It was Carlisle who remained sensible while everyone else just stared at the older man.
"I see," Carlisle said, studying their visitor. "I think it would be a good idea if we all sat down and talked about this."
Tobias smiled. "I'd like that. I've come a long way to find you."
"Have you?" Carlisle said, surprised. "How did you know about us?" He paused, and then stood back and opened the door. "If you'd like to come in?"
"Thank you," Tobias said politely, accepting Carlisle's invitation.
"Hold it!" Jasper said, fighting down a feeling of panic. "How do we know this isn't some kind of trick?"
Tobias looked at Jasper, highly amused. "Who would want to trick you?"
"Anyone," Jasper said firmly. "There are a lot of vampires out there who could see us as a threat and would wish to send someone gifted to make our removal easy."
Carlisle glanced at Edward, who shook his head.
"Jazz, use your head," Emmett suggested.
An outsider wouldn't know what that meant, but Jasper grasped his meaning at once. He reached out with his gift and sampled the man's emotions, running gentle mental "hands" over them, the same way humans would run their hands over something soft. What he felt was surprising. Very, very surprising.
For a being meant to be a killer, there was practically no killing ability in the man at all. Instead, what Jasper felt was warmth and kindness emanating from the man. There wasn't a mean bone in his body. He was amused at Jasper's cautious reaction and amused that all of them were close to panic at his arrival, but he didn't allow their panic to make him afraid. Instead, he was reassuring himself that everything was going to be okay. He felt a kindly regard for all of them, the same way humans felt about their children.
"All right," he said at last. "Let's go inside."
Carlisle led them all inside and to the dining room. Once there they sat down, taking the customary seats they usually took during a family meeting. As Jasper took his seat he felt Alice take his hand in hers.
"It's going to be all right, Jasper. This is a good thing."
He looked at her. "Will it change?"
She shrugged. "I can't be certain. For the time being, it's firm."
"So, Tobias," Carlisle said once they were all seated. "What brings you to us?"
"I heard about you some years ago when I met the Volturi," Tobias said. "I wanted to meet you for myself and see if you were like what I heard."
The tension level in the room shot through the roof and stubbornly Jasper tamped it down. The Volturi. He knew that the Italian coven wouldn't hesitate to eliminate his family if they thought the Cullens were a threat to their laws, but…
"Good things, I hope?" Edward said lightly, trying his best to help Jasper lighten the mood.
"To my mind, yes," Tobias said, nodding. "To the Volturi, they couldn't fathom it. Their confusion was a bit amusing."
Jasper fought down a smile as Tobias's remembered amusement hit him. "Amusing" was a very light word for the old man to use since he'd found the Volturi's confusion hilarious!
"What do you mean?" Esme asked.
Tobias sighed. "Forgive me. Perhaps I should start at the beginning?" He paused and seemed to think. "Yes, I think that would be best."
Edward blinked and Jasper wondered what he'd heard.
"I was born in Germany and I was changed sometime in the fourteen hundreds. Europe was just beginning to struggle toward the Renaissance at that point and peasant stories and tales were all the literature we had then. People spoke of revenants that sought the blood of the living but the word 'vampire' didn't come along until later. I belonged to a family of farmers and one night while we were all asleep a pair of vampires decided to feed on my family. I don't really know how my neighbors knew what was happening, but they descended on the house en masse. I'd just been bitten when they arrived and their threats to burn the house with all inside it made the two vampires flee. I knew that since I had been bitten I would become a monster and I knew that my neighbors would not allow me to live, so I got as far away as I could and suffered the transformation."
Tobias was even older than Carlisle! No wonder Edward had blinked!
"Once I realized what I then was, I stayed on the move. I did not stay anywhere long enough to be noticed. I hunted at night, and usually I hunted the people who were up to no good."
Edward blinked again.
"Still, I felt remorse at killing. I did not like it. One night I was near a slaughterhouse and the smell of the blood there made me realize that I could perhaps live on animal blood instead of human blood. I found work first in the slaughterhouse and then later in a butcher's so that I would always have a supply of my food nearby. Even later I worked as a cook, so I always had access to blood."
"How did you find out about your gift?" Carlisle asked. "When did you meet other vampires?"
"A few decades after my change," Tobias said, sounding as if he found the memory unpleasant. "They did not like me and I did not like them, but all of us came away without having to kill anyone. I think they were a bit frightened of my gift."
"And the Volturi?" Emmett wanted to know. "Did you meet them before or after?"
"Oh, definitely after," Tobias assured him. "They were wary of me, but they welcomed me. I think they were interested in what I could do and they invited me to stay with them, but Volterra was somewhat depressing for me, so I came to America some years ago and I've stayed. Several years ago I remembered what they'd said about you and I wondered...well, I was lonely and decided to look for you. I would like to have some companions for a while and to put it bluntly, I was hoping I could impose myself on you. I can offer my unique talents and I can give you a promise now that no one will learn any of your secrets from me. If you wouldn't feel comfortable having me live with you, then I could settle nearby and just visit sometimes, but I would like the chance to get to know you."
All of the Cullens exchanged looks and Edward winced. They were all thinking especially "loud" then and Jasper felt a bit of sympathy for his brother. Of the two of them, he felt Edward had the worse gift. He felt emotions, that was true, but Edward heard people's thoughts, thoughts were colored with emotions and he heard exactly what people were thinking. Such words were hard to forget.
"How long have you been looking for us?" Rosalie asked, regarding their visitor calmly.
"Ever since I remembered what the Volturi had said about you," Tobias told her.
Edward had to suddenly stifle laughter. Tobias must have been thinking about what they'd said and if Edward's reaction was anyting to go by, whatever they'd said had been hilarious. Jasper made a mental note to ask about that later. He could use a good laugh.
Carlisle looked at the older man and smiled. "I think I would like that, but it's not just me making the decision," he said. "The family would have to agree as well."
"I say hell, yeah," Emmett said. "Bring him in!"
More than one person stared at him.
"What? I like him, and he's been honest with us, hasn't he? He's amused more than one of us and he's not afraid to lay it all out there. I say we should be glad he came."
Carlisle looked at Edward.
"He has been honest," Edward confirmed. "He hasn't even left things out or shaded the truth. I think he can be trusted as much as he says he can."
Tobias blinked, surprised. "Your...gift?" he asked, asking for confirmation of his supposition.
Edward smiled. "Yes."
Carlisle nodded. "Jasper?"
Jasper reached out with his gift and touched Tobias's emotions again. There was no guile, no dishonesty, no anger or even anything remotely negative about him. Instead, he was happy. He was reveling in the fact that he'd found others like himself after a long search and was elated at there being so many of them. He was looking forward to getting to know each of them and he could tell that he was very protective of all of them, the same way Carlisle and Esme wished to protect all of them. While he was nervous about being asked to go and not approach them again, he wasn't allowing that to get in the way of his joy.
"I think it will be all right," he said.
"Of course it will," Alice announced. "It will be better than all right; it will be wonderful. I vote yes."
Emmett grinned at the certainty in Alice's voice. "Awesome!"
Rose smiled at Emmett's reaction. His enthusiasm was always hard to resist.
"Who will we say he is?" Esme wanted to know.
"He'll be our grandfather," Alice said. "C'mon, Esme. You guys accepted me and Jasper without a second thought!"
Carlisle smiled at Alice's exuberance and caught Esme smiling, too. He could tell his wife liked Tobias and would be happy to welcome him.
"So, we have two votes for yes," Carlisle said. "Any others?"
Alice laughed as hands went up. Among the youngsters the vote was unanimous (how could Jasper resist Alice's certainty?) and even Esme raised her hand. He fought down a chuckle and turned to Tobias. "It looks like we have a consensus, Tobias. Welcome to the Cullen family."
They'd have to add a room for Tobias. Emmett welcomed the chance to do some serious building and spent a few short hours readying some ground while Esme drew up a plan for the room right away. Emmett headed off to the nearest building supply store while Carlisle and Jasper gave Tobias the grand tour of the house. Although Jasper knew that Tobias wasn't about to do anything, he still didn't feel secure in letting Tobias wander about the house with only Carlisle.
"And that brings us back to the living room," Carlisle said as they finished the tour of the house.
Tobias smiled. "You've all made a lovely home. I quite like it."
"Actually, we have Esme to thank for that," Carlisle corrected him. "Before Esme joined the family, Edward and I lived in a spartan bachelor setting."
"Then Esme came along and civilized us," Edward said, grinning from his seat on the couch. He and Alice were facing off on one of their odd chess matches and Jasper could tell that from the determination filling the air around them they both meant to win.
"And once Rose came and then I came, there was no help to be had for you poor males!" Alice teased.
"Not to mention the fact that you had the impossible task of taming me first," Jasper teased back.
Alice smiled. "Most of the taming you did yourself, Jazz. You know that."
A wave of emotion from Tobias nearly knocked him head over heels and he looked at the older man, puzzled. "Tobias? Are you all right?"
"Oh, yes, I'm just fine," Tobias assured him. "It's just...that was awfully sweet right now."
Carlisle winced as almost every teenager laughed. It really didn't matter how old they really were or how mature they could be, sometimes his kids were still teenagers. "Sweet" was a word you did not apply to teenagers unless you really wanted ridicule.
"I think it was," Jasper said, agreeing with him.
Alice got up from the couch and gave Jasper a quick peck before going back to her game with Edward.
"Sorry for laughing," Rosalie apologized. "It's just that I was remembering the wrestling match the two of them were in last night!"
Edward fought down another chuckle. His manners were always impeccable, but Carlisle could tell that there were times when he found it difficult to keep his amusement in check, especially since he could hear what funny things people were thinking. "You mean the one where they were threatening death and dismemberment, slaughter and half-a-dozen other things?"
"That's the one," Rose said, laughing.
Tobias stared from Alice to Jasper and back again. "Dare I ask?"
"Sometimes a good wrestling match is a lot of fun," Alice said evenly. "Jazz is a good fighter and I can always see what he's going to do, so that evens us up whenever we decide to go wild."
Jasper sighed. He didn't like to fight with Alice since he was sick at the thought of losing his control and actually hurting her, but she always told him that she knew he wouldn't. He always took her word for it, but he made himself hold back just in case.
"ESME!" they heard Emmett bellow from outside. "I'M BACK! I'VE GOT THE STUFF YOU WANTED! ARE WE READY TO START BUILDING?"
Tobias chuckled. "Your exuberant one is back."
"So I heard," Carlisle said dryly. "Let's go see what he's brought."
They found Emmett outside next to a pile of building material and looking things over. He was looking at the side of the house as if he really, truly couldn't wait to start the demolition part of the job and Carlisle felt a pang of worry. Sometimes Emmett's enthusiasm got the better of him and often they had to fix what damage it caused, but surely he wouldn't...
"Wait for Esme," Edward said tensely. "Besides, we have to do the foundation first, Em."
Emmett groaned. "C'mon, Edward! I'm full of energy and I can't wait to do something!"
Jasper sensed Emmett's emotions and knew that what his brother really wanted was a way to let off steam, but Edward wasn't about to bite. He felt as if he had an unfair advantage over Emmett and he wasn't in the mood for a fight anyway. Sighing, Jasper launched himself at Emmett, their bodies impacting with a loud crack that echoed like a cannon shot. Anyone hearing it from town would think it was a tree falling in the woods. Arms and legs flashing, the two of them wrestled back and forth for the next minute or so, making their way across the lawn and away from everyone else. Everyone watched them with varying degrees of interest until Esme came outside.
"Emmett was bored," Edward supplied.
"I see," Esme said icily. "Emmett! Jasper! Stop now! Time to build!"
They didn't stop.
With the use of the tone that all mothers everywhere knew how to use, Esme brought her warring sons to a standstill. Both of them froze instantaneously and turned their heads toward her.
"Hi, Mom," Emmett said affably. "Did you see me beat his butt?"
"You did not!" Jasper told him. "I was beating yours, you liar!"
"If you're that desperate for something to do then start digging the foundation before I beat both your butts!"
They all knew that she really wouldn't do it, but they also knew that one day, she would reach her limit. Esme hated to have her children fighting. Play fighting and horsing around was fine, but the way the two of them had been going it was getting serious. A really serious fight where they held nothing back and whaled on each other was verboten in the Cullen clan, despite how much fun it was.
Following Esme's carefully marked plans they had the foundation dug and set up and had begun building by the time it was too dark to continue.
"See, this is why we need floodlights," Emmett commented as Carlisle and Esme called a halt to the work. "Oh, wait! All we need is my Jeep!"
"We do not need to be blinded by your headlights, Em," Edward said. "Even our eyes hurt if there's too much light."
"Aw, spoilsport," Emmett teased. "As long as you don't look directly into the light you'll be fine."
"I think Edward's right," Carlisle said, considering the problem from a doctor's view. "We should take a break and start again once it's light. In the meantime, we can share stories with Tobias, if that's all right with you."
Tobias smiled at Carlisle's suggestion. "I'd love that."
For the next hour or so, they talked. Tobias told them stories of his travels and had them all laughing at some of the situations he'd gotten into as a cook, making meals for fractious people who were so particular that it was comical.
"I was once working in the Hapsburg court and a message came down that I was to make something special for Charles VI. It took me a few hours to make something for him, but I don't think he liked it. He never asked for it again."
"What did you make?" Esme asked, very amused.
"A glorified roast chicken dish with several sauces all mixed together. I couldn't think of anything else to do, so I just mixed some sauces and poured them over a heavily-herbed roast chicken and baked it until the sauce coated the bird. Everyone in the kitchen liked it, but he didn't. Well, I guess kings can be picky eaters, but it doesn't set a very good example for their subjects."
Everyone started laughing. The image of the king turning up his nose at something was too funny to resist. As the laughter died down Carlisle looked about as if realizing something. "Edward, where's Bella tonight?"
Edward smiled. "Doing good deeds. Her friend Angela's sick and her parents are out, so Bella's at her house being a nurse and keeping her company. I offered to go over there with her when she called me earlier, but she told me that Angela needed to focus on getting well. She'll be by tomorrow morning, though, since it will be Saturday."
"Who's Bella?" Tobias asked, wondering if he'd missed a family member.
"She's Edward's girl," Emmett teased. "Lots of fun."
"I'd be glad to meet her," Tobias said as Edward shot his brother a dirty look.
"Once she comes tomorrow, I'll be glad to introduce her to you," Edward said quietly. He knew Tobias was harmless, but his habitual protectiveness of Bella was back.
Jasper's mouth suddenly opened, gaped wide, and closed after a sigh. All of them stared at him and he looked no less surprised than they were.
"What was that?" Rosalie asked, looking at her brother as if he had sprouted horns for a moment.
"Umm...I don't know," Jasper admitted.
"You yawned. You've all been near me for most of the day and extended proximity to my gift makes it work whether or not I'm actively using it, remember?" Tobias prompted.
Belatedly, they all remembered that. That morning it hadn't seemed like such a big deal, but right now it was a little worrying.
"Oh, yea-aaaahh," Emmett yawned. "Wow. That was weird."
As if Jasper's yawn had been trigger, they were all at it.
"Carlisle, is yawning contagious?" Alice asked after having one of her own.
"Well, they can work by suggestion," he told them. "Seeing someone else yawn triggers a sympathetic response and you echo it."
"So...what?" Emmett said, blinking. "We're yawning because..."
"Probably because the part of my gift that encourages sleep is working right now," Tobias explained. "You've been made tired and you want to sleep."
"That's what this feeling is?" Jasper asked, getting to his feet. He wasn't sure he liked it. "Why didn't I notice this earlier today?"
"Probably because it happened too fast," Tobais said. "Sometimes that happens."
"Well, what do we do now?" Emmett asked, still deeply confused.
"You can settle down and get some sleep," Tobias told him.
"But-" Edward started, but he stopped as he yawned again. He was blinking a lot and looked as if he were about to go down for the count. Whatever he was about to say was lost as he slumped in his seat and closed his eyes. A minute ticked by before anyone realized that he'd actually fallen asleep.
"He's sleeping?" Emmett said, very surprised. "For real?"
"Shh," Tobias warned him. "You'll wake him up."
"Seems like Edward has the right idea," Alice said softly, curling up and leaning her head on Jasper's shoulder. By the time he turned his head to look at her she was asleep.
"Alice?" Jasper said, feeling a bit panicky. It was so odd seeing her like that.
"She's out," Tobias chuckled. "Don't worry."
Jasper looked around and saw that Rosalie and Emmett were both sleeping, the two of them relaxed in each other's arms. Carlisle was carefully going from kid to kid, looking them over and trying to figure out just how this had happened.
"It's all right," Tobias told him as Jasper's eyes closed and he joined Alice in sleep. "They're only sleeping. You should get some rest, too, Carlisle. You haven't slept in centuries."
"I know that, but..." A moment later he sank back onto the couch beside Esme (who was sleeping) and felt his eyes closing. There was a weariness in his body that he hadn't felt for a very, very long time and it was impossible to resist.
Tobias smiled as Carlisle fell asleep. He could sense that all of them were worried by this change, but he knew that once they'd fallen asleep and woken a few times they would lose their fear. He was happy to be able to give them the comfort of sleep. Following their scents, he located which room was whose and one by one he carried each of them to their rooms and settled them into bed. He had a moment of consternation as he reached Edward's room and stood there with the boy in his arms, staring at not a bed, but a couch. Sighing, Tobias laid Edward on the couch, fetched a spare blanket and pillow from downstairs and made him a makeshift bed. He slipped out of the room silently and went back downstairs to settle himself in for the night. Once they were all awake in the morning he could go on getting to know them. Before they woke up, however, he would have quite the surprise ready for them.
Bella pulled up the driveway to the house and parked her truck, looking forward to seeing Edward and his family. Edward had invited her to the house for a breakfast he was going to cook himself and she was really hoping that it would be as good as she thought it would be. Whatever he chose to do he did well. She switched off the engine and hopped out of the truck and headed up the stairs and into the house. Carlisle and Esme had told her that she did not need to knock whenever she visited, and that just made her feel more at home. Once inside, she stopped. The living room was deserted and that was not normal. Where was everybody?
A hiss of something hitting a hot pan and a heavenly smell drew her toward the kitchen. It was fully possible that the rest of the family had gone hunting and Edward had stayed behind so they could have some alone time together. With this happy thought buoying her up, she wandered into the kitchen and froze in her steps as she saw the strange vampire at the stove.
"Oh, good morning," he said affably once he saw her. "Forgive me for not coming to shake your hand right away; I don't want any of these to burn." So saying, he picked up a turner and deftly turned...were those pancakes?
"Um...hello," Bella said, too shocked to do anything else. Who was this guy? Was he dangerous? "Where is everyone?"
"In bed," he said, transferring the pancakes onto a plate. "I hope you're hungry."
Her traitorous stomach growled and her mouth watered as a new wave of pancake scent hit her. "Where's Edward?"
He set the plate on the counter and looked at her. "Sleeping. If you're asking about Edward, then you must be Bella." He approached her and held out his hand. "Pleased to meet you, young lady. I'm Tobias."
Politeness and habit led her to take his hand and he shook, smiling. She couldn't help staring at him. He looked like some latter-day Mr. Rochester. His gold-gold! Thank goodness!-eyes looked down at her, warm with light.
"You said Edward was sleeping?" she said, her mind finally processing his words. "Edward doesn't sleep."
"My gift is to allow that," Tobias told her. "Breakfast is almost ready. Would you do me the great favor of waking everyone?"
A loud THUMP from upstairs drew their attention toward the ceiling.
"What was that?" Bella asked, confused. It sounded like someone had fallen, but none of the Cullens were clumsy enough to do that. They weren't clumsy at all.
"BELLA!" the shout was muffled by the ceiling, but it was clear that Edward had heard her voice. Several thumps later Edward raced into the kitchen, eyes wide and his face bone white.
"Morning," she said, staring at him. She'd never seen him this...unkempt. His hair was a mess, his clothing was wrinkled, and his feet were bare. To her eyes, he looked wonderful. He locked his arms around her as if to keep her safe and looked at Tobais.
"Good morning," Tobias said evenly as Edward stared at him. "Sleep well?"
Edward blinked and appeared to think. "That was the oddest experience of my life!"
"Do you feel rested?" Tobias continued.
Edward thought. "I think so." He stopped and looked beyond Tobias and stared at the kitchen table, set with plates, silverware, cups and several plates of food. "What's this?"
"Breakfast," Tobias told him. "I asked Bella to wake all of you up, but I think your waking woke the rest of them."
He was right. Even Bella could hear people upstairs stirring. A few minutes later the Cullens wandered into the kitchen, blinking tiredly and looking as if they all wished they were still asleep.
"Bella?" Rosalie said. "Can I ask you something?"
"Sure," Bella said, more than a little surprised. Rosalie wanted to ask her something?
"How can you stand mornings? Do you go through this waking up thing every day?"
Bella nodded. "Every day. Sometimes your morning's good, other times it's bad and you want to go back to sleep."
"Then this morning must be absolutely one-hundred-percent Grade F," Rosalie muttered. "What am I smelling?"
"Breakfast," Tobias said. "And don't worry about feeling bad since the feeling fades the longer you're awake. I hope you're all hungry."
"Wait, you can make it so they can eat food?" Bella asked, very, very surprised. The possibilities were endless...
"Oh, yes," Tobias said lightly as he saw Jasper lay a hand on his stomach and look confused. "You should all be starting to feel hungry by now. Come and sit down and have something to eat."
Bella had never thought that she'd see the Cullens be anything but graceful, but seeing them weave their way to the table and drop into chairs was amazing and a little bit amusing. Seeing them stare at the food on their plates was even better, but watching them fumble their way through their first meal was more than a little rude so she turned her attention to the plate of pancakes and sausages in front of her and examined everything Tobias had made.
It was a feast. There was no other word for the spread he'd set up. There were croissants, scrambled eggs, ham steaks, sausages, pancakes, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, and orange juice. As Bella took her first bite of pancake she smiled as she tasted blueberries. The next one had chocolate chips and the next one had been stuffed with apples. She sighed, blissfully happy with the parade of tastes marching through her mouth.
Jasper looked as if he were about to be sick as he took his first bite of pancakes, but he paused as the taste hit him and he smiled. The first bite was gone in two seconds and the next followed.
"Don't forget to chew," Tobias reminded him.
"Sorry," Jasper apologized, surprised that he'd forgotten his manners.
"I think I love this," Emmett said, tucking into his plate.
"Aw, Emmett," Edward groaned. "Why do you always eat like a savage?"
He had a point, Bella thought. Emmett looked like a little kid given free reign to play with and decimate his food. She fought down giggles and hid her smile by taking a sip of tea. Thinking the conversation needed a new direction, she turned to Tobias. "How did you learn to cook so well, Tobias?"
He beamed at her. "I used to work as a cook, my dear. I worked in most of Europe and I made sure I kept learning, so hopefully I've made something that doesn't taste too badly."
"It's delicious," Carlisle said, having taken his first bite. "Truly, Tobias."
Tobias smiled. "I'm glad."
"Could I ask everyone something that's a bit impolite?" Bella said into the comfortable silence that followed. "It's killing me: Is he an old friend of yours, or is he...well, something else?"
Everyone started laughing and they had an anxious few moments as Emmett choked on something, but he cleared his throat and was fine.
"Tobias joined the family yesterday," Carlisle explained. "He's like us and he learned about us from the Volturi, so he sought us out. If you're wondering about his status in the family, then he's a grandfather to Edward, Rosalie, Emmett, Alice and Jasper, and I suppose he's a father to Esme and I."
"Oh," Bella said, nodding. "Thanks. Now I know who he is."
Her comment caused Tobias to chuckle. "Yes, now you know who I am, and I know, too. It's a good thing to know."