Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight.

Sorry for the long wait in updates! I've just finished my first semester of nursing school a few weeks ago and here's this. It was rather difficult to get back in the mood writing this so I hope that it is sufficient! Thanks so much for sticking with me during all of this! Means so much!

Playing With Fire
Chapter Twenty Four: Connect

I guessed I shouldn't have been surprised when I got a voicemail from Angela the next day, saying, "Can you meet? I would like to talk to you about some...things."

As per the bond of imprinting on someone, the wolf told their imprint all of their secrets, even the ones that I would rather them not know. It is law, almost. Nothing kept from anyone. The very mention of complete disclosure seemed foreign to me, almost claustrophobic in nature. Such intimacy, such complete trust. I could not picture it. Could not even dream it.

But I supposed it was good for her.

Actually, I knew it was good for her. At least this made her happy. At least there were no messy strings attached. Embry and Angela didn't have a "Bella" or a "Leah" that would get hurt in response to the tribal nature of imprinting. And, for that, I was grateful. Of what I've seen of imprinting, more people got hurt than were actually happy. At least, at first.

So, I sighed as I walked to Angela's house, Paul tagging along as bodyguard. He told me that Embry would be there as well, so it wasn't a big deal that he came with me.

I turned to him as I knocked on Angela's door. "Don't be a jerk."

Paul smiled at me, a shark about to charge a seal. "Never."

On my third knock, the door swung open and immediately Angela was staring at me with such a kind expression it hurt my chest. It felt unbearably familiar, and it was then I knew she was aware of everything that had been happening ever since I came to Forks.

"Come in, please," she said, moving over to let us in.

I looked back at Paul, who gave me a shove in through the door. I almost yelped at his contact, surprising at it was.

Angela led us to her kitchen, where Embry was sitting, strangely proper for a wolf. His hands were in his lap, his eyes completely focused on the thin brunette in front of him. That strange devotion was still jarring, no matter how many times I was subjected to it. I supposed I was still shocked to see just how much they cared for one another. Shocked that people could actually stay together and be happy, unlike the path that myself and Edward went down.

"Can I get you two anything?" she asked politely. "I've made some cookies a while ago..."

Embry coughed awkwardly.

Angela looked over at him, a serene smile crossing her face. "Um...well, they used to be here."

"Damn, Embry," Paul said, stepping forward. He was crass and bold in his movements, a complete contradiction to the Webers' quaint home and Angela's generally pleasant and demure demeanor. "Only imprinted for two days and you're already eating the girl out of house and home."

Angela blushed; Embry scowled.

"Could be worse," I spoke up without realizing what I was saying.

Paul turned to look at me. I still stood awkwardly in the doorway to the kitchen, arms wrapped around myself with no clue where this was going.

"Yeah, I guess Angela could've fallen in love with a leech," Paul said, rolling his neck from side to side before stepping backwards and leaning his tall, muscular frame against the door.

Angela stared at me, the shock she had done such a good job in hiding was now plainly visible on her delicate features.

"It's true, then?" she asked after a few moments silence.

Paul then opted to roll his shoulders. "Embry wouldn't have lied to you. It's physically and mentally impossible for him to do now."

I wondered what that would be like. Not having anyone to lie to you. Not having any secrets. For it not being possible to keep secrets like that. Full disclosure. Again, the term was bizarre.

Angela was looking at me, her face a myriad of emotions, none of which were judgmental or condemning. She tilted her head to the side, and I figured she was waiting for my own answer before believing the obvious.

Swallowing a bit, I managed to force out, "Yeah. It's true."

I wasn't sure why I felt as if I was being grilled on the subject of Edward, but it really was uncomfortable, especially with all things considered. I had been constantly looking over my shoulder for what seemed like so long, just because Edward supposedly loved me enough to kill someone else's mate. And now that person's mate was trying to kill me.

I wondered if Angela knew all of this.

As if reading my thoughts, Paul asked, "What all do you know of Bella's situation?"

It was still shocking to hear him say my name. I wasn't sure why it was so jarring, but there was just something about it that held my head above water. I hadn't realized the place I was in until Paul said my name, and I was saved from drowning in the sorrow of past losses.

And I didn't like that feeling. Not one bit.

"Um...all that Embry knows," she replied. "All that he knew, he could tell me. Or, at least, that's what he said."

Paul shook his head, a bitter smile growing on his face. He shoved his hands into his jean pockets and slouched further against the wall. "You gotta get that doubt out of your head, girl. Embry's yours now. He is incapable of hiding anything from you."

Angela shifted uncomfortably. "It's just...hard to believe, is all."

It was then I noticed something that should have been apparent the moment I entered the room.

Angela tended to stand away from Embry. Though Embry looked to be aching to touch her, she angled herself away from his itching fingers. It was a strange contrast from yesterday, when she was practically glowing with the newfound bond of the imprint, but now it looked like confusion was settling in, making her doubt things that she had believed blindly at first. It was something she and I had in common - the inability to believe anything without dissecting it to pieces.

I wasn't sure what I was doing until I spoke, "Ah, can Angela and I have some...alone time? Just for a few minutes."

Paul looked like this was the last thing he ever wanted to give me. I didn't blame him. If I was Victoria, this would be the prime time to kill the one girl that had evaded me for so long and to get an extra snack in between.

A shudder rippled over me, but I mashed it down, trying not to alert Paul to my discomfort. For some reason, I didn't want him to see me like that. Weak. He'd seen me at some of my worst moments. I didn't want him to think I was regressing to the person I had been.

I turned my head to look at Paul. He had moved his arms to cross over his chest in what would have been a nonchalant manner had he not had the look of a madman on his features. I bit my lip, hating that I was angering him but having no other option. I felt the urge to talk to Angela, to comfort her in this strange new world she was in. To let her know that things would get better, that things weren't always this...convoluted.

But then I wondered if I was necessarily the best person to be offering this advice, since obviously my life hadn't become untangled since becoming involved with the supernatural.

"Yeah," Paul pushed himself off of the wall, rolling his neck from side to side as he did so. "I guess."

It was then I noticed the understanding that emitted from him. It was like he knew what I was going to do, knew that I was going to try to comfort Angela in a time that she needed to hear it the most, from someone that wasn't obligated to tell her everything she wanted to hear.

I saw Embry give Paul a look of disbelief. He walked over to his pack mate with eyebrows knitted in confusion. "Paul - "

Paul held out a hand. "Let the girls have their girl time. I'm sure you've been smothering Angela ever since you got here."

"Oh, no, that's not - " Angela tried to protest, but Paul gave her a look that could turn sand into glass.

"We won't be far," Paul said, giving me a reassuring nod before walking out the door, Embry in tow.

The separation from Paul was jarring. Even though it was something I was used to, with having to go to school and whatnot, he was never that far from me. I watched him as he walked to the door and shut it behind him, hating the fact that I felt such an attachment to him.

I looked at Angela, who had turned away from me, directing her gaze out of the window. Her hand was rubbing absently at her elbow, a nervous tic I supposed I wasn't privy to until now.

"Ang?" I ventured, stepping closer.

"What did you want to talk to me about, Bella?" she asked, her tone soft.

I wasn't sure how to broach the subject with her. I didn't want to be accusatory and assume that things, in her mind, weren't perfect, but I did want to tell her that it would all be alright.

"Are you happy?" Oh, yeah, that was a great way to start things.

This caught her off guard. She looked confused for a moment, and then gave an exasperated smile in my direction. "Yes. I'm just...tired."

I looked at her, trying to convey a sense that she was able to freely talk in my presence. When that didn't seem to work, I out-and-out said, "I'm here if you need to talk, you know."

Angela stepped forward, no longer facing me but again looking out the window. "It's just...a lot to accept, his feelings for me. They're so intense, and yet he'd never even laid eyes on me until the other day." She scoffed a bit. "And I like him. I do. He's sweet and always attentive, but...it's just weird, is all. Hard to wrap my head around."

It was the most I'd ever heard Angela speak in one setting. I supposed that was a testament to where my head had been the past several months. I stepped forward, not looking at where she had her back facing me, and pressed my hip bones into the counter, gently fingering the fringe of a potholder that was randomly placed there.

"I just don't see how he could love me so blindly," she finished, still not looking at me.

"What do you mean?" I prodded.

She continued. "I did nothing. Nothing at all, and he loves me. He told me he knew he loved me the day he saw me. That it was a part of imprinting." Angela heaved a great sigh, as if getting ready to life a dreadful weight. "It's irrational."

"Love often is."

I hadn't realized I had spoken until Angela turned to look at me. Her light brown eyes were curious in her face, as if while reading she had just gotten to a paragraph that she could not comprehend.

"For you, too?"

My heart leapt a bit at her words, unsure of who she was specifying. I didn't damn myself by saying a name, only nodded in response.

Angela gave me a smile. "Must have been hard, keeping all that to yourself all that time."

I shrugged. "I loved Edward. I'd have done anything for him."

"And now?"

The two words seemed harmless when applied to any other situation, but when put in that order, and asked in these specific set of circumstances, they became the spark inside a room full of gunpowder.

She seemed to realize this, seemed to realize my apprehension, and that opened me up after a long moment of silence to say, "You should tell Embry your thoughts and concerns. The only reason he imprinted on you in the first place is the fact that his wolf realized you were the perfect fit for him in every way, even in that one moment."

Angela shook her head in a skeptical manner. "It just seems really odd, now that I've had time to think about it." Absently, she reached up and grasped the small dreamcatcher that hung at the hollow of her throat. "I never realized how much a commitment of that magnitude frightened me."

"Few do," I said, turning around and leaning my back against the counter. She glanced at me out of the corner of her eye before I sighed and stared at my shoes. "It'll all work out, though. It always does."

Angela made a funny little noise in the back of her throat. "You believe so?"

"I'm living proof."

She scuffed one of her sock-clad feet along the tiles of the kitchen floor. "You do seem better."

"Yeah?" I asked.

"Yeah," she replied. "It's really nice to see, Bella."

The bitter curve of a smile made its way onto my face. "It's nice to feel this way."

"Are you happy?" she asked, mimicking my earlier question.

I met her eyes. It was a strange question. Any other time, I'd lie and say I was fine when I was really miserable without Edward. But now...

I gave her a smile. "I'm...content, to an extent. Once Victoria's gone, I'll be able to really...relax."

Angela nodded. I kept focus on her socks. Fuzzy and striped with the alternating colors of green and blue. Somehow this helped me keep my head when in reality everything was flooding back. Paul and Riley and Edward. Protection and propositions and possession. I didn't know what to do with these thoughts, so I just offered, "If it ever gets to be too suffocating, just tell him. He will understand that you need some time to adjust."

"You think so?"

"I know so."

I shoved myself away from the counter, moving to leave the kitchen. "I'll go get them. They're bound to be restless, especially Embry, for being away from you for so long."

Angela blushed. "I'll have to apologize for that."

I waved a hand. "Not your fault."

As I made my way to the front door, I found that Angela had followed me. She kept her distance, as if afraid of what she was doing might just break me. I wasn't sure why I had this feeling. She said herself I looked better, so why was she -

"Bella?" she asked, finally breaking the awkward silence.

I turned around, hand still on the doorknob, answering question in my eyes.

"What will you do if...if...Paul imprints?"

Now that was out of left field. Suddenly, I was swirling back to my panicked phase when I found out about the fact that a wolf had imprinted on Angela, and I didn't know who that wolf was. Thinking it was Paul. Frantic for answers. The relief I felt when I found out that it wasn't Paul, but not just for his well-being, but for my own selfish, selfish desires...

The answer was simple, and it flowed freely from my lips as I opened the door and stepped out.

"I honestly don't know," I replied, and let the door swing shut behind me.

End Chapter Twenty Four.