The Master's hands smell of dark thoughts and death. Before he leaves he runs one of them down Tess' head, fingers scratching firmly behind one of her ears, and Tess lets her tail thump dully against the stone floor.
"Don't you worry, Tess," the Master says. "It won't be long. You'll like it here."
She won't. She's sure she won't.
"Good girl," the Master says and straightens. He hands Tess' leash to a woman who smells of plastic and food and many, many dogs. "Good girl."
When he walks away it is with long, quick steps, and she doesn't try to follow. He hasn't told her that he will return, and she knows that is because the Master is a good man and he does not lie.
"Goodbye," Tess says.
. . .
The lady locks her in a cage. There is food and water there, and a soft place to sleep. A flap in the wall lead out into a small enclosure, a dusty patch of grass covered by a roof. It smells nothing like the meadow; like concrete and steel instead of sheep and hay and morning dew, and Tess does not go there.
Instead, she curls up on top of the blanket in the corner and ignores the scent of washing powder. In her sleep she dreams of pastures and of herding, the Master's whistling sharp over the baying of the sheep as she guides the flock towards him. Always towards him.
. . .
A stranger takes her for a walk in the morning. She pulls on her leash, protesting against the suffocating confines of her collar, but he does not let her run free.
When she is returned to her cage she has gained a neighbor. It is a small dog, hairless except for the top of its head where a delicate pink bow rests, and it shivers as it pushes against the cage door.
"Mistress!" it barks, frantically clawing against the steel mesh. "Mistress!"
Across the walkway, a Great Dane paces the confines of its own cage. "Hush, little one," he says, voice deep and booming.
"Why did she leave me?" the smaller dog yelps. "Why did she go?"
The Great Dane sniffs at his empty food bowl. "It does not matter," he says and stretches, muscles dancing under dark fur spotted with gray, before turning to settle down onto his bed. "She will return. They always return."
In her own bed, Tess turns to face the wall. She sleeps.
. . .
The tiny dog leaves a few days later, and its happy squeaking echoes down the halls as it is reunited with its Mistress. The Great Dane is collected not long thereafter, a German Shepherd mix brought in to occupy his empty cage.
Tess goes on walks. She eats and sleeps and dreams. But mostly, she waits.
. . .
One late afternoon, just as Tess has settled down for the evening, the lady that smells of plastic comes for her. She's brought a leash, and she attaches it to Tess' collar and leads her down past the many cages and into the room where she and the Master said their goodbyes.
He is not there. Instead, a woman stands in his place.
"You must be Tess," she says, smiling softly. Her voice holds a certain amount of fondness even though they've never before met, and she crouches and extends one of her hands in greeting, palm up and fingers relaxed, beckoning Tess closer.
Tess obliges, moving forward to sniff her open palm. The woman smells of sweet perfume and tomatoes and books and like the Master but not like the Master. Like kin. Where this woman will lead, Tess knows she will follow.
When soft fingertips move to scratch behind her ears, Tess presses closer.