AUTHOR'S NOTE: A Christmas gift for mariposamonarch on tumblr.
This is based mainly on the musical (but has doses of the 1996 film and references to the book) with Ciara Renee as Esmeralda, Andrew Samonsky as Phoebus, Michael Arden as Quasimodo, and Patrick Page as Claude.
The title is from "I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day" by John Baptiste Calkin and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It not only works perfectly for a Christmas fic for this fandom, but is also a beautiful hymn and holiday song in its own right.
I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men
Esmeralda Trouillefou intends to take Djali out for just a quick walk around the Luxemborg Gardens.
But her gray- and wirey-furred dog of unknown heritage seems determined to make life even more difficult than it is. Never mind that his owner had twisted her ankle mid performance and is forced to sit out the entire Nutcracker season. What everyone else calls the Christmas holidays, she usually lives and breathes Tchaikovsky during December, but not this year. And on top of everything else, she is developing a massive cold, and that means she won't be able to support her friends at the opera house. Even the thought of spreading her illness to the countless kids in the audience is enough keep her away from her workplace, even if it is Christmas Eve and arguably the Paris Opera Ballet's most important and lucrative night.
She is just grateful there isn't any snow as she hobbles around on her crutches, but Djali keeps pulling at the leash. If there was any ice, she is sure she would have fallen by now. And she almost does when Djali lunges, barking his head off with his hackles razed, when a mounted police officer turns the corner.
The grey horse towers over the dog as Esmeralda pulls Djali away, but the horse doesn't bat an eye. The cop on its back is more amused than anything, and Esmeralda hopes that he'll find the situation funny instead of writing her a ticket for disturbing the peace.
"Sorry," she offers as she drags her dog back, struggling to make headway on crutches with an uncooperative Djali doing his best not to give any ground. "He's not usually like this."
"It has happens more often than you think," the officer says. "Some dogs just don't like horses."
"I think this is the first one Djali's seen up close. Hence the freaking out."
The cop runs a hand down his horse's neck. "What do you think, Achilles?"
Achilles only lowers his head to graze on the park's dead grass. Esmeralda raises an eyebrow. "Achilles?"
The police officer shrugs. "The academy named him, not me."
The cop is bundled against the cold in a thick coat, bulletproof vest, and a reflective jacket, but underneath it all he's… attractive, actually. She hasn't even thought about dating since breaking up with Pierre, but if there's been anything good about her injury, it's the break from seeing her ex at the opera house every day. The time apart has allowed her time to heal, which might have been a lot longer process if she'd had to dance with Pierre constantly. But she finds she's not completely opposed to at least finding this police officer visually appealing.
That's as far as it's going to go, though. Really.
The moment is ruined by her suddenly sneezing. Achilles only swivels his ears, but Djali actually jumps a bit at the sound. "Sorry," she rasps.
"Don't worry about it," he says, taking a tissue packet from his coat pocket and holding it out to her. "Here."
"It's okay. I'll just get a napkin from a street vendor or something."
"It's really no trouble," he adds. "I have more tissues anyway. They come in handy spending so much time outside in the cold."
She finally takes a tissue because her running nose is about to start ruining the moment. Not that there's actually a moment going on between them. Not at all. "Thanks. Well, I don't want to keep you."
"Joyeux noël," he says, honest-to-goodness tipping his hat to her. It's been a long time since she's felt respected on even a minute level by a man.
"Joyeux noël," she repeats just as Djali cautiously goes over to Achilles. The horse pauses in eating the brown grass to snort at the dog, and Esmeralda and the police officer laugh when Djali bolts to hide behind her.
"You've bothered Achilles enough," Esmeralda says with a grin. "Come along, Djali." She looks up at the cop. "See you around."
"See you," he says as she goes on her way with her crutches and her dog.
She only lets herself look back at him once.
No matter the fact that they had gotten along well at the park, she's instantly on edge when she sees the police officer that evening.
She came to Notre Dame for the Christmas Eve mass, not to worry about getting arrested for absolutely nothing. But she forces herself to think logically. The cop is in normal clothes now, and is already in a pew before she arrives late. He's probably just here for the service too, not to haul her off to jail.
But maybe he's undercover, she thinks, and maybe you're being followed by the police-
He sees her across the aisle, but all he does is offer a small wave before looking back at the priest Dupin giving the sermon. The cop doesn't get up or handcuff her or drag her out the door, and she allows herself to relax a bit. If he was going to arrest her, he would have done it the moment he saw her. She focuses on the message as Dupin discusses the true meaning of Christmas, and by the end of the sermon she's almost forgotten about the nearby cop.
After the mass finally ends – that's the one thing about Catholic services she doesn't like, really, because they go on forever – she finds Quasimodo. He gives her a shy smile when she approaches. "Joyeux noël," she says and signs. She's not perfect at sign language yet, but she's been practicing this phrase.
"Joyeux noël," he repeats, signing it back to her. "How's your ankle?"
She doesn't know enough sign language to reply other than verbally, but she makes sure he's looking right at her when she answers. Even with his hearing aids in, it's easier for him when he can read lips. "Better. My doctor says I should be back to work in the next couple of months."
Quasimodo smiles, truly smiles, at that. He's taken a while to open up to her, and she makes a point of noticing when he does. "That's wonderful!" he says and signs.
"How's your art going? "
"Pretty good. I'm almost done carving my newest statue."
"That's great-" she begins, but stops, suddenly feeling like she's being watched.
The hairs go up on the back of her neck as she looks around as nonchalantly as she can manage. It's not the cop, because the officer has his back to her, busy talking to Dupin, and yet she's still can't shake the feeling. Then she sees Claude Frollo staring at her.
Of course it is him. The priest is twice her age, but always watches her when she comes to the church, and it makes her skin crawl. Quasimodo's uncle doesn't look away even when she meets his gaze directly.
"You okay?" Quasimodo asks.
"Fine," she says, forcing cheer. She has an impulse to ask Quasimodo to walk her home – she lives close enough to the cathedral that she can't justify taking the safety of a taxi, unless Claude actively tries to follow her home – but decides against it. She's handled creeps before and she can do it again. "I should go check on Djali. He doesn't like being left at home by himself. Joyeux noël again."
"You too," Quasimodo says, and turns red when she kisses him on the cheek.
She hobbles to the door, wishing she could move at a normal pace instead of being slowed down by her crutches. But she makes it out of the cathedral, and breathes an actual sigh of relief that she made it outside without incident.
She whirls, heart leaping into her throat when Claude appears. When a light snow begins to fall, she actually prays that it would stop. If she has to flee or fight the priest off, snow and ice mixed with crutches is going to only complicate an already bad situation.
"Hi," she says tightly.
"I'm glad you came tonight," he offers in the silence that falls.
She's not about to give him the satisfaction of saying So am I.
"Great message," she says. The sermon was about Jesus' birth and Christmas and had absolutely nothing to do with sex. It's a safe topic, but the look in Claude's eyes earlier makes Esmeralda think not even that will stop the priest if he decides to act on his interest in her.
"It was." He clears his throat. "I've noticed you're becoming something of a regular here."
It's definitely not because of you. "I guess."
He takes a step forward. "Mademoiselle Trouillefou, I-"
She takes a step back. It's more awkward than she'd like, being on crutches and all, but she raises her chin to make up for it. "You know what, I have to go. My dog goes stir crazy being left alone."
"If I could just–"
"I really have to go," she says. "Joyeux noël," she adds with a forced smile, because pissing off guys already into you is a good way to end up dead.
"I just want to say–"
"I have to go," she says. Hey God, I know I haven't been going to church that long but You wouldn't mind helping me out here, would You?
One of the cathedral doors' opens, and the police officer walks out.
"Hey," Esmeralda says, giving him a pointed look.
"Something going on here?" the cop asks.
"Nothing," Claude says quickly. "Nothing at all. I was just leaving."
The priest goes back inside the church, and Esmeralda watches him until the door shuts behind Claude. Only then does she remember to breathe.
She looks at the cop. "Thanks."
"No problem," the police officer says. "You okay?"
"Yeah," she replies. It's kind of true now that Claude is gone. "He was just being pushy."
"Do you want me to walk you home?"
She can see no hidden agenda in his blue eyes. And her arms are sore from the crutches, her cold is getting worse, and she isn't in the mood to get mugged or worse tonight. Some backup from a professional would be nice. "Sure. Thanks."
"I'm Officer de Châteaupers," he offers.
She raises an eyebrow. "Is there a first name to go along with that?"
He clears his throat. "Phoebus."
"Nice to meet you. I'm Esmeralda."
To his credit, Phoebus doesn't press her for her last name. It seems working for the police maybe taught him about women's unspoken rule to never ever tell your last name to a guy you just met.
"Well, my place is this way," she says, and they head across the square. The snowfall, light as it is, stops. "So where's Achilles?" she asks.
"Off duty at the stable."
"He seems really laid back," she offers.
"Police horses have to be. People could get hurt if they are too high strung."
"Then Djali would be a terrible police dog," she muses. "I mean, he's not normally as obnoxious as he was when you met him. But he's not obedient enough to do anything official."
"Any job in the force is certainly not easy, I'll give you that."
She glances at him. "Oh?"
He sighs. "I became a cop to help and protect people, but there's a lot of corruption. I'm sure that's not news to anyone."
"I'm glad there's some decent cops left."
He manages a smile. "We try, anyway. What are you doing for Christmas tomorrow?"
She shrugs as best as she can with the crutches. "Not much. Hanging out with my brother. I'd be at work, but I can't dance with my injury."
"You're a dancer?"
She nods. "Sujet with the Paris Opera Ballet. I thought I might make premier danseur during Christmas, but now I'm going to have to start all over again."
"Sorry to hear about your injury," Phoebus says sincerely.
"Thanks. I sprained my ankle during a show. I was doing a lift, and my partner set me down wrong." She doesn't mention said partner was Pierre. "But life happens."
"All the same, that doesn't sound pleasant."
"It's not, really," she admits as they go up to her apartment building. "Well, this is me. Thanks for your help."
"Anytime," Phoebus says.
"I really do appreciate it. You were off duty. You didn't need to, so thanks for doing it anyway."
"Decency doesn't take a holiday," he adds. If it was anyone else saying that, she might roll her eyes and not believe it, but for some reason she does with Phoebus.
She finds herself smiling. "Glad to hear it."
Snow begins to fall again, and as it clings to her hair and eyelashes, Esmeralda takes a moment to look at him properly now that he's out of uniform. He has golden hair, eyes that look even bluer paired with the azure-hued scarf around his neck, and he's got a bit of stubble that even she has to admit makes him look ruggedly handsome. Without the bulky bulletproof vest, she can tell he's lean, but definitely toned. She even finds herself wondering what he looks like without his coat on-
"I should head inside," she says before that train of thought can continue. "Thanks again."
"No problem," he replies.
"Joyeux noël," she says again.
He smiles. "Joyeux noël, Esmeralda."
When Phoebus turns walks away, she sees her brother Clopin in the window. She focuses on getting up the steps to the apartment without falling, and as she unlocks the door, she knows she'll have to answer Clopin's questions. But for now she's going to privately appreciate meeting a decent, attractive guy.
Life is hard enough as it is, and she's going to enjoy her Hallmark moment.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This was a supposed to be a light hearted Christmas meet cute but Claude is… well, Claude.
But I did finally get write a ballet AU. I know dance isn't the main focus of this fic, but I've been wanting to write a ballet AU for an eternity and this technically counts, I guess.