said while Willow trembled with fear and hid behind Tara.
"Huh?" she finally replied.
"Yeah, it's, um, kinda hard to b-believe, I know," Tara started.
"Actually, Anya spotted it. She just went 'Yeah, just watch her, she's large with the fox'. Guess she has a good Foxdar, I suppose. So, um, how do we do this, then?" Buffy frowned, her tail never ceasing to wag.
"Willow's hurt and can't run very fast," Tara replied.
"I think Faith bit her," Buffy sighed. "She always goes for the legs. Look, I got an idea. I'll try to lead them away from you. You just run the other way, okay?"
"T-thanks, Buffy," Tara said.
"Thank you so much," Willow replied and took a moment to carefully rub her nose against Buffy's, accidentally making the other dog cough loudly.
Both Willow and Tara hugged alongside the brook, while Buffy ran interference for them at the pack. But it was only a temporary reprieve. While Willow and Tara hurried along, they could hear the sounds of the barking dogs and the hunting horns ever gaining on them.
Then, they spotted a car with a running engine standing on the side of the road.
"More h-humans!" Tara panted.
"No," Willow panted gleefully. "We're saved! Hunt saboteurs!"
Willow headed directly towards the humans who emerged from the car. One was a male with a long black coat and yellow hair. The other was a female with long dark hair, hidden underneath a baseball cap. With one swift move, the male scooped up the fox, but to Tara's horror, he also brandished a stick which he swung right at her.
"Go on!" shouted the male. "Bugger off, you bloody hound! This fox is going nowhere with you!"
It was obvious that the humans were going to take Willow with them and leave Tara behind. "Willow!" Tara barked while avoiding the swipes of the stick. "WILLOW! WILLOW!"
"TARA!" replied the struggling fox. "Don't hurt Tara! Bring her along! She's my friend! Please!"
"Spike, wait!" spoke the female human. Spike stopped swinging the stick and regarded the situation. Willow stopped struggling while Tara regarded the human warily, yet tentatively wagging her tail slightly. "I think they're together somehow."
"What?" Spike replied. "You're bonkers, Dru!"
"We take them both," Drusilla said, guiding Tara to the back of the car, while Spike carried Willow inside.
Spike floored it, causing the car to shoot forward and away from the hunting grounds, on the road towards Manchester. "Bloody hell," he said while lighting a cigarette. "What is this? A Disney film?"
And so, Tara enjoyed a peaceful ride to the big city. Willow, on the other hand, was very nervous about being in a car so close to humans, even if the boot was nice and spacious. But at least she had Tara to curl up to. It helped her deal with this unusual situation.
Finally, after a long ride, the car pulled into a driveway in front of a cozy farmhouse at the edge of the city, along with a huge backyard and several sets of stables. A small sign on the front lawn read 'Drusilla Grey, Veterinary Doctor'.
Willow and Tara found themselves being led into large room which smelled funny and had a large table in the middle. Drusilla put Willow on the table, while Spike held Tara around the collar. Tara growled slightly when Drusilla picked a needle from a cupboard.
"Sssh," said Drusilla. "It's fine. I'm trying to help your friend."
"They don't understand you, Dru," Spike shook his head.
"Hush, kitten," Drusilla half-smirked.
And so Drusilla cleaned and stitched the wound on Willow's leg. Spike brought the two exhausted animals to a kennel outside, where Willow once again curled up against Tara.
"Have you ever seen anything like that?" Drusilla said while she and Spike were watching the animals.
"Seen dogs adopt kittens before, but this is right bleedin' strange, Dru."
Two months later, Tara was still enjoying her new life. Being a pet was a whole different cup of tea for her, but she liked it nonetheless. She had a nice doghouse next to the stables, plenty of food and regular cuddles. She loved chatting with Drusilla's other pets, a siamese cat called Miss Edith and a huge Clydesdale called Boxer... but most of all, Willow was there as well, and curled up against her every single night.
"She should have returned to the wild already," Spike said while he and his girlfriend were watching the animals from behind the window. "I don't think we'll ever get that bloody fox to leave. I wonder what's keeping her here."
"Enough food," Drusilla said. "Plenty of water. And a certain dog."
"Oh, please," Spike scoffed. "They're animals, not little people. Next thing you'll be telling me they can talk to each other."
"They might surprise you."
And in the doghouse, Willow lay on her side, pressing her back against Tara. "Willow, you never have to be afraid again," Tara told Willow.
"Tara," Willow yawned sleepily. "I'll never have to be alone again."
Thanks for reading. Oh, btw, fox hunting is evil and I'm very happy that this barbaric sport has been banned in most parts of the civilized world.