Werefoxes are carriers of the fox strain of lycanthropy. This can be passed on via a bite or a clawing wound given while the werefox is in fox or hybrid form, or via an exchange of blood. The disease can also be contracted from the vaccine, and this was once far more common than people think, but advances in medicine have begun reducing the likelihood of this occurring. Although no known cases of this exist among the werefoxes (and in general they are not aware of this fact), lycanthropy is passed from mother to child - however, it is rare for a werefox mother to carry a baby to term, because changing shape almost always induces a miscarriage. A werefox father can pass on Mowgli Syndrome to the child if he was in fox or hybrid form during intercourse. Once turned, lycanthropes are immune to other strains of lycanthropy (aside from the 30 or so panweres existing in the world, only four of which are in the United States), and to vampirism (with the notable exception of the line of hybrids created by the Mother of All Darkness).
Like all lycanthropes, werefoxes possess strength and speed far beyond anything a human is capable of - they can bench press a car easily, and can move fast enough to seem like a blur to the human eye. Lycanthrope metabolisms are much faster than human metabolisms, which is why werefoxes need to consume more calories, why they heal so quickly, and also why they have a higher body temperature than humans. Cold temperatures and ice baths, sometimes used to bring down fevers in humans, can be fatal to lycanthropes if given to them while they are healing serious injuries - they require high temperatures to heal, and recover best when surrounded by their clan.
Aside from wounds which sever the brain stem, lycanthropes can heal from almost anything. Although they are immune to poisons and diseases, lycanthropes are highly allergic to silver, and most will be burned by any external contact with the metal - some powerful lycanthropes, however, are not harmed unless the silver breaks the skin or is otherwise ingested. Wounds created by silver heal at human speed, if the lycanthrope does not shift before they are healed. As a result, silver is the only metal that can be used for body piercing on a lycanthrope - the holes will close up around other metals. However, doing this causes the lycanthrope constant mild pain as the 'wounds' stay fresh. Wounds made by other lycanthropes or fire will also heal slowly.
A werefox's natural form is human. In appearance, they are typically impossible to distinguish from any other human, although their faster metabolisms mean they are always fit. If they spend too much time in fox form, some characteristics may linger - for instance they may have fox eyes, unusually long and sharp canine teeth, and perhaps a rough/growly voice. Werefoxes shapeshift into foxes, roughly the size of medium to large dogs. Some are also capable of taking a bipedal hybrid "foxman" form. Although the ability is rare, some alpha lycanthropes can shift isolated portions of their body if they choose, rather than their whole body. Lycanthropes return to human form upon their death.
The transformation itself is a violent process - bones snap and reform, skin splits, fur spills out, and a hot, sticky liquid is produced (which manages to get everywhere except the fully transformed werefox). The process can take some time, depending on the age and ability of the werefox involved. Powerful alpha werefoxes can sometimes shift very smoothly and rapidly, whereas newer or weaker werefoxes often take several minutes for their bodies to break down and reform. Changing form always takes a lot of energy, and changing to fox form causes a hunger for meat. A shape change will heal all fresh wounds - even scars will fade gradually, if they were attained after the lycanthrope was infected.
If the shift is brought on naturally (by the full moon), typically a werefox will spend six to eight hours in fox form, followed by six to eight hours of comatose sleep. This coma time increases if a werefox chooses to shift back early, although alpha weres require only a few hours of comatose sleep, if any at all. Staying in fox form for a longer period is possible, but spending too long in fox form hampers the ability to shift human - at first only small features will remain foxish, but the longer they stay changed the less of their human instincts they retain, and eventually insanity can result. The risk of this lessens with a werefox's power.
All of a lycanthrope's senses are heightened. They can hear a person's pulse just by standing nearby, they need minimal light to see, and they can track by scent (although all of these abilities are improved more if they are in fox form rather than in human). They can use their sense of smell to determine if a person is agitated or calm, and this helps them determine if someone is lying, although it is not universal.
The moon is a potent influence on any lycanthrope. During the full moon, all lycanthropes must shift, though with more power and control comes the ability to delay this shift. The closer the moon is to being full, the harder it is for any lycanthrope to resist the shift. Many things can trigger a werefox's shift, if they do not have full control: heightened emotional states (including during sex) and the scent of blood are among the most common things to bring the fox to the surface and strain a werefox's control.
Sex - also referred to as "the killing dance" - can be a dangerous situation for a lycanthrope, as it can trigger an unwilling shift. Between two lycanthrope partners, this is considered normal - in fact not shifting during sex is considered holding back (some lycanthropes take it as an insult). However, when a lycanthrope has sex with a human, a shift can be disastrous: at best they will severely injure and infect their partner, at worst they will maul them to death.
The more control a lycanthrope has, the more they are able to choose when to shift and when not to shift - though it is always easier to change into fox form than resist the urge. A triggered (rather than conscious) change usually results in a lack of control over a werefox's beast, and can also create memory loss. For the first six months of forced full moon transformations, a werefox will not remember anything, and will be unable to control their actions during the night (their fox's instincts are in charge). The next six months begin the gradual development of control.
All werefoxes are able to control natural foxes (to an extent - they can at least calm them, though alpha werefoxes can get the foxes to do their bidding), and have what is in some senses an aura but in other senses an additional personality - except not a human personality, but rather that of a fox. 'The fox' or 'the beast' is what takes over during a werefox's first several full moons, and represents animal instincts rather than human ones. Control over their fox can be developed with practice - the better a werefox's control, the more their fox becomes simply a facet of their personality, rather than a separate personality whose memories they do not share.
The beast makes a werefox's aura hot and aggressive - sensitives of any kind who are around lycanthropes often find it to be an uncomfortable sensation, a type of hot prickling along their skin. Other lycanthropes are even more receptive to the aura, sometimes even feeling it as if it were a tangible fox, though other times simply feeling it as a dominating strength. More powerful werefoxes can mask and subdue this aura, with concentration, making it more difficult for sensitives to discern that they are a lycanthrope. However, the more powerful the were, and the more of their foxish senses and instincts being used, the stronger this aura will be.
Especially powerful and dominant werefoxes are referred to as alphas (sometimes, the line between alpha and dominant is blurred, but only an alpha can truly lead a clan). Whether or not a werefox becomes alpha depends largely on their own strength of will and personality. Alphas have better control of their beast than other weres, and they have a resistance to psychic and vampiric abilities. Some alphas can also control the beasts of those around them, either forcing other werefoxes to shift or forcibly repressing the beast. Another rare ability is the sharing of power through their own blood. Even more rare is the ability to heal, usually through physical contact and sexual energy. Two true leaders, alphas powerful enough to lead the clan, are powerful enough to pass their beasts through each other during sex (a highly pleasurable experience for both parties which can bring orgasm without any physical stimulation). A strong enough leader can shield their clan from a vampire's call, but being leader creates a metaphysical bond between leader and clan. This bond works both ways: the leader can draw strength from the clan, and sense clan members, but the entire clan can be controlled or fed upon via the leader.
Werefoxes are incredibly rare, and often live independently of any clan, though when they do gather the group is referred to as a skulk. Compared to most other lycanthrope species, werefoxes are relatively non-aggressive, and tend to avoid other lycanthrope clans out of concern that they will be viewed as prey.
Among each other, territorial customs hold. The rules vary based on territory (and who's in charge at any given time), but most clans permit visitors to their territory without too much ritual, as long as the visitors don't have dealings with the skulk. If the visitor plans to have dealings with the skulk, they must first present themselves to the clan leader, along with a gift. Becoming a resident in the clan's territory requires the permission of the clan leader - anything else is a challenge to the leader's authority, which establishes the newcomer as rogue (effectively, outlaw to the skulk). Some leaders also require a tithe from their clan members.
The skulk is organized in a strict hierarchy of dominance. Among unranked foxes, strength and power decide position: alpha foxes are above more submissive foxes. When a more dominant fox gives a more submissive fox an order, the submissive is expected to follow it - within reason. Dominance cannot be used to force a submissive to engage in illegal activity (although all rules are invalidated if the clan leader gives an order). Non-werefoxes can be considered dominant to skulk members, but cannot be considered alpha.
Dominance affects greetings between lycanthropes. A formal greeting between equal lycanthropes, or in a situation where dominance doesn't need to be established, is performed when one lycanthrope rubs cheeks with another, and both bury their noses in each other's hair. A submissive, when in public, will greet a dominant with a soft kiss, gently cupping their face in their hands. When not in public, the submissive will run their tongue along the dominant's lower lip. When a powerful alpha werefox meets a powerful alpha of another species, their beasts will sometimes fight for dominance, if there is tension between them. The sensation is violent - as if the other lycanthrope's claws are ripping at the werefox's insides - but no physical damage is done. Physical contact makes the sensation more powerful. Either one beast wins, or the fight ends in a standstill.
Narcissus in Chains, Ch. 35 (Merle speaking)
"When two such different beasts meet, and they are both strong dominants - such as a true Nimir-Ra, and a true Ulfric - the two animals must fight and test each other… it is a type of taming of one beast by the other."
When disputes occur, they are decided by dominance battles or challenges - which can range from a battle of wills to hand to hand combat, and end when one of the combatants backs down and acknowledges the other as dominant to them. Challenges are much like duels, in that it is left between the two combatants. Using weapons other than teeth and claws (or knives) invalidates the challenge. Submissive weres can seek the protection of a more powerful were - if the dominant were grants this protection, they must accept all challenges on behalf of the submissive were they protect. To request protection, the submissive moves in closer to the dominant, without touching them. If the dominant offers their protection, they reach out and touch the submissive. This process means that the protectee automatically acknowledges the protector as dominant to them - and the skulk must recognize this relationship as well. Challenges for rank are even more formal - these can be duels to the death, in which case the winner inherits the property of the loser. Such challenges must be issued at a formal clan gathering. Generally, challenges for a rank less than clan leader are not fought to the death, but it can happen.
When one werefox wishes to give their word in a formal manner to another, they present their throat to them. Symbolically, they are trusting the other fox not to take their life. Traditionally, the response is to lightly kiss or bite the pulse of the offered throat. The harder the bite, the less the second fox trusts the word being given, and/or the more dominant they see themselves to the first fox. A hard bite can be an insult to an alpha werefox.
Blue Moon, Ch. 37 (Marianne speaking)
"A healthy pack or pard is built up of a thousand gentle touches. A million small comforts. It's like building a relationship with a boyfriend. Every touch builds and strengthens it… It is like building your relationship with a newborn baby. Every touch, every time you feed him when he's hungry, change him when he's wet, comfort him when he's frightened—the everyday intimacies forge a bond between you. True parenthood is built over years of interdependency. The bond between the pack is built much the same way."
Lycanthropes are very casual about things like nudity and personal space. They tend to be comfortable lounging on or beside each other, at least as long as they are within their own strain - a werefox is far more comfortable around another werefox than they would be around any other lycanthrope. The touch of their skulk is a metaphysical as well as emotional reassurance.
Most clans will assign a sponsor to a newly turned were. This sponsor helps teach the new lycanthrope how to keep control, how to keep the secret, and how to cope with the change. In addition, the sponsor is often responsible for teaching the new lycanthrope about the different risks inherent in sex.
Calling a lycanthrope "noseblind", or insinuating that their sense of smell/taste is useless, is a grave insult - it essentially translates to saying that they are in denial.
Interaction with Human Society
Although lycanthropy is a recognized disease, and discrimination based upon it is illegal, prejudicial practices are common. Six states in the U.S. have "varmint laws", which make it legal to kill a lycanthrope in animal form on sight (and a bounty is offered for their corpse). Lycanthropy is considered a contagious disease, and as such disqualifies someone from Federal Marshal status, as well as the Armed Forces. Lycanthropes working in medicine or as teachers lose their jobs almost immediately upon being outed, and the same generally applies for government jobs or emergency services.
It is against the law to deliberately infect someone with lycanthropy. Many hospitals are uncomfortable treating lycanthropes, but they do offer vaccines for the disease. Known lycanthropes are encouraged to enter 'safe houses', which are government-run facilities advertised as clinics where a lycanthrope can learn control. While admission is voluntary for anyone over the age of 18 (minors may be forcibly admitted), and lycanthropes are supposed to be welcome to return to society after they have achieved control, once a lycanthrope checks in they are never seen again. Lycanthropes, naturally, view these places as worse than prisons, and the ACLU is fighting their existence in the Supreme Court.
Due partially to this widespread discrimination, almost all lycanthropes live a life of secrecy, even from their own families. Generally, the only lycanthropes who don't keep their status a secret are those who do not socialize with humans - and particularly those in the service of vampires. Lycanthropes who use their condition to perform (whether in a specialty stage act or on screen) are also exceptions to this practice. However, even outed lycanthropes are generally reluctant to tell humans any details about lycanthrope culture.