Disclaimer: Characters contained within do not belong to me.
Author's Notes: Sometimes bits of a conversation get stuck in your mind and refuse to go away until you write them down. This story came about just like that and I had to get it out of my head so I could get back to work on my other projects. Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy it!
How to Save a Life
by Kristen Elizabeth
December 8th, 1941
The newspaper landed with a thud on the shiny surface of the cherry wood desk. After a glance at the bolded headline, Carlisle looked up at Edward and Emmett. His sons stood side by side in front of him, like an impenetrable wall. While Emmett's massive arms were folded over his broad chest and a deep glower darkened his face, Edward's arms lay at his sides and only the stony set of his jaw gave away his anger.
A moment passed before Carlisle cleared his throat and answered the question he saw in his sons' eyes. "You know that you can't."
Emmett cursed loudly, but Edward merely lifted an eyebrow. "And you know that you can't stop us."
"I don't think I'll need to." Carlisle picked up the paper and spread it open in front of him. "You're upset right now and you have every right to be. So am I. But I shouldn't have to remind you of all the reasons why it's impossible."
"This is horse shit," Emmett declared. "They fucking attacked us for no fucking reason!"
Carlisle lowered his chin. "I understand your anger. I share it, even."
"If you really understood, you wouldn't be sitting there telling us we can't do anything about it," Edward said quietly.
His newest son thrust a finger at the newspaper. "They don't get to pull this kind of shit and get away with it." Emmett refolded his arms. "I might not be human no more, but I'm still a goddamn American and I got every right to join up and fight the bastards!"
"Emmett, I've been an American since before America existed," Carlisle coolly reminded him. "You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who loves this country more. And like everyone else today, I'm mourning for all those lives so senselessly lost in Hawaii." He paused. "Our boys and theirs." This made Emmett curse again, but Carlisle went on. "But as much as we want to live normal lives, we have limitations. This, sadly, is one of them."
Edward's golden eyes narrowed slightly. "How will it look when we're the only ones in town who don't sign up?"
Carlisle sighed. "I don't know. Perhaps we'll have to move and start over again, younger this time. Or we'll go into seclusion until the war is…"
"Seclusion? You mean…just go and hide out 'til it's over?" Emmett barked out a bitter laugh. "Can't wait to see Rose's face when you break that news."
"With any luck, it won't come to that. If we can't serve our country in one way, I hope we can at least do something."
"Like what?" Edward challenged. "Collect scrap metal? Ration butter?" In a rare display of raw emotion, Edward slammed his fist onto his father's desk, leaving an impression behind in the wood. "I've done all of that, Carlisle! I've been stuck right here before, only now I'm not too young to fight!"
"No, you're not," Carlisle agreed. "But tell me, son, when the guns begin to fire and the bombs explode all around you and the blood starts flowing…because it will, Edward…blood like you can't imagine…" He took a breath he didn't need. "How long will you be able to resist drinking from your dying enemies? Or even your allies?"
Edward replied between his teeth. "I'll manage."
At this, Carlisle smiled faintly. "If anyone could, it would be you, Edward."
"I think you're missin' out on the big picture." Emmett spread his hands wide, nearly clocking Edward in the stomach. "We're already dead! We can fight forever and never get tired! Even better than that, we won't never die!"
"And don't you think that might become a problem in and of itself? Soldiers are wounded and they die; it's the nature of war." Carlisle shook his head. "Even if you could resist the blood, eventually someone is going to notice that you're different. Your skin alone will give you away unless you plan on wearing mud indefinitely."
Edward stared at him. "That's what it comes down to? Our skin? Our skin is what's going to keep us from doing the right thing?"
"And just what is the right thing?"
"The right thing is fighting for our country against the people who want to destroy us," Edward replied evenly. Emmett nodded emphatically.
Carlisle tried to smile. "I wish I could give you my blessing and send you on your way." He hesitated, like he wanted to say more. "But I can't."
"What if we go without it?"
A tense minute passed as Carlisle and Edward watched each other without blinking. Finally, Carlisle said, "That would be your choice and I would never hold it against you, but is it the choice you really want to make?"
"You taught us to value human life," Edward reminded him. "You've made it possible for us to live with them and now you're asking us not to care about them? Not to help them? You can't have it both ways! We're either part of the world or we're not!"
Carlisle calmly slipped his hands into his pockets. "I never asked you not to care. I never would. I only asked you to consider the risks, not only to yourself and your fellow soldiers, but to our family itself."
Having read his father's mind, Edward looked down at the floor for a long time. "No," he finally said. "They wouldn't like us drawing attention to ourselves, would they?"
"What are you talkin' about?" Emmett wanted to know. "Who wouldn't like it?"
Edward looked back up at Carlisle. "Fine." Forced into resignation, his eyes burned like fire. "I would never put Esme or Rosalie in danger."
"Rosalie?" Emmett shook his head. "What's she got to do with this?"
When Edward glanced at his new brother, he looked so much older that his eternal seventeen years. "If we did this and if we were exposed for what we really are, they would be punished for it, too. I won't be responsible for that."
"What the hell, Edward? You said you weren't gonna back down, no matter what!"
"You'd let Rosalie suffer for your convictions?" Edward snorted. "If that's true love, I'm better off without it."
Before Emmett could reply with his fists, Carlisle intervened. "I've lived through many wars," he told his sons. "There's always plenty of work to be done on the home front." He smiled in memory. "During the Revolution, I made salt peter for gunpowder. By the time the Civil War erupted, I was ready to work in the field hospitals."
Emmett muttered, "Women's work."
"He amputated arms and legs," Edward came to his father's defense. "That shouldn't be anyone's work."
Carlisle came around to the front of the desk. "With any luck, the war won't last long, but we'll do what we can to help the people who are able to fight it." He gave them each a sympathetic look. "If it helps at all, I have never been more proud of two people in my life than I am right now."
With another angry curse, Emmett stormed out of the office.
"He knows his brothers will join the Army," Edward said once he was gone. "And he realizes the likelihood of them ever coming back."
"I sometimes forget how young he is…and how much he had to leave behind," Carlisle sighed. "We'll have to be here for him as much as he'll let us."
Edward nodded. "He's heading into the woods to hunt. I'll go with him."
"Watch how far you go, Edward," Carlisle warned him. "Remember the treaty." With another inclination of his chin, Edward took his leave.
When Esme entered the office a short while later, she found her husband poring over the newspaper, devouring every printed word about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He barely looked up even after she approached the desk and put her hand on his shoulder.
As was her quiet, loving way, she waited until he was ready to talk.
"It seems such a waste to have this indestructible body that doesn't need food or rest, that can't be killed or even wounded…and yet not be able to offer its services to the world at times like these." Esme's cool fingers caressed the back of his neck just above the collar of his shirt as he went on. "It just seems like we should be able to do some good with our immortality."
"You do," she murmured. "You save lives every day."
Carlisle closed his eyes briefly. "Our son…our sons just want that same chance."
"They may not recognize it as such, but every time they drink from an animal instead of a human, they are saving a life." Esme smiled beautifully. "And, my love, you taught them that."
His only reply was to pull her closer and bury his head against her soft stomach. She stroked his hair until he looked up at her. "How do you do it, Esme? How do you make me feel a hundred feet tall with a single smile?"
Esme bent over to brush her mouth against his. "Are you going to be all right?" she asked a moment later.
Without warning, Carlisle pulled her onto his lap. Her skirt flew and her surprised laughter filled the room. When he had her safely in his arms, Carlisle gave his wife a much deeper kiss. "I am now."
"Good." She pecked his lips before stealthily slipping out of his grasp. "Because I'll be spending the night teaching Rosalie how to knit. The one thing I know about war is that soldiers need lots of socks." At the door, Esme blew him a parting kiss.
Alone again, Carlisle turned his chair around to look out at the cold, wet Washington woods. The world was changing once again. Whether it would be for better or for worse would be decided in spilled blood, in untold suffering and death. For every life he saved, another ten would be lost. He'd seen it all before. History always repeated itself.
But hope never died.
Carlisle closed his eyes and prayed.