Summary: BatB with a twist. (12 ) On her way to Florence, Belle finds herself forced to stop at a mysterious castle in the woods. With the enchanted household too eager to keep her there and a master who has come to an odd sort of acceptance of his beastly form, Belle soon finds herself intrigued by the cursed prince.

Word from the author: First of all I'd like to thank you all for taking the time to check out my take on Beauty and the Beast. Though this story is Alternate Universe and written for a slightly more mature audience, it is still the Disney characters that are the base for the characters in this story. Though you will find they have come upon slightly different situations in their lives and have developed in slightly different ways than we know of in the movie, I want you to feel that, despite all of that, they're still the characters we all love.
As for the title of the story, Gifts and Curses, I have to say that it is actually a song title. The original song is by Yellowcard and it is gorgeous. The song might be a bit too emo for the story I want to tell, but it is still a work in progress so who knows how this story will develop?
I also mustn't forget to thank TrudiRose for beta'ing this story. Without her the number of errors in this fanfic would be countless! (Aye, I'm Belgian, not English!) Trudi, you rock!
I'd like to thank you in advance for reading the story and I hope you'll enjoy it!

Gifts and Curses

Chapter 1: Drawing Memories

The sky was painted in beautiful hues of red and orange clouds that blended in with the distant autumn-colored trees. The high grass that stood in the field in front of her waved gently from side to side as the last southern wind of the season warmed Belle.

She sat on the fence quietly, a sketchbook in hand, the charcoal slowly setting everything she saw in front of her on paper. It soothed her doing this, even though she was no experienced artist. It was an important evening for her, an important day in her life at Molyneaux. And for once it didn't feel so bad to be there.

Gaston raced through the forest, his steed galloping as quickly as it could over the forest paths. He felt extremely excited, for it was the evening before the official start of hunting season. Gaston had already spent the past few weeks scouting the forests surrounding Molyneaux, seeing many young rabbits, foxes and deer he was eager on bringing home to the other villagers. But today he had finally spotted his ultimate goal for this hunting season: a beautiful stag with the widest and most beautiful antlers Gaston had ever laid eyes upon.

The sight of the stag had thrilled him so much nothing was going to get his spirits down. It would be his biggest trophy this hunting season and nobody was going to keep him from killing it. Because he was the best hunter in town and nobody was ever going to be the better of him.

As he left the shade of the forests and raced past the fields outside of Molyneaux, Gaston appreciated the sun's warmth and glow on this beautiful evening. And a sight he saw across one of the fields only warmed his spirits more.

As Belle drew more lines and curls in the trees she had sketched, she suddenly heard the trampling of hoofs approaching. Turning her head around slightly, she saw Gaston riding closer rapidly, probably in an attempt to show off his amazing… amazingness. Every single village girl would have swooned at the beautiful sight of the handsome young man riding his steed, his dark black hair waving in the wind, his arms glistening with the sweat from the exciting ride and his muscles standing out in the shirt that was just a size too tight for him. Belle, however, had some problem or other with her perception of things, or so the other villagers thought. She was more disgusted by Gaston than anything else, though that disgust didn't mean she treated him badly. She just found herself praying that Gaston wouldn't notice her on far too many occasions. This occasion being one of them…

"Belle!" Gaston said merrily as he approached her and came to a halt. "What a coincidence to find you here!"

Belle figured it was useless to pretend she hadn't seen him. She didn't get up from the fence where she was sitting and only turned slightly to face him. "Good evening, Gaston," she greeted him politely.

Gaston jumped off his horse and casually walked closer, his thumbs behind his belt as he puffed his chest forward. "What brings you here?" he wondered out loud. "There aren't any books hidden in this landscape, are there?"

Gaston laughed at his own attempt at a joke, then noticed the book on her lap.

"Ah there's one," he said quietly, smiling at her gently, though he was unsure what else he could say. Talking about books in her presence had been the origin of many arguments between them. He just couldn't understand it. He didn't like those arguments much. After all, he was interested in marrying Belle one day. It wasn't his wish to push her away from him.

"Yeah," Belle said softly, looking at the drawing of the scenery. She didn't know what else to say. As repulsive as she found Gaston to be at times, it wasn't her wish to fight him. Talking about books wasn't one of the things she liked to do with Gaston. His lack of brain cells only aggravated her at those moments. Besides, this was the last time she would have to see him in a very long time. She could at least be kind to him.

Gaston walked to the fence and put his arms on the wood, looking at the sight before him. It was breath-taking around this time of year. He could see flocks of geese fly over the distant woods, the stream running a mile away was full of life and the sky and clouds were beautiful. There was no place like home to Gaston. But he knew that it wasn't enough for Belle. He couldn't understand it, but he had accepted it. Gaston figured there had to be something very wrong with her eyes. Perhaps she just needed glasses, but he had thought of it to be impolite to even suggest that.

He couldn't help giving a peek at the book on Belle's lap and noticed the charcoal in her hands and the drawing on the page. "Hey, it's a drawing!" Gaston said cheerfully, glad for once that Belle wasn't reading. Gaston took the book from her lap, not even noticing that she wasn't keen on having him take a look. He leaned with his back against the fence, looked at the drawing and then laughed. "Hey this is nice! It's the view from the fence!"

Gaston looked from the drawing to the landscape and had no trouble seeing the similarities. "This is better than something I could draw!"

Belle's eyes widened. Hold on. Had he just admitted he wasn't good at everything he did?

Gaston frowned. Had he just admitted there was something he couldn't do as well?

"Thank you, Gaston," Belle smiled politely, holding out her hand for him to give it back, but he was already flipping back the pages.

"This is your house! And this is your father! Who's that here? Oh wait, it's the librarian. Yeah I don't see much of that guy," Gaston muttered as he checked out the drawings she had made. Everything she had drawn, Gaston knew from the town. The baker, the hairdresser, even the triplets were in there. Though the drawings weren't as good as the paintings of Gaston that hung in the tavern, he found them recognizable enough and he had to give her credit for trying. "Why did you draw all that?" he asked her, handing back the sketchbook. "I didn't know you liked to draw."

"I don't. Well, I mean, I don't mind," Belle quickly corrected herself. "I don't like it as much as reading." Gaston's look already seemed to be turning into a face of disgust and Belle quickly went on. "It's just that I'm leaving tomorrow. For a long time, most likely. And there are things I just wouldn't want to forget. Or things I'd want to show to the other people in Florence."

Gaston sighed. He couldn't believe she'd rather go to Spain than stay in Molyneaux. Then another thought struck him.

"Hey, hold on! You haven't drawn me yet!"

Belle blinked. "Excuse me?"

"Yeah!" Gaston said, outraged by the thought she had forgotten him. "Do you want to forget me then? Or don't you want to talk about me to other people? I've accomplished a lot more than the baker or the librarian, you know! Talking about me would be a much more interesting story! People would hang on your every word! Don't tell me you're not going to tell them all the great hunter stories about me I told you in the tavern last week?"

Belle turned red. Awkward.

True, she had gone to the tavern with him. But the only reason she had done that was to ensure that Gaston would take her father to the end-of-autumn fair and he had agreed to that! Without Philippe, her father wouldn't have a means of transportation. And she trusted Gaston well enough to know he would bring him there and return him safe and sound. Besides, Gaston was already looking forward to the idea of participating in all of the hunting games they would be holding there. And it would be her father's chance to win a prize with his latest invention.

"It's just…" Belle's brain raced in a desperate attempt to find a good excuse. Anything to keep him from posing. "I wouldn't be able to do you justice!"

Gaston laughed heartily. "Now, now, Belle! Even though that's true, don't let it hold you back!" Gaston took a few steps back and put his hands in his side, posing.

He had to be kidding her. Belle had run out of ideas and sighing deeply, she turned to a new page.

Gaston heard her sigh and knew she was swooning at what she saw. Finally.

Belle had only drawn a few lines, when Gaston's voice already cut in: "So Belle, are you going to miss me?"

Avoiding the question, Belle lied innocently: "Gaston, I can't… talk and draw at the same time."

Gaston could relate to that and quickly nodded. "Oh, right!"

Gaston continued posing. Belle had to admit one thing as she eyed him: he definitely was beaming with pride. She had never known anyone that was as happy with himself as Gaston was. It was unreal.

By the time Belle was finished, the sun had nearly set and she jumped down the fence. "Done!" she said, sighing again.

Gaston finally moved again and hurried over to her side, eyeing the picture. He gasped with joy. "Belle, I am perfect! You outdid me!" Gaston stared at the picture, seeming very much in love with himself, and Belle couldn't help but laugh. She had to admit he could be cute sometimes. Cute in his own obnoxious way.

Gaston saw her laugh and gave her back her sketchbook, glad she was warming up to him.

Before he could say anything, Belle cut in. "I have to get back home. It is getting dark."

It was only a mile to Belle's home, yet Gaston didn't like the idea of letting her go alone. He went over to where his horse was standing and took the reigns. "Come on, hop on! I'll give you a ride! You'll be there in no time!"

Belle felt rather awkward thinking of the idea of sitting on a horse with Gaston. She found it… improper. He wasn't going to take 'no' for an answer though, unless… "How about we just take a walk?" she suggested instead. "I'd like to stretch my legs."

Gaston frowned at Belle's lame excuse. Then it suddenly dawned on him: walking took longer. It was just a way of her to be in his company for a longer period of time! And who had ever said that women were hard to understand?

Smiling, Gaston agreed. "Of course! Walking is fine!"

As they walked besides each other, an awkward silence followed. Gaston tried his hardest to come up with something to talk about that she could relate to. The weather perhaps?

"I've heard it's quite warm in Spain," he said, trying to sound impressive.

Belle frowned. Why did Gaston want to talk about the weather in Spain? Then she realized… "I'm going to Italy, Gaston," she corrected him.

Gaston seemed very confused. "Oh you're not going to Florence then?"

Belle tried her hardest not to start laughing. "No, Gaston. Florence is a city in Italy. Not in Spain."

Gaston felt slightly embarrassed. It wasn't easy talking with Belle.

"But yes, the weather is quite warm there," Belle smiled at him. She had to give him credit for trying to impress her.

"And your great-great-aunt is a nice woman?" he asked her, struggling to sound genuinely interested.

"Just my great-aunt," Belle corrected him. "And I don't know really… I hope so! I've never met her before. It's just that she's getting old and has no other family to take care of her. We received some letters from one of the town's nuns. My great-aunt would have written the letters herself, but apparently her hands tremble too much or something. The nuns take care of her at the moment, but they don't know how much longer she has yet to live." Belle sighed sadly. "It could be another month, another year, perhaps another ten years. They just think it's best if she has some family around her. She speaks both French and Italian, but sometimes she only talks French, or so the nuns wrote. They have trouble understanding her."

Gaston gulped, no longer taking in those last sentences. Ten years without Belle? He wasn't going to wait that long for her! Yet he tried to cheer up. "But hey, if she dies before you arrive, you'll be back really quickly, right?" he asked happily.

Belle frowned. "Gaston, that's disrespectful!"

Gaston quickly lowered his head, much like a pup that had been scolded. "Oh, I'm sorry."

Even if it was disrespectful, it had humored Belle and she smiled.

As they approached her house, Belle embraced the sketchbook as she faced Gaston. "Thank you for escorting me home, Gaston," she smiled awkwardly.

Now it was time for goodbyes. She didn't know how to say goodbye to him though. He was just going to laugh at her if she offered him a hand. But if she gave him a hug, she feared she wasn't going to be able to break free from it.

Instead, she took her skirt in her hand and bowed gracefully. "Take good care of yourself, Gaston. I wish you all the best."

Gaston frowned. What on earth had she just done? "What are you, a princess or something?" he laughed. What an odd way to say goodbye to someone! "Any other girl would have given me a kiss on the cheek or on…"

Gaston quickly shut up. The lips sounded good, yes, but it would be very improper to suggest that. Not that he was going to complain if she decided to go for the lips!

Belle looked troubled. She really didn't want to do this. Better get it over with.

Quickly, she walked up to him and kissed him on the cheek, before quickly turning around and hurrying towards the door, waving.

"Bye Gaston!"

A kiss on the cheek… Gaston frowned. Disappointing.

"Bye Belle!" he said, thinking hard as the door slammed shut again and Belle had disappeared inside.

Well… She wasn't really gone yet, was she? He still had a chance tomorrow… Yes, tomorrow would be even brighter! He would land that kiss and get that new trophy for the tavern. Tomorrow was going to be perfect.