Hello, lovely people!

Here we are, then. Chapter 3 of the updated version of the story. I've spread out the 'Homecoming' so it flows better. Unlike "The Lost Souls", there will be bigger changes on the way.

For now, enjoy!


Chapter 3:

Homecoming Part I

Aro held Anna in his arms in their little bubble of bliss, while the rest of the world moved around them from a distance. Beth clambered into the limo, and Renata shut the door as Felix started up the engine. With a smile, Renata pressed a button and brought up a screen to give them privacy.

Aro stroked Anna's hair. Her heart seemed swollen in her chest; she had never wanted to cry more in her life. "Can you ever forgive me, Aro?"

His fingers froze in her curls. "Forgive, Anna?" Aro asked. "Whatever for?"

Anna's thoughts were a tempest as she stared up at him. He was dark-eyed, gaunt, almost starving, and, slowly, Anna reached up to touch Aro's face with hands that were far colder than ordinary vampire skin, preventing her from accidentally reading Aro's thoughts.

"I broke my promise. I made you wait." Anna stroked the bags under Aro's eyes, and desire stirred inside him.

"Anna – " The breath stilled in his mouth, as she suddenly uncurled and shifted, wrapping around him.

Anna's voice was low and full of self-loathing. "Look what I have done to you."

Aro smiled thinly, his eyes half-lidded. "I distinctly remember telling you this would happen to the both of us. However," – he yearned to brush away the wretchedness in Anna's eyes as easily as the errant curl from her forehead – "you are here now. You are ready."

Anna smiled, and it was a beautiful, fragile thing. "I am."

Leaning in to kiss her, Aro laughed as she beat him to it, winding her fingers through his hair. They basked in one another, light-headed and foolish with relief.

I have wanted to do that since I left you!

Aro sighed as Anna unravelled herself from him, resting her head comfortably on his shoulder. Their knees bumped against one other. "What will happen when we arrive home?" Anna asked brightly, despite the anxiety poking her the stomach. "The Guard –"

"Will be devoted to you," Aro said firmly. "Chelsea and I will make sure of it."

Anna frowned. "Chelsea? I do not remember meeting her."

"You haven't, my dear. Chelsea is why we are united as a family; the Guard will protect and serve you, without question."

Anna was suddenly uneasy. "Really?"

"Of course!" Aro chuckled. "You are to be their Queen."

"But have you asked them what they think of that?" Anna swallowed, bridling at the memory of Jane's vicious stare. "You know it was never my intention to create turmoil within your coven."

"Turmoil, my dear?" Aro shook his head gently. "Quite the opposite! Beyond their grief, they are all very eager to meet you."

What then? Anna looked at him, sceptically. "Even Jane?"

Aro laughed. "Yes, even Jane."

Anna hesitated. "If that's true," – she took his hand with a squeeze – "let me prove myself a worthy Queen before you ask Chelsea to bind them to me."

She doesn't want help. Battling with astonishment, Aro kissed her hand. "I have every faith in you, my dear. Consider it done."

"Thank you." Anna rewarded him by snuggling against his neck.

On the other side of the screen, Beth smirked. "I think," she said to Renata, "their reunion is a happy one."

Renata smiled. "You are right."

In their short time together, the awkwardness had thawed. Renata might have been Aro's bodyguard, but she wasn't intimidating in the slightest.

"No offence," Beth murmured hesitantly when she said as much.

Renata laughed. "You are right, Elizabeth, and that is the beauty of it, no?"

"So, what's your gift?" Beth reasoned Aro needed an equally powerful protector.

Renata smiled without arrogance. "My power stops an unwanted threat. I can make enemies forget why they wish to harm my Master."

Beth nodded, understanding. "That sounds very useful."

"Are you gifted also?" Renata asked like she wanted to know, and Beth was surprised.

Imagine that. A friendly member of the Guard! "I am, yeah. But it's not as cool as what you can do." Feeling self-conscious, Beth vanished beneath her glamour, and Renata laughed like she'd heard the punchline to a joke Beth had missed.

"I see why Demetri is so bothered by you."

"Oh?" Beth shook off her glamour, grinning. "How so?"

Renata explained, "Many times, you have escaped from his sight. That does not happen often. It makes him bad-tempered."

Beth was still smirking to herself as she tried not to play with the array of buttons on her armrest. Meanwhile, Renata was taking a bottle of dark liquid down from a cubby hole. The bottle looked far too extravagant to be containing something other than an expensive spirit. It was secured by a tight, glass stopper.

"Would you like some, Elizabeth?" When Beth wrinkled her nose, Renata hastily added, "Oh, it is animal. Master Aro requested it for you."

"Oh, wow. Thank you." Beth took the bottle. Incredibly, the blood was still warm inside. "That's considerate of him."

It tasted pretty good too. Where did Aro get it?

Between sips, Beth allowed her mind to wander. It was starting to drizzle outside the window, blurring terracotta buildings and grey skies. Beth found herself missing England with a sudden, hollow ache in her heart, but she forced herself to ignore it.

With Renata on the phone, another thought suddenly came to Beth. Maybe I should apologise to Felix. Her heart sank.

Unless she was given reason to, Beth was not a spiteful woman; since becoming a vampire, she had come to realise, along with her strength, her pride and her tendency to lose her temper had intensified.

Beth blamed her previous irritability on waiting at the airport; now, she felt guilty about snapping at Felix. Perhaps carrying other people's luggage and playing chaperone was part of his job description?

Taking a deep breath, Beth pressed her intercom button. "Hey, um, Felix?" She immediately released the button, and Renata glanced over at her, still talking.

Beth cringed. Please don't watch. My ego is suffering right now. It reminded her of the time she had exploded in front of Aro and Demetri over Darius Tuono. She had hoped to not feel that again so soon.

Felix probably hadn't heard her, anyway, or he was ignoring her. Why did she think this was a good idea? Stupid Rhodes, and your best intentions –

"Yes, Elizabeth?"

Beth's brain sneezed. "Um. Er. Sorry, I just wanted to apologise for – for how I acted back at the airport. The plane was delayed; it all got a bit stressful…" Now she was babbling! Not for the first time, Beth wished she could talk as eloquently as Anna without a self-conscious demon licking her ear.

"I understand," Felix said. "Apology accepted." The tone of his voice didn't even change. Did he not know how difficult this was for her?

"Oh. Um, thank you." Beth felt stupid again. "Well, I'll just leave you to it."

As she let the intercom button go, Beth realised Renata had stopped talking. Oh, God.

"Do not be embarrassed, child," Renata said gently. "You have a good heart, and that is rare for our kind."

Aro's bodyguard would not admit that she was surprised. It was true she did not understand why any vampire would choose anything other than the human blood, but that did not mean she wasn't curious.

Renata remembered, centuries ago, when Carlisle Cullen had come to visit Volterra. Aro had prodded and tested him by dumping bleeding humans on him without warning – to no avail! Would Elizabeth be the same?

"Thank you." Beth took another drink and changed the subject. "Was that Caius on the phone? How is he, you know, with all this?" She waved her arms vaguely.

"He is delighted, as we all are," Renata said.

Beth tried not to snort. With Anna, maybe, but not me. "And Marcus?" Her heart twisted when she said his name.

Renata smiled a sad smile. "In his way, yes."

Happy…about seeing me again? Even in Beth's head, it sounded vain but, still, she wondered.

The Guard was still coming to terms with the loss of Sulpicia, and Caius's wife had not left her room since the Halloween Ball. Beth didn't know what to say to that; she had only seen Athenodora once but didn't voice this else it came out wrong. She didn't want to upset Renata.

"I don't need to tell you what happened to Anna, do I?" Beth said, with a wry smile. "You've seen it for yourself."

Renata nodded slowly. "It was not easy seeing my Master suffer and being helpless to stop it."

"Oh, I know," Beth gasped. "I felt exactly the same."

The rain hurled at the limo. Through its transparent skin, the hustle and bustle of Pisa had diminished into an unfamiliar countryside, lush and vivid against the dull sky.

"Whoa," Beth gasped as panic gripped her windpipe. "Where are we?"

"We're almost home," Renata said calmly as the world outside disappeared into total darkness. Beth heard Anna gasp and Aro chuckle on the other side of the screen.

Felix took them through a narrow passageway gently lit by soft, orange light, which suggested that humans used it. Beth asked about this, with an uncomfortable weight sinking in her chest. Do the humans come out?

"Heidi brings them this way, yes," Renata said. Heidi was the Volturi's tour guide who brought the lambs to the slaughter.

Beth's stomach lurched sickeningly. "Oh. Right."

They had come to a fork in the cave with both paths stretching away into places Beth could not see. Felix followed the passage on the right side, bringing them into what Beth could only describe as the Volturi's underground car park. She snorted out loud at the selection of sleek vehicles on offer.

What is it with these people and the colour black?! Beth counted another limo, a gleaming Porsche, all of which made her beloved Abraham look like scrap metal.

Parking beside a glossy Aston Martin, Felix cut off the engine. "Welcome home, everyone."

Beth gulped. They were here. There was no going back now. A whirring sound alerted her to the descending screen, and when she saw Anna and Aro together, it was clear the last thing they wanted was to get out. It didn't irk Beth exactly, but the idea that Anna would stick to Aro from now on, all puppy-dog eyes and mushy brains, was troubling.

Mercifully, they weren't kissing.

Beth asked Anna, "Glad to be back?"

Her sister looked slightly dazed. "Oh, yes." She pecked Aro on the cheek and he glowed with its impact. "Very glad."

To be continued...