I try not to overwhelm my stories by starting with enormous Author's Notes, but in this case I think it's important that I make an exception. In fact, I'm actually writing this before I even start writing the chapter, so that I can get my thoughts in order. Obviously you can feel free to skim or even skip this if you wish, but I want to be sure that I've put the explanation out there, and then you can take it or leave it.

The first thing I need to say is that this story is going to be dark. Not disturbingly dark, and hopefully not just unrelentingly miserable from start to finish, but different to the cheerful, will-they, won't-they, of-course-they-will stuff I usually write. Because in this story, they won't. This isn't a love story. It's a story about desperation, manipulation and self-deception with a bit of Stockholm syndrome thrown in. Because what happened to Belle in the movie was terrifying, and I don't think she could be blamed for losing her grip on reality somewhat.

If you've read my one-shot, Captivity (which I'll take down after this story has progressed a bit), you'll know roughly what this is about. Basically, it's a new perspective on the movie. It's a suggestion that all the goodness and kindness we see in the Beast is a construction by Belle as a response to the situation she's in. I'll be telling it from a few different perspectives, starting here with Belle (although perhaps not how we're used to thinking of her). Hopefully, it's not that the characters are OOC (though please tell me if you find it otherwise!), it's that I'm looking at the story not just without my rose-coloured Disney-specs on, but with the aim of finding something dark and a bit unnerving there. I should also point out that although this basically follows the movie scene-by-scene, I'll cut some bits out if my alterations to the story won't change them enough to make them interesting. For that reason, this first chapter, in particular, is a bit fragmented, but things will get a lot more in-depth once the story moves to the castle, because that's where my changes really take place.

This whole idea came out of an amazing discussion over at the Bittersweet and Strange forum (z6 (dot) invisionfree (dot) com (slash) bittersweet (underscore) strange, join us!) about darker themes in fanfiction and was then further developed in a workshopping session on MSN, so I'd like to thank Trudi (who is also responsible for the title!), Liz, Samoa, Klaske and Emily for all their help and suggestions (I'm so sorry if I've missed anyone!).

I understand that this isn't going to be for everyone, and I totally understand if some of my regular readers and online friends don't like it. Don't worry, I'm still working on Relapse and Camera Obscura! But if this idea does interest you, please let me know your thoughts! This has provoked some fascinating discussion so far and I'd love some more.

Chapter One – Her Provincial Town

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Belle. She was beautiful and she loved to read. The simple village folk around her imagined that she must have everything her heart desired but there was one thing that she longed for above all else. With all her heart, Belle wished for...

"Adventure," Belle breathed, almost inaudibly, sinking down onto the edge of the fountain with a little sigh. She lowered her book into her lap for a moment.

It would do as a beginning. After all, very few of the best stories started with the hero – heroine – in some blissful state of perfection, and those that did would shortly have to plunge them into some form of distress and unpleasantness if they were going to go anywhere. Without something to wish for, there couldn't be a story. So really, she mused, she ought to be grateful for the crushing ennui of this poor provincial town and all the silly little people that lived there. The endless repetition of the morning dance that constituted the opening of the day's trade, the chorus of Bonjours and the bubbling undercurrent of gossip from which she had been excluded since their first day in the village were nothing but a rich background tapestry that would illustrate the opening pages of her life. Belle was a young woman of strong convictions and one of them was this: that her life would extend far further than the confines of this village, or even those surrounding it. The people here thought of her and Papa as undesirably exotic because they had come from a town fifty miles away and could read words longer than two syllables without breaking a sweat. She couldn't even begin to imagine how they could live that way, enclosed in their own points of view like that. She knew with every certainty that her life would be different, and it was this determined opinion that allowed her to float, almost undisturbed, through the day-to-day realities of village life.

Today, though, village life took a more proactive approach to invading her personal universe, in the shape of Gaston, who was flanked, as always, by Lefou. Gaston was another point on which Belle had strong convictions.

"Hello, Belle." His smile was genuine. He was pleased to see her. Life in the village had been losing some of its charm until Belle and her father had arrived some months ago. After the death of his uncle, the younger Gaston had been easily the greatest hunter in the village. He'd also been able to pretty much name his price for meat and fur, so he'd quickly become the wealthiest bachelor in the village as well – and it hadn't exactly been difficult to attract female attention before. These days, Gaston was always on the lookout for something to challenge him. In his daydreams, this had taken the form of some strange new creature that he and he alone, using all his skill and strength, would track over the course of several days and eventually drag home to a hero's welcome. But a strange new girl would do for now, especially when she looked like that, and she was very good at playing hard-to-get. He was enjoying the thrill of the chase. On the other hand, though, he was dimly aware that he wouldn't be young and fit forever, and he was going to have to settle down with a wife and family soon if he was going to have someone to support him in his old age. More than that, he wanted someone to share his skills with. The idea of a future in which the town's best hunter was not a Gaston disturbed him.

It was apparent to Belle that some form of response would be unavoidable. "Bonjour, Gaston." Her muscles tensed as he snatched the book from her. She longed to take it back, but politeness restrained her. "Gaston, may I have my book, please?"

Gaston devoted thirty very thoughtful seconds to trying to understand what was in his hands, which would have been proof to anyone who knew him well that Belle was a prize he really wanted to win. Gaston never tried if there was a possibility he could fail. He did what he did and he did it well. Perhaps that was what Belle was like, with her reading? You certainly never saw her doing anything else. He could admire that kind of single-minded thinking. He wanted her to admire it in him. Suddenly overtaken by the excitement of the idea, he tossed the book aside. "What do you say we take a walk over to the tavern and look at my trophies?"

Belle stooped to pick up her book, eyes burning invisible holes through the mud. What was he, some kind of animal? She had no doubt that being too brainless to figure out which way up a book went could be frustrating to a person, but to damage it? "Maybe some other time. I have to get home to help my father."

"What about that Gaston?" Maurice innocently suggested later. "He's a handsome fellow."

Belle flinched as though he had struck her. "Oh, he's handsome, alright." As though that made up for it! "And rude and conceited... Oh, Papa, he's not for me."

After all, stories were filled with people who were not what they appeared to be, just as Gaston appeared to be handsome and innocently ordinary but was actually an illiterate brute who seemed to expect her to regard his interest in her as some kind of blessing. As though all one had to do to win a lady's hand in marriage was – she shuddered at the thought – to ask her to come to the tavern and look at one's hunting trophies! She'd have dismissed the notion that anyone could be so overcome by good looks as to desire him, only those stupid girls who followed him around the village like a pack of swooning wolves were proof otherwise. And, besides, this was a point on which she had to disagree with some of the sillier characters in her favourite stories, those who fell in love with princes they encountered one spring evening in a wood on the strength of their smooth skin and strong jawlines. Well, that was alright for them, but she knew that she would require rather more. In fact, she could fall in love with the ugliest man in the kingdom if proof could be found that his mind was sound and his heart was pure. She was sure of it.

Maurice eased himself out from under the machine and gave his beloved daughter an indulgent smile. "Well, not to worry. This invention's going to be the start of a new life for us."