Summary: The battle of Notre Dame is won, but there is still a question or two left unanswered.
Disclaimer: The Hunchback of Notre Dame and the characters used are property of the Walt Disney Company.
Background: I have this tendency to think through realism beyond happy endings. This was a quick thing to cover some of that ground.
The bell tower still echoed with the residual chimes from the vespers as Quasimodo silently crept downstairs. Out of habit, he stayed up on the mezzanine, peering over the railing as he watched the mass below.
The Archdeacon's sermon carried up the stone walls, words of comfort and wisdom, and though he spoke clearly for the mass to hear, Quasimodo heard none of the words, only the old man's strong, gentle tone. He stayed in shadow, waiting patiently for the benediction and the departure of the mass. Only when the last churchgoer bid the Archdeacon farewell did he start down the thin, spiraling steps to main chapel.
Quasimodo took each step with care, listening for the Archdeacon's footsteps. Only a few days ago, Paris rid itself of Frollo. Over and over in his mind, he saw Esmeralda's hand reaching for his, to lead him into the sunlight. He still cherished that gentle little girl who bravely approached him - Emmeline, as he later learned - and touched his face without fear. The cheers from the crowd, the feel of their hands as they lifted him up onto their shoulders and paraded him around the city like a hero, the purest joy he'd ever felt in his life.
Finally out there.
Finally one of them.
Never had he felt so happy, so free.
But for every light of that day, a darker shadow dimmed it.
He still had bruises on his wrists and arms from when he broke his chains and freed himself from them. He still smelt the smoke from the fire and lead, felt the sweat rolling down his back from the heat, how his head swam as he struggled to keep her safe.
Quasimodo ran a hand over his left arm, where a long scar began to form. The wound still stung, more than the initial slice he took from the blade.
Esmeralda was fine and safe, he reminded himself. His wounds were healing.
But his heart wasn't.
He stepped into the massive room, looking for the Archdeacon. The old man hobbled around the chapel, gently snuffing out each candle as he made his rounds. Quasimodo took a step forward, then hung back as he often did, thinking better of it.
Old habits, he knew.
He glanced up as more of the lights dimmed. The moonlight from the large rose window above hit the candelabras, their shadows long and sharp against the walls.
Quasimodo bit his lip, and tried not to think of the cruel shadow on the wall, the moment he realized how little he meant to his master.
He looked up when he heard his name, a soft gasp escaping his lips.
The hunchback quickly took a step back, then clasped his hands, giving a small bow to the old man. The Archdeacon held up a hand, gesturing that there was no need.
"You've gained the opportunity to be free after lifetime in the bell tower, yet this is the first time I've seen you come down since the celebrations."
"I've...h-had a lot on my mind," Quasimodo answered, quietly.
He found his gaze directed to the black and white tiles below.
"I see," the Archdeacon said.
He glanced over the younger, deformed man. Over the years, the Archdeacon caught quick glimpses here and there, as the hunchback often kept to himself and stayed up in the bell tower where until recently, very few knew he even existed, let alone his name. Now in the remaining candlelight, the shadows distorted his already twisted features, but they could not hide the distinct traces of pain that he tried to keep hidden.
"...Do you need to talk?"
Quasimodo hesitated, but gave a soft nod. The Archdeacon gave him a warm smile, then beckoned him to follow. The two of them walked in silence to a small office. Once inside, the Archdeacon offered a him seat, before taking his own.
"What's on your mind, Quasimodo?" he asked, gently.
"...A lot of things," Quasimodo answered after a moment.
His hands turned against each other in his lap as he struggled to find the words to voice it.
"I should be happier," Quasimodo whispered. "I have freedom, new friends...and I-I-I'm grateful. But…"
The Archdeacon slowly picked up on it.
"There have been...quite a few changes in a short amount of time, haven't there?"
Quasimodo ran a hand over his scar again, barely daring to nod in confirmation. He dared to look up at the Archdeacon.
"While we were up on the balcony," he said softly, "Frollo…"
I should have known you'd risk your life to save that gypsy witch.
He shuddered a little. The part that followed haunted his dreams.
"...Why did he…?"
Just as your own mother died trying to save you.
The Archdeacon waited patiently for him to finish, but when Quasimodo went quiet again, he gently urged him to continue.
"Why did he…?" he offered.
The hunchback took another moment to process his thoughts.
"He didn't...take me in," Quasimodo said at last.
He winced as the words left his lips, confirming a truth he never knew he wanted to remain hidden.
That in all those years, his master never once cared for him.
Quasimodo picked up what Frollo meant from what little he gave him.
That whatever happened to his mother, his master had a hand in her demise.
The Archdeacon gave him a moment. He took a long breath, gathering his thoughts.
"...It's my fault," the Archdeacon said, quietly.
Quasimodo glanced up, a look of curiosity crossing his face.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"I was trying to save him," the Archdeacon replied. "Frollo."
He reached up to rub his temples.
"What has Frollo told you about your infancy?"
"...The truth," he said, quietly. "R-right before he…"
He trailed off, not wanting to think about it. The Archdeacon nodded, his brows knitting in remorse.
"...It's because of me that he raised you," he said. "Did he tell you that?"
"No," Quasimodo answered. "He always told me he took me in when no one else would."
"Because I was a monster."
The Archdeacon shook his head as he took another breath to collect his thoughts.
"I believe the entire city knows now that it isn't the truth," he replied. "And I think right now, what you seek, what you need, is answers that he has denied you."
He gave a brief, but warm smile, before settling into a more serious demeanor.
"I don't have many to give," the Archdeacon said, "but perhaps they will help you all the same."
Quasimodo gave him a brief nod. He shifted his feet a little, settling a bit more in his chair to listen.
"It was a cold winter's night," the Archdeacon explained. "I was in my chambers, preparing for the morning's mass when I heard a woman scream for help, then bang on the cathedral doors. She begged for sanctuary."
Quasimodo perked up, trying to keep his face neutral. The small quiver of his lip gave him away.
"...My mother?" he whispered.
The Archdeacon nodded in confirmation.
"I grabbed my cloak just as I heard a horse's hooves on the cathedral steps. I didn't see what happened. By the time I opened the door, I saw…"
He closed his eyes, wincing a bit as he recalled the sight.
"...I saw her. Lying on the steps. I ran to help her, but I was too late. Just as I cradled her in my arms, I noticed the hoofprints in the snow, leading over to the well in the courtyard."
Quasimodo hesitated, knowing where this was going.
When your heartless mother abandoned you as a child, anyone else would have drowned you.
He bit his lip as he tried to bite back the memory and the then-seemingly kind words.
"I saw him," the Archdeacon continued. "Frollo, atop his horse, holding a squirming bundle over the well. I knew I had to do something. I yelled at him to stop. And he did."
"...You saved me," Quasimodo whispered.
"Yes," the Archdeacon confirmed. "He claimed he held a demon. "
Quasimodo gave a soft, resigned nod at this information. He took a brief look at his palm.
No monster lines.
No demon ones, either.
"I knew I had to quickly reason with him," the Archdeacon continued, "and demanded to know why he spilled blood here, on the cathedral steps. Frollo tried to claim his innocence, but I reminded him that Notre Dame, that Our Lady, was watching."
Quasimodo looked back to him.
"Is that why he took me in?" he asked.
"Yes," the Archdeacon said, simply. "It was the only time have I ever seen him shaken. In that moment, I saw the weight of his crime weigh on his shoulders, and a look of fear in his eyes. When he asked how to make up for his crime...I told him to care for you. To raise you as he would his own child, for he had taken your mother."
"...A life for a life," Quasimodo whispered.
The Archdeacon nodded.
"I had hoped that his penance would soften his heart, to make him worthy of God when his time came. And I further hoped that having to care for you, to be selfless and provide, that he might come to love you."
The old man gave a resigned frown.
"But we both know what he chose in the end," the Archdeacon said.
Quasimodo found himself looking at the tiles again. He curled in, and gave a simple nod in response. Once more, his fingers ran over his scar.
He looked back to the Archdeacon.
"I didn't know your mother," the old man said, "but I do know this: she spent her last moments trying to protect what was most precious to her."
He gave Quasimodo a soft smile.
"And I know that her son, when faced with a similar choice, followed in her footsteps."
The Archdeacon stood and walked over to Quasimodo. He set a careful hand on his shoulder.
"If you take any comfort from this, then know that no matter what he's taught you, you are your mother's son."
Quasimodo forced up a smile. He reached up to wipe a bit of moisture that threatened to form.
"Thank you," he said.
He shifted from the Archdeacon's grasp and stood again.
"That was exactly what I needed."
The Archdeacon returned the smile, then reached to get the door for him.
"I am glad to be of service."
Quasimodo nodded, then headed back to the bell tower.
His wounds stung less. His heart felt lighter.
And the shadows that lingered before began to fade, awaiting a new and brighter day.