A/N: Dark fic is pretty much what I write the most, but nothing returns me to my roots like really dark fic for kid's stuff. That's what this is!
This is based on movie canon, but my only frame of reference for these scenes in the movie was a clip on YouTube where it was... backwards and in Italian, for some reason. So forgive any inconsistencies. There are also some references to the musical littered throughout because I adore the musical.
This idea came about because I watched HoND for the first time a while ago and thought, "wouldn't it be messed up if Frollo actually did kill Quasimodo with that dagger?", you know, as you do. This was also based, albeit loosely, on a super cool piece of fanart by jeftoon01 on dA, which serves as the cover image!
Some might remember an earlier version of this fic from when I first uploaded it, but this is a retool! I loved the concept and wanted to do it a tad more justice. Even when this rewrite was also a 'one sitting' deal, haha. Enjoy!
When her vision went dark amidst the smoke, the bright, searing flames, and the jeering crowd, Esmeralda never anticipated to wake up. The pain in her lungs was unlike anything she'd ever experienced, feeling the air sucked out of her body by the heat of the burning pyre. The smoke of her execution was lighter in color than any she'd seen before, and more insidious than the smoke of her parlor tricks and street performances. She knew she wasn't to make it off of that pyre alive, but resigned herself to the fate.
As much as it pained her to think she would be dying so young, as her and Phoebus' goodbyes could have gone long into the next morning and still left so much unsaid, she would rather be burned for street tricks than submit herself to Claude Frollo. Phoebus begged her to take his offer, but she knew that living on the knee of a corrupt old judge to save her skin was no way to live. Maybe for some, who gave up their rights and individuality just to be accepted — such a fate wasn't uncommon among members of the Court of Miracles, tired of begging in the streets and living in tunnels — but not for her.
Even as the fire grew hotter, her limbs tied taut to the stake, only able to watch as the flames ate through the laid wood and reached her bare flesh, Esmeralda steeled herself to not scream as she prepared for the pain. It would be unlike any she'd ever experienced, but she'd bite through her tongue and drown in blood if it meant not giving Frollo the satisfaction of watching her cry and beg for his mercy.
There were ways to shorten the suffering of those condemned. Some sprinkled gunpowder atop the wood and straw at the prisoner's feet, inducing a fatal explosion, but Esmeralda knew from the start that Frollo had no such plans. He wanted her to suffer, and she'd seen it in his eyes from the day she first met him. He had no interest in using the fire to cleanse and purify her, only causing her as much suffering for refusing him as possible. He wanted her body to stay there until it smoldered.
The smoke rose, burning her eyes, and holding her breath and closing her mouth was only so effective when there were no other ways to cover her face. Rough coughs ripped through her body, making her shudder against the bindings. The ropes didn't loosen, only rubbing her wrists raw as she trembled. Esmeralda couldn't tell if the roaring in her ears was the crackling fire or the crowd at the entertainment they came for, but with every cough, another gulping gasp of smoke filled her lungs.
Vision swimming with involuntary tears, she didn't know if the flames were growing taller or if they only appeared to be. Her head was growing heavy as her chest seared, but she couldn't allow herself to succumb, not yet. The flames reached her feet, then calves, the ragged, oversized chemise she'd been thrown in for the pyre starting to singe. Forcing herself to lift her head, with more effort than she'd put into anything before, she scanned the crowd through the smoke, tears, and blazing wood for one figure in particular.
He couldn't have been far. He was the one to torch the branches at her feet, after all.
There Frollo stood, hands clasped around his torch as if in a mockery of prayer. Its embers were growing weak, only accumulating to the rising smoke in the dawn sky. She didn't blink, out of the fear that it'd be the last time she'd ever do so, but even with the state her vision was in, there was no mistaking his expression. He was staring directly into her, wanting her to see what the sight of her burning body brought him to.
Laughter. Laughter, like the rest of the crowd.
Esmeralda couldn't breathe anymore. Her heaving only brought more smoke into her lungs, and she could feel them ache and strain under the pressure with every gasp. The world was growing dark, as much as the pain of the blisters forming on her lower body tried to keep her awake. Tiny flames danced along the edges of her chemise as her feet were held in place to roast. The smoke would get to her before the fire would — a common piece of knowledge passed around the Court of Miracles, often as a cruel joke after seeing so many of their own in the same state she was in.
Everything around her grew dim as smoke invaded the husk of Esmeralda, and yet she couldn't tear her eyes away from the ghoulish, sickly glow of the fire lighting Frollo's face, nor his cruel laughter as he lowered the torch. If she didn't know any better, she would have thought that was the devil himself greeting her as her life slipped away.
The only thing she was aware of was the emptiness around her, the only sensations she experienced being the aching in her head and the blisters blemishing her skin stinging against the open air.
Distantly, she could hear movement. Loud clattering, as if something was falling, and, further away, something that sounded like screaming. The wind whistling in her ears. Chaos, as her form was jostled around like a ragdoll.
Unaware of how much time had passed, she didn't even know if she was alive or dead. She couldn't open her eyes to confirm or deny. She couldn't even twitch a finger, and was barely aware of her own breathing. In one moment, she was feeling her body fill with smoke as her flesh set alight, and the next... she wasn't.
There was no way to ask for answers. She was at the mercy of the form moving her around, and could only hope that she was headed for sanctuary instead of an unmarked, shallow grave.
With a start, Esmeralda finally rose from her certain death. Before she could even acknowledge the stimulus around her, so different from the pyre or the aimless void, she instinctively inhaled. It was the first fresh air she felt like she'd tasted in an eternity, and with it, she began to stir.
She was lying down, head propped against what felt like a hard and cold pillow. The stone against her back wasn't much better, but the coolness was the slightest relief to her burned feet and legs. Everything else was uncomfortably warm, as if the fire still raged, but she could feel no signs of it. A weight was around her, warm even in the fiery morning, and she realized that she was being held by someone.
Esmeralda was tempted to lean into the warmth and drift off again, away from the pain, but knew she couldn't do that. Whoever this was just saved her life — she couldn't let it be for nothing. A kind bystander, most likely, though she wouldn't put such a risky maneuver past Clopin or Phoebus.
Her eyes took tremendous effort to open, her body not quite adjusted to the real world again, but it only took a sliver of a blurry glance to know it wasn't her brother or partner, but her dear friend Quasimodo, who held her. His body shook, and only a moment later did she realize he was sobbing, and then did she realize he thought she was dead.
She couldn't move, much less speak, unable to reassure him that she was here, not going anywhere, but as her vision returned through the soot clouding her face, she quickly found a more pressing matter — and one she couldn't warn Quasimodo about.
Frollo stood behind them, with a dagger raised high above his head. The only sound she could manage was a croak, her eyes wide as Quasimodo suddenly pulled away. The relief in his face was palpable to find her survival against all expectations, his tearful expression turning to enthused surprise. He thought nothing of the look of dawning horror on her face, only letting out a joyful "Esmeralda!" as the weapon came down.
His eye flew open and his grip on Esmeralda's shoulders involuntarily tightened as Frollo rammed the dagger into his twisted spine. A screech of pain came from the hunchback, a sound of misery and fear that wrenched Esmeralda's heart. Quasimodo stumbled back, losing balance on his knobby legs as Frollo tore the dagger out, bringing a splatter of blood with it.
If the judge was aware of Esmeralda's awakening, he showed no signs of it as he struck with the knife again. She knew of how he treated Quasimodo, and felt as if every stab was for each moment raising the boy had taken from him. Panic seized her. She didn't think she could move an inch, much less spur into action moments after her certain demise, but she couldn't forgive herself if it meant living while Quasimodo perished.
She gripped the bench's edge as she forced herself to sit up through the pain, panic overriding her body screaming at her to not injure herself further. She didn't even know what she was planning other than getting the dagger out of Frollo's hands, but she had to do it. Esmeralda's hand stretched out, grappling for the weapon as Frollo raised it to strike again.
Grasping only empty air, Esmeralda's legs gave out as she stumbled forward, landing roughly on her shoulder as pain shot through her body, threatening to knock her unconscious again. Her friend continued to cry out and attempt to claw at his attacker, the sight sickening her as she realized she would much rather be burning at the stake. She would much rather feel every inch of her body turn to a blazing husk of soot before her very eyes than be subject to this — watching her friend be murdered, because of her, and being unable to move her twisted flesh and bone to put a stop to it. Her body trembled as she attempted to force herself to her feet once more. The pain was excruciating, but Esmeralda never sat by for injustice, even at the cost of her own life.
The expression in Frollo's eyes was nothing less than animalistic. There was none of the cold, calculating, faux-kind judge left, only a devil walking Earth, wanting nothing more than to end the life he'd nurtured for the past twenty years. Each step felt like fire to Esmeralda, but she managed to stagger towards Frollo as he restrained Quasimodo, whose strength was fleeting as the stabbing became wet, boring into wound after wound as his tunic became bloodier and bloodier.
She mentally begged the bell-ringer to hold on as she yanked Frollo's collar, intending to bring him to the ground but only earning a stumble and a shout of surprise as he whipped around to face her with equal hatred.
"Sorceress!" He snarled, roughly grabbing onto her shoulder. She tore away as she made a reach for the knife in his hand once more. "Look at what you've made me do!" Frollo spat in Quasimodo's direction, and Esmeralda's heart dropped when she saw he was slumped to the floor, motionless as if he were made of stone.
A bloody mess had been made of his back, his expression in death one twisted with pain. Some would have called him mangled in life, but the distinct energy the boy bore far outshone his appearance. Blood was beginning to soak the concrete floor, running from the countless wounds Frollo left. It stained the dagger's blade, stark against Frollo's pale, bony hands, splattering against the bejeweled rings on his fingers.
"This blood is on your hands, witch!" He shouted, pointing a finger at her. Something in Esmeralda snapped as she tore her gaze from Quasimodo and let out a furious yell, using every last ounce of her strength to barrel into Frollo. She managed to send them both to the ground, Frollo's dagger clattering to the floor in his surprise. The flashes of pain from her injuries brought her to wheezing and coughing, and part of her feared she would succumb then and there as the soot dislodged from the back of her throat, but the fear evident in Frollo's eyes brought her back to reality.
How she must've looked like his worst nightmare, a witch risen from the dead, backlit by the blaze from the square at Notre Dame. Her bloodshot, teary green eyes blazed in fury, sweat digging through the layer of soot and smoke covering her roasted, burned skin.
"If you'd just accepted my offer—" Frollo wheezed with exertion, the blow having knocked the wind out of him. "—my hand wouldn't have been forced. Quasimodo would still be here. You would have been happy here in your sanctuary. There is no one to blame but yourself."
The words pierced Esmeralda, but more than anything, added fuel to her fiery rage. Whether her hands trembled with weakness and pain or sheer anger, she didn't know, but crumpled against the floor, she realized the power she held over him in her hands. Before, she saw him as a treacherous, shadowy figure towering over her, able to do anything to her so long as he hid behind his self-righteousness — but close up like this, Judge Claude Frollo was simply a bony, scrawny old man.
That fact shouldn't have brought her the joy it did, but Esmeralda was broken from the moment she heard Quasimodo let out that final, haunting shout — it was wordless, but it was a clear plea for mercy, sanctuary, anything, none of which ever came. He was one of the many people Esmeralda had seen in her life, crying out alone in the streets, in the gallows, on a pyre, with nobody to answer their calls, dying thinking nobody was there. He was the one to spare her from that same fate, and all he received in return was a painful, brutalizing death at the hands of the man who was supposed to love him like a son.
If she wasn't here to stop him, she had no doubt that Frollo would have erased Quasimodo completely, claim he died alone in the tower, or worse, that Esmeralda had taken his hospitality and decided to backstab him. He would turn the blame on her, just as he'd turned the blame for his lust, and the blame for Quasimodo's death, onto her. Frollo was a man who never saw the wrong in his actions, but Esmeralda hoped that this would teach him.
Her hands wrapped tightly around his throat, as she choked the sound out of him, she could see in his eyes how he feared her. Just as she feared him when he'd cornered her in the cathedral mere days before.
Though Esmeralda was never a sadistic person, all she could think was "good". She wanted to make him feel that and worse. She would show Frollo the same mercy he'd given her people and Quasimodo, and the dying struggling and clawing of his hands against her wrists made it evident he knew that very well.
For the justice of the realm, and for the salvation of Paris, it was her sacred duty to send this unholy demon back to Hell.