A/N: So I am ridiculously excited for this fic. I had intended to let this plot bunny sit and stew until I was done with Nightmare, Oblivious, and Trouble, but you know what they say about intentions. Anyway, I had some news to share with you all (news at the bottom) and thought I would celebrate by beginning this sordid tale.

WARNINGS: If I can give you one piece of advice? Don't assume you know what's going on. However, if you need me to answer questions for reasons of your personal comfort, please feel free to message me. I'll gladly answer.

Dedication: This is what happens when you (and by you, I mean me...I...whatever) start scheming with GinnyW. So this is for you, dearheart.

And as usual...I am not Stephenie Meyer.


Prologue

Bella hadn't had anything to eat since lunch the day before.

She caught a glimpse of herself in the window of a vacant shop and was so startled, she stopped cold. The reflection was something out of a Tim Burton film. The girl there was skeleton-pale except where her skin was painted in black and blue hues courtesy of her stepfather. Her face was littered with bruises in purple tinged sickly green and yellow around the edges. Her features were gaunt and thin, which made her nine-months-pregnant belly grotesque in contrast.

Her stomach twisted with a sharp sting. Bella put her hands on either side of her belly. "I'm sorry," she whispered brokenly to her baby. "I know you're hungry. I am too. We're so close. Just hang on a little bit longer."

She took a deep breath, trying to be brave. The girl in the reflection looked like a pathetic twelve-year-old. But she was seventeen. She'd be eighteen in three more months-adult.

Unfortunately, until she was legally an adult, her mother and stepfather were still her guardians. That was why she didn't stop for help. She knew there were any number of places that would help her, feed her and her baby, but they would ask questions. They would call her mother, and all of this would be for nothing.

This was the one chance for her and her baby to get out of the hell they were in. One chance, and she was almost there.

Her stomach gave another sharp twist, and Bella cried out. She caught herself on the side of the vacant building. These hunger pangs were getting worse.

Everything hurt. When she ran from her mother's house, she was already battered. Over a week of mostly walking from California to Washington-she'd managed a few short bus rides here and there-had only added to her scrapes and aches. She was hungry, dehydrated, and nearing exhaustion.

"Almost there," she mumbled again, to herself and to the baby.

She closed her eyes, breathing through this newest pain and fixing her mind on the bright future she pictured. She knew the popular wisdom was not to put your eggs in one basket. The problem was, she only had the one basket left. One variable that maybe, just maybe, could work out in her favor.

For the baby's sake, she had to hope.

Bella had grown up knowing absolutely nothing about her father. Her mother dodged the subject whenever Bella brought it up, except to say he was a nice boy. Kind. When she was sixteen, Renee had given her a name-Charlie Swan. And Bella was smart enough to count backward. She'd been conceived in the fourteen months Renee had spent in the tiny town of Forks, WA when Gran Marie shacked up with a lumberjack.

It wasn't even difficult to find him-just a quick search at the four-one-one website. Charles Swan still lived in Forks, WA.

Since then, Bella had a vague fantasy of coming to find Charlie. The man didn't know she existed. If he was kind like Renee said, it wasn't outside of the realm of possibility Charlie would be happy to know he had a daughter. Despite what her stepfather always said, she was a good kid. Mostly quiet. Not so much trouble. James had hated her, but James was an asshole. If Charlie wasn't, maybe he would like Bella.

Maybe he would even love her.

And it wasn't like she wanted a hand out. She wanted a place to stay-a safe place to have her baby and turn eighteen and get her life together. She could do it. If only someone gave her the chance, she would do it, if only for the kid. She wasn't trying to be a burden to anyone. Charlie would understand that.

Bella groaned as whatever pain had gripped her finally eased. God, she was so tired. So tired.

Catching her breath, Bella looked around to see if anyone was looking at her. The last thing she needed was attention. There was a man across the street with an expression that said maybe he was thinking of getting involved. Bella turned and hurried away as quick as she could down an alley.

She didn't even make it to the other end before the pain grabbed her again. She whimpered, leaning against the brick wall. Her legs refused to hold her any longer, and she sat heavily on the ground.

It was summer, and it wasn't raining. That, at least, was going right. But it was Washington, and early summer wasn't exactly balmy here. Her feet-her blistered, torn up feet, were blocks of ice. She wished she had a jacket. She wished she had a lot of things, but all she had were the clothes on her back and a purse with an empty wallet in it.

Another pain hit her, and that was when Bella realized she was an idiot.

They weren't hunger pangs. This was labor.

She clutched her belly, her terror going from the steady eight it had been for days to at least a hundred and forty. "No, no. No, no, no. Not yet." She choked back a sob. "I only needed one more day. Just a few more hours, probably."

A few more hours, and she could find her dad. Why hadn't she memorized his number? His address? She could have called him as soon as she got to Port Angeles if she'd known his number.

The more pessimistic voice in her head told her to stop dreaming. What the hell would this man, this stranger, want with a pregnant, seventeen-year-old idiot? She was dreaming. She was caught up in stupid fantasies again, and hadn't she learned her lesson?

Stupid fantasies were how she ended up sleeping with a guy a few weeks before her seventeenth birthday, and look how that turned out. Now she was a pregnant runaway in labor in some random, dirty alley in Port Angeles.

Christ, she needed to get out of there.

Labor could go on for a long time. That was what she tried to tell herself as she dragged herself back to her feet. All she needed was to figure out how to get a few dollars. She needed to look up Charlie's phone number. There were computer cafes, right? Or maybe she could find a library. That wouldn't cost anything.

She was so, so close. "Hold on. Just hold-Agh!"

Bella collapsed to her knees again.

No. This baby wasn't going to hold on. She needed help. She needed help right now.

That was when Bella realized her head was spinning. It wasn't just her legs that were too weak-her entire body shook. Her energy, scraping the bottom of the barrel for days now, was rapidly falling into the negative.

Her brain got fuzzy, her thoughts thick. She was having trouble parsing out what she was feeling emotionally with what was going on physically. That must have been why it took her so long to suspect what was happening. She pressed her hand between her legs, against her jeans and stared at the crimson that stained her palm when she pulled her hand away.

Oh, no. She was in trouble. Her baby was in trouble, and she was scared. She needed to get out of here, out into the open where someone could help, but she was too weak and rapidly getting weaker.

No. It wasn't supposed to end like this. Not before she could make everything right.

"Help," she said, and the word came out as a croak, far too quiet to be heard. "Help," she tried again, but it was hopeless.

Another pain racked her, and some kind of instinct took over. She managed to get her jeans unbuttoned and peeled them away from her legs.

There was a lot of blood. A lot.

Too much.

It was the last thing she saw before darkness encroached and took her.


A/N: I am endlessly grateful to barburella, songster, Packy 2.0, Capricorn75 and, as mentioned above, GinnyW for their help with this monster.

And now for my news! My newest book, Finding Purgatory, is now available on Amazon! This book is my baby, and I'm really excited to be bringing it out in the open after literal years in the making. Link in my profile, and summary as follows:

Bang!

In one short moment, Ani Novak's life is turned upside down. Her beautiful family is destroyed and she is left completely alone. With an unnamed desire, she seeks out the little sister she had walked away from when she was nineteen.

Tori Kane is barely eighteen, jaded, and reluctantly in need of her sister's help. While Ani is in the position to financially support her sister, the one thing Tori really needs money can't buy and Ani no longer knows how to giveā€”trust.

Neither of them expected paradise, but they want more than the hell their lives have become. There has to be a middle ground between heaven and hell where they can just be.

Thank all of you so much for your love and support!