A Place Under Heaven
This story takes place about ten years after Breaking Dawn. Although the Cullens keep to themselves most of the time, a special woman named Tara has caught their attention. She lives a normal human life a few hours from Forks. As the story begins, Tara is not sure that there are vampires or werewolves; but she is sure that there is something more awaiting her.
Chapter 1: Found
The porch of the peaceful Victorian home in the suburbs of Portland looked like the safest place on Earth, but it wasn't. Tara sat on her swing, barely moving back and forth enough to make the still cool air brush her cheek. She heard the sounds of life stirring around her in bursts--the sudden effort of an engine and the bark of a dog. Underneath it, over it, and all around it flowed the rushing, murmuring noises she always heard. She used to think the murmur was the sound of the universe, but that wasn't right, because no one else ever heard it. That sound was one more thing that kept her distant from the rest of the world. If it is the sound of the universe, it must be the universe of me, she thought.
Tara had become so good at separating this constant sound from the real world that she could even make out the stringed-song of the crickets as it rose and fell in harmony with the cicadas. She felt the roughness of the wood of the swing against her hair as she looked at the peeling paint of the porch ceiling. The sounds washed over her, along with the earthy scents of the rising night and the sense of waiting for the impending event. A rustle in the dark drew her attention, but nothing was there…nothing was ever there.
Another gentle push of the swing set the air in motion again, but she could not relax into the peace of the night. The crushing exhaustion and weakness that she had been fighting overwhelmed her, and she moved to rise. Suddenly, a sound met her ears that turned her muscles to stone, lifted the hair on her arms and riveted her to the seat. It was stunning in its sheer existence; unlike anything she had ever experienced since her earliest memory or in any darkest nightmare.
Silence chilled her blood. Silence. Utter stillness. It was unique and terrifying.
The gloss of it flowed over her, wrapped around her, and she realized that the sense of loneliness she had felt before was nothing compared to this utter isolation. Yet, there was peace.
I'm dead, she thought. This is it. This is my end. My reward is sweet oblivion.
She welcomed it with open arms.
In seconds though, the shock abated, and she was aware of the air on her skin, of the force of gravity pressing against her and the rise and fall of her chest. Not dead yet, she thought.
As she breathed slowly, reveling in the silence, a scent wafted to her in the night air. It was so appealing, like fruit at the peak of ripeness, rippling with sugar. Tara became aware that she was not alone. A woman stood on the porch a few feet from her, unnatural in her stillness. The moonlight seemed to cling to her features, to flow down from the sky for the sole purpose of illuminating her beauty.
"Do you mind if I join you on this lovely night?"
The words were meant to disarm, to enchant.
Tara nodded, stupefied, and her visitor coiled like an innocent cat on the floor; hands around her knees, looking up with hopeful golden eyes.
"My name is Bella, it is my pleasure to meet you."
"My name is Tara," she whispered into the smooth blissful silence that lingered. "It is so quiet, so very quiet," Tara murmured as a sudden thought struck her. "Did you bring the silence?"
The woman nodded her head, her dark hair lustrous in the moonlight. "I believe I may have. Does the silence give you peace?" she asked, in tones of a lullaby.
Tara nodded, momentarily so overcome with emotion she could not speak.
"You are within my shield," Bella explained. "I have learned to protect myself and others. It's not without effort, but I am glad to protect her." Her earnest look and shy smile were endearing.
Tara was normally tentative to express her thoughts and shy with strangers, but her curiosity was overwhelming. "What shield? Where did you come from? How do you know about me?" The questions poured from her lips.
Bella's slow smile was dazzling, and it became clear that her teeth were too bright, too white. Everything about her carved beauty did not belong in the everyday world. The other questions fled from Tara's mind.
"What are you?" The question burst from Tara's lips almost as if was an accusation.
"I will try to answer your questions honestly, but you can't repeat anything I tell you."
Tara pinched herself and winced, assured that his was not a dream. Could this creature in the moonlight be what had awaited her? She nodded soberly.
"I came here because I care about you." Bella's golden tones rang with sincerity.
Tara let no one into her heart, but she wanted to believe those words. She remained silent as Bella continued.
"The supernatural world that you have always sensed is real. There are vampires and werewolves alive today. I have been a vampire for these past ten years." Bella stopped, watching Tara closely for her reaction.
Tara's eyes widened and her heart pounded. She had retained the whimsical fancy of a child and the hope for things unseen, although the world had tried to take these dreams from her. In the moonlight, caught in the golden gaze; Tara knew that Bella's words were true.
"Why do you care about me? Why are you telling me this?" Tara questioned urgently. She could not fathom what connection she could have with this amazing creature.
"I came, because your future entwined with my family's. We need you."
Tara's mind immediately rejected this statement. There must be some mistake. How could she need me? I'm nothing more than a mortal. A sick, broken mortal.
Bella could see her amazement. "It is as simple as it is unbelievable. Many in my family have gifts, I already told you about mine, my ability to shield. I believe that you already possess a special gift as well." At Tara's puzzled expression, Bella continued, "I used to be like you. I have not forgotten what it is like to be fragile."
Her eyes cast downward to her hands, and the passion in her voice was barely controlled.
Again, Tara could not understand. Her mind reeled. Why does this woman seem to care so deeply about me?
"What can I do?" she asked.
"You can become one of us," Bella replied simply in her musical voice, her eyes beseeching.
Tara shook her head in denial, looking down at the breakable bones of her hands and the flimsy fingers entwined on her lap.
"You mean become a vampire?"
Bella slid forward with feline grace, placing an icy hand on Tara's.
"Look into my eyes," she said. It was not voiced as a command, but the hypnotic sound of her voice destroyed all will to resist.
"Yes, a vampire. The change will make you strong, stronger than you could imagine being. It will give you eternal life, but there will be pain. It will burn and you can never go back to the way you are now."
Tara recalled the pain she had felt in her life, the torment of the body and the flesh, and she thought of the pain she had felt on that very porch night after night, waiting. She looked back into the golden eyes.
"Eternal life," she repeated in wonderment. "I can handle pain."
"Then take my hand and come with me. Say goodbye to your old life."
Tara was already prepared to bid her life farewell and so she chose to do it now. Controlling her rising terror, she trusted Bella.
With joined hands the women walked off the porch and into the night.
The angle of the moonlight on the car continued to illuminate Bella's white skin as she guided them through the darkness. They spoke of many things on their journey. Bella told her of the Cullen family and the shape-shifters of the Quileute tribe. Bella's deep love of her family was evident, but she seemed slightly saddened when she talked about her daughter.
"Renesmee, my daughter, is grown now. She is off alone finding her way," Bella told her.
Tara's mind was again stunned. The woman driving the car appeared to be in her late teens. Her skin was a smooth perfection with no signs of decay. Tara looked down at her own hands and saw the signs of sun and life and the miles that she had traversed. Bella was untouched by any signs of time. Tara felt some of the joy she had felt in Bella's presence ebb.
"I have no children," Tara said. "I'm," she broke off, changing her mind about what she was going to say.
Bella looked at her sympathetically, patiently waiting for Tara to continue.
"I'm weak," she finished.
My strength has passed, she thought. I will never be what this woman is, even if she can give me some of her power. I'm afraid I'll be locked in this body.
"I do know what you are feeling. I don't forget what it was like to be human. You are beautiful to me," Bella said with conviction, turning to look Tara full in the eyes as the car travelled one hundred miles an hour down the deserted road.
"The beauty in you will be revealed; the child in you will live, and the shell of your body now, the one you dwell in temporarily, will be recreated. I promise you that."
Tara let herself feel a surge of hope before suppressing it. Miracle cures just don't exist in my world, she thought.
"How exactly is this going to work?" she asked, skepticism creeping into her voice.
Bella's hands flexed on the wheel and she kept her eyes locked on the road.
"I will bite you and share my venom with you." Bella's voice was strained. "The venom will stop your heart and react in your body. It takes about five days before you are fully changed."
Tara shifted in her seat, feeling the first surge of panic.
"Hey, what about free will? Are you hypnotizing me with that great perfume or those eyes?" she asked.
Bella responded, "You have free will, but you can change your mind only up to a point. When I tell you that you've reached the point of no turning back, believe me, there is no turning back."
Tara started looking at the handle of the car door and at the road hurtling by.
"You said it will hurt," Tara said in a small voice.
"Yes." Bella's eyes were luminous. "It is the worst pain you can imagine." She paused to let Tara consider this before continuing, "When you are done changing, you will have incredible strength and you will thirst for blood. For most, the thirst is insatiable for many years, but time will pass quickly."
"You said, 'For most', was it like that for you?" Tara asked, eyes wide. "I can't kill people!" She began to regret her impulsive decision as her mind reeled with visions of murderous bloodlust. Tara had never hurt any creature in her life.
"It was not like that for me, I was able to control my thirst," Bella assured her quickly. "We do not kill people; we feed only on the blood of animals. I am sure your transformation will be special too." She spoke with a quiet confidence.
Tara quickly dismissed the notion that she would be special. She thought of the family that Bella had described and wondered if she could be acceptable to them. What will I become? The fearful anticipation was overwhelming.
"How much farther? Where are we going?" Tara asked anxiously.
"We are nearly there. I'm taking you to be with Jacob, near Forks, where I live."
"Who is Jacob? Will the rest of your family be there?"
Tara was overwhelmed at the thought of meeting more people like Bella. It wasn't fear exactly, more of a sense of inadequacy. The contrast was stark between the fresh perfection of Bella's appearance and her thirty-year-old body. Next to Bella, she felt…flawed. It was not the first time she had felt that way.
"No, I thought it would be too much to have the whole family there," Bella said in a rush. "I didn't think Jake would be as intimidating. He is not a vampire; he is a human--one of the shape-shifters I told you about. He's practically a part of my family. At one time I thought Jacob might be my son-in-law." Bella's face held a tinge of regret. "He has been looking forward to being able to talk to you, and he is someone you can trust."
Suddenly the car slowed.
"Here we are," Bella said parking the car off the road. "The cabin is back here. Follow me. "
They entered the cabin. It was rustic, but comfortable. The room was warm, and a fire was burning in the large stone fireplace. A massive, dark-haired man rose and walked towards them. His face was alive with joy, his warm eyes blazing.
This person is the one they thought would be less intimidating? Tara thought, and then her thoughts fled as Jacob lifted her effortlessly and crushed her to the stone slab of his chest, spinning her around like a long-lost friend.
"Jacob, put her down!" Bella commanded sternly. "She has no idea who you are."
Reluctantly, Jacob slid Tara to the floor. It was a long way down, but he continued to hold her gaze in his warm brown glow. Tara found it hard to look away. It was blazing hot in the room, and she felt a flush rise in her cheeks. She fumbled with the clasp of her coat.
"Um, hi, Jacob. It is nice to meet you."
Tara felt shy, and it was hard to meet Jacob's eyes. He continued to regard her with approval, a wide smile on his handsome face. She forced herself to look up at him and became disoriented, as if the destination on her horizon suddenly had arrived directly in front of her. She couldn't look away.
"Jake, do you think it is hot enough in here? Go get her some water," Bella commanded reproachfully, breaking the hypnotic eye contact. Jake loped off into the kitchen agreeably, tossing his long black hair over his shoulder.
"Sorry," Jacob said carelessly, as if he wasn't sorry at all. "I just figured Tara would be cold after getting stuck in the car with your frozen hide."
He's not wrong, Tara thought, flexing her stiff fingers and feeling the blood thin and flow in her veins for the first time in a while. In fact, her heart was pushing blood with an energy that had started when Jake had her in his arms.
Bella turned to look at her, staring intently at the pulse in her neck. "We are reaching that point of no return," she said, her voice making the words sound like poetry, despite the menace. "You can stay here for a while with Jacob, or we can get this started." Her eyes blazed with an anxious fire. "I've told you how important this is, but it has to be the right time for you. What do you feel?"
From a lifetime of pushing her feelings aside, of thinking that the way she felt wasn't quite right, Tara felt unprepared to answer the question. Yet a small voice inside told her that every step had led her to this place. She nodded her head and tried to push down the fear that rose in her stomach. Jacob returned from the kitchen.
"Bells, you better get going. The Sun is up and you might meet someone on the road. We'll catch you later."
Both women looked at him, and he stood in silence, glass of water frozen in his hand. He looked between Tara's frightened white face and Bella's determined gaze and realization dawned.
"What, now? You can't be serious. I thought Tara and I would have some time together…before…before the change." He looked helplessly at Tara. "I'm sure she is not going to like my wet dog smell, Bella."
Tara threw up her hands. "I have no idea what you are talking about. I don't smell any dog. I thought we were talking about me burning in fire for a few days and emerging as a hot chick with superpowers."
She was trying to put on a show of bravery. Jacob reacted badly to her words. He crushed the glass in his hand, oblivious to the shards that fell to the floor.
"Bella, what have you been telling her?" he asked fiercely. "You can't do this under false pretenses. She needs to know what this life is like! Do you have any idea how hard it is for me to be here when this happens?"
Bella stepped away from Jake's onslaught, but she wasn't defensive. Her expression was tortured.
"I know Jacob, but there isn't any other way, you know that," she said.
Tara regretted her joke. "Sorry. I was just kidding. I didn't mean to be flippant." She put her hand on Jake's arm, feeling the heat from his satin skin. "Jacob, I appreciate your concern, but I know exactly what I am getting into. Bella was more than clear."
"It is your life," Jacob said grudgingly, darting another look at Bella.
Tara turned to Bella. "Let's get started. How many times have you done this? I'm assuming I'm in good hands?" she implored. The fear that had been fluttering in her stomach had risen to a fever pitch.
Bella's gaze faltered and she looked at Jacob, who moved protectively towards Tara.
"Well, actually never," Bella answered apologetically. "We don't do this lightly."
"You've never made another vampire?" Tara asked in shock, trying to push down the fear that was thrusting into her chest. She thought of the isolating murmur that had haunted her and the life she was leading.
"I've never bitten another human," Bella clarified soberly. "I will do it for you."
Bella's face was serious and Tara was surprised to see what she thought was a hint of fear in Bella's eyes. Her demeanor and responses were not reassuring, but something inside Tara still told her that she could trust Bella. She wanted to be part of her family. She wanted to live.
She looked over at Jacob, who was hovering protectively, and took a deep breath.
"Let's do this," she announced. "I'm not getting any younger."
Emotions seem to play over Jacob's face—sorrow, fear, and admiration.
"Jacob, watch me closely," Bella said to Jacob in a voice so low that Tara had to strain to hear it. "Please be prepared to stop me if you need to," Bella instructed.
"Don't worry," he said grimly. "If you get carried away, I'll knock your skinny butt to Sunday."
Without asking, Jacob picked up Tara like she was a doll and sat down on the couch, cradling her in his strong arms.
"I got you," he said quietly.
Tara normally kept people at a distance, but she was grateful for the strong arms around her. She allowed Bella to take her hand, noting that it was shaking.
Bella began to lower her mouth towards Tara's wrist, and then paused. "Jacob, please don't watch this," she requested in a small voice.
Tara felt Jacob's arms tighten around her almost painfully, and he inhaled, bracing himself.
"You ready?" he asked, looking down into her eyes.
She tried to answer, but her throat was too constricted. She swallowed and nodded.
"Hold onto me," he directed and turned his head away.
Bella lowered her mouth slowly to Tara's wrist. Tara found she could not look away.
Bella's soft lips barely brushed the pale soft skin of her wrist like a kiss where the pulse of life beat swiftly, fueled by the heart that threatened to burst from Tara's chest. In a blur, as if it was happening to someone else, Tara saw Bella pull back and tear the skin of her wrist. Tara felt a slash of pain but she did not cry out, although her body stiffened. Jacob moaned, as if he was the one being hurt.
One crimson drop escaped before Bella's mouth clamped onto her, and Tara felt her pull the blood from her body in a hot flow. The room grew blurry, and Tara fought the urge to struggle, as if something inside her still wanted to fight for the imperfect life she had. She tried to calm the survival instinct, but she was adrift in panic. She felt the strong arms around her. Jacob was her anchor.
"Hold on," he whispered, the echo of her pain reflected in his eyes.
The heat was being pulled from her. Cold drove deeper and deeper into her body until the ice hit her heart like a fist that stopped its pounding.
Tara held on to Jacob for dear life, held on, as her life ebbed away.
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