I looked at her looking at me. My tail was twitching from side to side with the leftovers of the adrenaline. She seemed to calm down when she realised I wasn't going to hurt her. Realisation struck her - I could see it in her eyes. Before she could say anything, I stood up and walked quickly away. She jumped up.
"Wait! Ace, I know it's you," she said softly. I stopped but didn't turn around. "A real cougar wouldn't waste a second in attacking me."
I turned my head to look at her, my body stiff. She took a step towards me and I bolted. I didn't want to have to talk to her at that moment. I'd calmed down, but I still didn't want to talk to anyone. I was afraid of the questions that I'd have to answer.
I changed into a raven and flew to the top of the nearest tree. I watched the ground, waiting for Zoe to walk into view. But she didn't. I flew from tree to tree, retracing from the trees the path I'd taken on the forest floor.
She was walking but she wasn't going the direction she'd seen me run. She was heading back to the house. Riley appeared next to her, making my feathers ruffle. Zoe didn't seem to really notice Riley was there.
"I guess you didn't find him then," he whispered.
"No," she breathed. "There was a cougar that saved me from a pack of wolves but when I moved towards it, it ran away. So..."
"You think Ace would change and come back, just like that? Just because you're looking for him?" Riley asked.
"It probably wasn't even him anyway."
"It almost definitely was. When we used to come here with him and his family, if we had an argument about something - usually his fags - he'd come out to these woods and just sit with Ayesha."
"Ayesha?" Zoe asked.
"He had a pet mountain lion, if you'd believe it. He'd tamed her and she never forgot him. He was heart-broken when she died. It wasn't even a year after Sophie died. He didn't talk to anyone for ages after her death, then the death of his pet only made things worse."
"Who was Sophie?" she asked quietly.
"His older sister."
"Ace has a sister?"
"Had," he corrected. "He doesn't like talking about her. He punched Darran last time he mentioned her. His nose wouldn't stop bleeding for hours, and that was while we were human. I wouldn't want to extremely piss him off now."
"What do you mean?"
"When we were 16, Ace broke three of my ribs with one punch because I was taking the piss out of Alistair. Now that he's a vampire, he's stronger. I wouldn't want him to turn on us now."
"He broke three of your ribs and you're still friends?"
Riley shrugged. "That's just guys for you. We understood what Ace was going through. He begged me for forgiveness but I didn't need to forgive him because... Well, I didn't think he needed my forgiveness."
"What was Ace going through?"
Riley sighed. "Both his parents were drug users, his dad was an alcoholic and used to hit him, his mum was never in the house, his only sister had died, his parents used to fight constantly. The list just goes on. He pretended that it didn't bother him but it all just built up until the slightest thing would make him angry and he'd lash out. He was violent and angry but it was never his fault. I would say he's different now but... I don't know. I really don't because he just doesn't talk to us. He talks to Markus most of the time."
They were silent for ages. They just walked in silence until Zoe spoke.
"What's Darran's gift?" she asked, still curious about it.
Riley's face took on a grim expression. "Ask him. If he wants you to know, he'll tell you."
"That's exactly what Ace said," she noted.