Disclaimer: Anything you recognise is the property of Stephanie Meyer.
A/N: Written for The Oscar Wilde Appreciation challenge on LJ, using the prompt 'Experience is merely the name men give to their mistakes'. Spoilers for Little Women and Madame Bovary. No, really ;).
She has him pinned to the wall, his shoulder blades pressing into the plaster, her fingers mapping the contours of his neck as she leans in. Her tongue traces his jaw, slow, dragging, possessive, and when her fingers twist in his hair, they make his eyes close and his mouth open in a fluttering surrender. When she kisses him, the surge in his chest almost chokes him, her emotions and his mingling, dragging him under, and all of sudden he's glad he's against something solid, because he feels on the brink of –
Tanya meets his eye across the lounge, smirks, and he reaches for a cushion from behind him on the sofa, hurls it at her so hard the plaster crumbles when she dodges and it smacks into the wall. "Could you just – stop that?" he says, although he sounds more amused than actually aggrieved, because he is.
"It's not my fault you make me think things, Edward," she says. She looks away at the landscape beyond the vast window, her smile as huge and compelling and achingly beautiful as anything outside, even though what's outside is, by any definition, breathtaking. "You look entirely too perfect in that shirt. I can't be held responsible."
He just catches her wink at him in the reflection, and can't resist a smile in return. He thinks he smiles more around her than he ever has around anyone, even though she drives him mad, on occasion. "Regardless," he says, gestures to the book lying abandoned on his lap, "I'm trying to read."
"Beth dies," she says, with a shrug and a grin. "Now you don't need to bother with the rest."
Edward opens his mouth, lets out a phony gasp of astounded protest, and then flips the book closed and tosses it aside to the sound of her sniggering. "What do you want to do, then?" he says. "Now that you've ruined my evening?"
It's a game of sorts, this. Everyone else has their other – Carlisle and Esme, Emmett and Rose, Jasper and Alice, even Kate and Irina. He's lost count of the number of nights they've been left together by default, although he's not sure if that's really it, or if it's just how he wants to think of it, because the other option, that they'd choose each other, is more problematic. It's always the same – she thinks of him, he asks her not to, and they find some distraction. They always talk about what they want to do, how they'll fill the hours, then end up doing nothing more than swapping stories and laughing in the dark.
She always gets what she wants.
Surrender indeed, he thinks, but like the Edward that gets pinned to walls in her head, he can never really find it within himself to mind.
"What'll it be tonight, then?" he says, and Tanya pouts, her eyes scanning the sofa, then him, her thoughts full of questions about where his book is. "I'm reading Vanity Fair," he says. "I didn't want you to ruin that for me as well, so – here I am, at your disposal."
Tanya lifts an eyebrow. "At my disposal?"
"Yes," he says, somewhat unintentionally matching her suggestive inflection. "What do you want to do?"
Tanya bites her lip, meets his eye.
This time, they're outside, underneath the stars. She peers up at him through her hair, and his fingers are on her face, tracing the curves of her cheek as they move in some rhythm he recognises by instinct, if not experience. She arches against him, whispers his name in his ear, her fingers tightening against his shoulders.
He attempts a disparaging look, suspects it gets rather lost as he smiles and looks away. "Not quite that at your disposal," he says.
"Look me in the eye and tell me you're not tempted," she says. Her voice is low and purring, her smile captivating, and in truth, he's plenty tempted.
"Some fresh air, then?" he says, and before she can reply, he's out of the door, grass and leaves and rocks flashing beneath his feet.
"That's not a real word," she says, and she curls her legs up underneath her on the sofa, precise and delicate like a cat.
"Yes it is," he says, taking more tiles, frowning at them a little. It's mostly for show, because he's winning and he can already see a word, but –
"What's it mean, then?"
He looks up, and her eyes are doubting, playful. "Is this an official challenge?" he says. "Because you know what happened the last time – "
"Call it curiosity," she says.
"It's a medical instrument from seventeenth century France."
"A likely story," she says. She shifts, and, with a smile so flirtatious it almost makes his toes itch, plays her word, placing each tile neatly in its spot.
"And that means..?"
"If I tell you, you'll blush," she says.
"I've not been able to do that for almost a century."
She leans forward, meets his eye, her lip caught between her teeth.
The picture in her head is slightly more graphic than usual – she normally leaves him some clothes at least, but this time he's naked. His eyes are closed and his hands fist on the sheets, pulling them taut as she slides down his body, and he lets out some sound he's not sure he can actually make.
"Someone who does that," she says, and he swallows, then blinks at her, twice.
Tanya smirks as she leans back, then sniggers quietly to herself. "I did try to warn you," she says, and he takes one of his tiles – an s – and flicks it at her. It bounces off her forehead with a thunk, and as she collapses melodramatically on the sofa, his embarrassment dissolves into laughter.
"You and Tanya seem to be getting along these days," Carlisle says. His smile is benign, but his thoughts are too jumbled for Edward to buy that it's a casual observation.
"Any reason we wouldn't?"
"No, just – "
"She likes you," Carlisle says. "If you don't feel what she feels, it's not fair to lead her on."
"Not intentionally, perhaps."
Carlisle offers him an achingly kind smile and then they talk about something else, although the effect of his words rather lingers.
Edward sinks down onto the grass, then looks up at the stars splattered against the sky, picking out the constellations one by one, Draco, Leo, Ursa Major. He comes here sometimes to think, to be alone, away from everyone else and their thoughts, and he likes the way the stillness of the landscape ebbs into him and clears his head. He's needed a lot of that lately.
Tanya tumbles to a halt beside him, her elbow just nudging at his as she throws herself down. He wasn't certain about bringing her here, but –
The more he knows her, the more he finds he doesn't mind her being privy to his secrets.
"It's a beautiful night," he says, and an infinite moment passes, nothing but the faint rustle of the trees in the breeze, the cheeping of some bird they disturbed half a mile away.
Tanya follows his gaze, takes in the sky, and her skin looks almost luminous in the dark. He imagines what it might be like to spend a portion of forever with her, if he'd ever get tired of looking at her.
He hasn't yet. She's been dead for centuries, but she's more alive than anyone he knows, exuberance personified, and he's not sure what it means that he thinks that.
"All the nights here are beautiful," she says quietly. "At least they are these days."
She looks at him askance, smiles almost coyly. He'd rather she'd have winked – he knows how to handle that. He can bat that away like it's nothing, just something they do without any real feeling or meaning behind it. He knows what to do when she's making fun of him, teasing him, grinning at him, even when she's showing him things in her head he'd rather not see. When she's serious, he –
Maybe that's why she does it, he thinks.
It's better to think it's part of the game than that she really means it.
He tries to read her thoughts, but she's steadfastly tripping through some Slovakian poetry he thinks might be about mountains. He sighs, and she meets his eye again, grinning knowingly this time. He can't help but smile back, and in a fraction of a second any irritation is gone. She has an amazing facility for that, and she's completely right about the nights here. They have been beautiful. The two of them have laughed and run, sometimes both at once, and even played Scrabble, her choosing nothing but Russian obscenities, him obscure medical terms. He's had – fun. More than that. He's found something, some part of himself –
Something it feels reckless to think about.
Tonight, the air is perfectly cold and crisp and the sky is benevolently infinite and distracting, and so he traces constellations, wonders if he should tell her the stories he knows about the stars. Carlisle's words ring in his head, though, and he's still not entirely sure how he feels about them.
"Can I ask you something?" she says, and he can't resist it.
"You just did."
"Pedant," she says, rolling her eyes, and he laughs. "Something else, then?"
He nods, gestures for her to go on, leans back on the grass, and their arms almost touch. He pretends he hasn't noticed, which is just an excuse not to move. "Don't you ever get lonely?"
"I'm sitting on the side of a mountain at three o'clock in the morning with someone who thinks I'm a pedant," he says, "I'd have thought that was fairly self-evident."
He meets her eye, probably not as wary as he should be about her motives for asking or where this will inevitably lead, and smiles. "You know what I meant," she says, knocking him admonishingly with her elbow.
Carlisle and Esme are often off hiking, Jasper and Alice are happy wound up in each other, Rosalie and Emmett cause all kinds of havoc, and he – he plays the piano and reads, learns things he thinks he'll never find a use for if he lives a dozen millennia. "I try not to think about it," he says, and then he laughs at himself, because it's true and that's what makes it so ridiculous.
Tanya smiles at him, unstinting and yet rather pitying at the same time. "It doesn't have to be like that," she says. "I'm pretty certain you could have anyone you wanted." He frowns at the suggestion, and her laughter rattles off the hills. "Always so adorably modest," she says. She looks away, down at the lake shimmering like glass below them, and he wonders how honest he should be.
He wonders if he should tell her that it's not a case of that, it's not a case of some latent insecurity or modesty even, it's a case of not really wanting anyone, that he never has.
He knows what it's supposed to look like, love – he sees it enough in other people's heads – how idle fancy turns to burning infatuation, the other person seared into every thought. He's never had that. He's not sure he ever will.
"You know Carlisle and Esme think there's something wrong with me," he says, and there's more wry amusement in his voice than he thought there would be. "They think maybe I was too young, and that's why I – "
"Forgive me for saying so," Tanya says, "but I don't think they know seventeen year old boys very well if they think that's the case."
He concurs with a laugh. "You would know, I suppose," he says.
There's a pause, and the grass underneath her palm rustles as she shifts. It's never been any secret, the things she's done, and he's spent many nights rapt in the lounge as she told him her stories, the priest in Minsk, the altar boy in Krakow, the monk from Carinthia on the run from the counter Reformation.
"Maybe you just haven't – "
"Met the right person?" he says, and he looks at her with amused disdain for the idea.
"Yes," she says, and smiles at him, unabashed.
"Don't tell me you're a romantic, Tanya?"
"Don't tell me you're not, Edward?" she says, and he grins.
"Is it that obvious?"
"If you weren't a romantic, you'd have given in to me long ago."
"Definitely," she says, with a low, soft chuckle. Then she looks away, and her smile deepens. "You know, in a thousand years, you're the only one who's ever said no to me."
He watches her, looks for some sign that he's really upset her with his would-be casual dodges, but finds none, and somehow that makes him feel safe, and brave, and something that's a whole lot more dangerous. "I can believe that," he says.
"Can you?" she says, and she looks back, her eyes softer than usual, but still curious. "Why?"
He smiles a little, wondering if he should tell her what's really in his head, that by any standard imaginable she's devastating, beyond the word beauty, beyond poetry and music and perhaps even thought. "Because I'm an idiot," he says, "and we're an endangered species."
She laughs, then meets his eye and her amusement dwindles. He watches her for a moment, her hair blowing around her in the breeze until she gathers it in her hand and twists it on her shoulder. With her hair curled against her neck like that, she makes him think of a dozen infamous paintings, and the thought flits through his head that one day he should ask which ones are really her. "You know," he says, "sometimes I think – " He stalls, unsure whether this is a thought he should let out of his mouth, but she gestures for him to go on and so he does. "Sometimes I think that's the only reason you're interested in me," he says, "because I say no. You like a challenge."
"That's certainly part of it," she says, and sighs, halfway between amusement and something wearier, runs her fingers through the ends of her hair.
"I must drive you crazy."
He means it in jest, but she catches his eye and suddenly the air shifts.
"Yes," she says, and he watches as her lips part and a slow smile creeps across her mouth, from the very tiniest twitch at the corners to a perfect dipped bow. "You do."
The stars burn above and the ground seems to swell beneath him, but neither is anything compared to the look in her eyes. All softness, simple curiosity is gone, and she looks at him like she wants to pick him apart, know everything, every fibre of him, all at once.
Suddenly he's nervous, not because of her, but because of himself.
The reason he's dodged, the reason he hasn't – done anything is that he likes her, he has thoughts about her, but that's all they are. Thoughts. He doesn't feel –
But that doesn't mean he's not curious. He's read all about love, lived through it in other people's thoughts, but he has no idea how it tastes.
And he wants to, sometimes, and knowing what he knows, how much she wants him –
But he also knows Carlisle is right, and that it wouldn't be fair.
"You know why I – "
"No I don't," she says. "Not really."
She's still looking at him, a gaze that would steal his breath if he had any left. He thinks that any man or creature on the planet would give several of their limbs to have someone like her look at them like that, and yet he's not sure what to say. He looks away, picks out the stars on the horizon – Libra, Orphiuchus, Aquila – but they can't hold his attention for long. They don't compare to her. Never have, never will.
She's fascinating, compelling, beautiful beyond the word, but –
That's not enough.
"It wouldn't be love," he says quietly. It's the truth, but a lie would have been less hurtful, and he knows it. "Not for me."
"Does it need to be?"
He's about to reply that yes of course, but –
A bottomless moment passes, and he flexes his fingers on the grass, how dangerous a question that is settling in his chest and furling, latent and thrilling.
He wonders if he's about to do something reckless.
She's beneath him on the ground, her hair spilling between the leaves, across the grass, as if autumn has come early. Her fingers curl against his neck, tickle at the edges of his hair, and the way her lips move against his makes him think the stars might be dancing as they burn, spinning out of control, the perfect echo for him.
It's just like the things she used to think, but this one is a memory, not a fantasy.
She meets his eye across the lounge, smiles slightly, although her head is full of questions, and none of them are to do with the book lying abandoned in his lap. He closes it anyway, sets it aside gently, and the word mistake pounds in his head, over and over and over, but that barely covers it. He'd intended it to be a fleeting kiss, but it hadn't been. Very far from it, in fact. He'd kissed her desperately, wondering if he could feel something more for her – and since then he's barely been able to look at her. "Tanya," he says, but he's not sure what to follow that with.
"You've been avoiding me," she says, and her smile widens, like there's something good to see in that.
"A lot," she says, and in spite of everything, he can't bite back his smile at her teasing, knowing tone. Of course she has him figured out. She always does.
"Perhaps," he says.
She crosses the room, feet softly padding, gazes out of the window, her eyes dancing over the landscape. That poem's in her head again, the one he thinks might be about mountains, and he wonders if she's thinking about that so nothing else slips through.
He gets up, is beside her before he has the faintest idea what to say, and she looks up at him, expectant and challenging at the same time. "I wanted to apologise," he says. "I shouldn't have – done that when I don't – it wasn't fair to you."
"I didn't ask you to fall in love with me, Edward."
"I know, but – still. It was unforgiveable."
Tanya glances down, amusement pricking at the corner of her lips, her eyes. "You shouldn't be such a gentleman," she says. "It's infuriatingly irresistible, and if you want to be resisted – "
She meets his eye from under her lashes, that same playful smile she always wears when she teases him blossoming on her lips, and he thinks it's impossible that he's really seeing what he thinks he is. "What happened," he says, "it was a mistake."
"It didn't feel like one to me."
"No, it – "
"What I mean," she says, pressing her lips together, her fingers on his arm, gently tracing, running over his skin like he's something precious, "is that it's not always a case of that. It's not always mistake or not, good idea or not, right or not, fair or not."
He swallows, watches her as her fingers make their way over his wrist. "Isn't it?"
"No," she says quietly.
Some things just need to happen. Some things are just – experience. The rest is –
She shrugs, and he looks into her eyes, wondering if there's any contradiction about to spill from her lips, but instead, her fingers are somehow twined with his, their palms fitting together. "Do you really think that?" he says, and she nods. "I wish I did, but for me – "
"You're a romantic," she says, and he sniffs in amusement.
"I'm an idiot."
"Maybe, but – I don't believe in regret, Edward," she says, and she looks up at him and smiles. "Maybe you shouldn't either."
He leans forward, rests his lips against her forehead for a second, and closes his eyes. The word mistake is in his head again, but this time because he hopes this isn't another one.
She squeezes his fingers once, and then lets go.
"What do you want to do tonight, then?" she says, and he stares at her incredulously for a moment. "What, you just want to avoid each other and go slowly insane with boredom?"
"No," he says, with a chuckle.
It's more than he deserves. She's more than he deserves, and he can tell that just below the surface, her thoughts are still full of him, and hope pricks at her synapses, in spite of what he's said. He wishes he could feel what she wants him to, but –
Maybe she doesn't always get what she wants, after all.
"Ruin my book for me," he says, and she grins.
"What are you reading?"
"She dies in the end too."
"Good," he says.
Tanya laughs, and he smiles at her. He hopes that the part of him she's found will always remain.
Maybe she can't have what she wants, he thinks, but he can give her that.
A/N: Thanks for reading. Reviewers get their choice of Cullen and a starry sky under which to do whatever tickles their fancy ;).