A/N: Another HoND fic, from yours truly! This is based exclusively on the 2014 musical's canon, there's just not a category for that adaptation to my knowledge, so into the book's category it goes. For the unaware, in the musical, Frollo is Quasimodo's uncle, and his father is his wild party-boy brother Jehan, who is aged up from the book to be around his age.
Anyway, I find musical!Frollo a super interesting character, so I wrote this character study! It's pretty much a novelization of The Bells of Notre Dame, about both him and Jehan, and I had a ton of fun writing it.
The art used for the cover image is by shinobi-illuminator on Tumblr, who you should totally check out because their art is great.
There were times Claude wondered if he was doomed to live like this. He knew greed was wrong, and he should've been grateful to have been taken in by Paris at all, painfully aware of how easy it would've been for the monks to leave him and Jehan to rot in the streets, but that did little to dissuade his thoughts at the worst of times.
It wasn't that he wasn't grateful — no, no, the kindness the people of Paris extended to him was the only he'd experienced in recent memory, and nothing aggravated him more than Jehan's flippant nature towards their caregivers. That was the problem, really — Jehan . It started with a lack of manners, likely under the assumption that Claude was enough of a doormat for them both (his words), but quickly turned into sneaking out into town without supervision to God knows where. He returned late into the night, smelling distinctly of alcohol, and Claude found himself lying for his brother every single time.
He hated to be an inconvenience to Father Dupin, after all, and knew better than to throw away the church's hospitality like Jehan was doing. Jehan was younger, more inexperienced, had little idea of common decency from their tumultuous upbringing, but that was what Claude was supposed to do for him as his older brother: teach him right from wrong, before he went down a path of wickedness! He once heard a story from Father Dupin about a king from olden days who became a drunkard, living hedonistically and making rash decisions for his country he couldn't take back, even sending innocent men to their deaths in his intoxication. Claude knew it was an exaggeration, a tale twisted by time and different tellers, but he wouldn't be able to bear it if he saw Jehan in such a situation. That vice of his would ruin his life — why couldn't he see that?
Jehan seemed uncomfortable everywhere he went in the cathedral. Claude was beginning to think the only time he was truly happy was when he was running amuck through town with the lowlives of Paris, getting drunk and perusing taverns and whorehouses. It disgusted Claude to picture, wondering how he could ever get gratification from such sinful behavior, but moreover it despaired him, knowing that he and the people who'd raised him made Jehan so miserable that he had to cloud his mind with such unholy thoughts. The truth was, as much as he hated to admit it, and as much as he truly did care for his brother, they thought differently, and whatever gratification Jehan's hedonism brought him was something Claude could never provide.
He tried to teach him, he really did, but every lecture seemed to fly completely over his younger brother's head. Not like he could blame him — every time Claude "put his foot down", it never lasted, and Jehan knew the pattern by this point. Claude didn't want to think his brother's soul was beyond saving, but the temptation of people lesser than them still proved to be too much, and once he was lured away for good, Claude feared he would never look back.
Honestly, Jehan had no idea what his brother saw in that stuffy old place. The people were nice enough, sure, but as time went on, Notre Dame felt less like a shelter and more like a prison. Seeing Claude was starting to make him feel uneasy — he was still the caring older brother Jehan loved so much, but there was an unsettling coldness to him ever since he became so invested in the church's teachings. Every conversation just had to be about catechisms or doctrines or whatever one of the weird Jesus things they had to do today, and Jehan felt like he was losing his grip.
Everyone in the cathedral felt like they were some community, or family, or something, and Jehan didn't get it. It may have been Claude's home, but not his. His was the townspeople, the scoundrels and outcasts like him, and of course the most lovely Florika! What could ever compare to living a life of fun and recreation? If the cathedral wasn't dull and lifeless to him before, it certainly was now — once Jehan caught the smell of champagne and food and the perfume of ladies of the night, no musty libraries filled with stacks of Bibles could come close to that high!
"Loosen up, brother dear!" Jehan told Claude countless times, and meant it — Jehan wasn't stupid, he knew something was wrong with his brother. Loosening up was exactly what he needed, with his nose in books constantly, living only by the strictest guidelines the church set. That was no way for a person to live — Claude only objected because he didn't know how truly great it was!
...well, maybe he did, actually. Jehan took him to a tavern out of town once, and Claude was red-faced at the displays and backed into a wall for the entire night. He looked almost like a cornered animal when one of the women approached him, abruptly excusing himself to grab Jehan and leave the moment she started touching him. Despite Jehan's insistence that the fun was only beginning, Claude was acting like someone had just pulled a weapon on him, immediately vanishing to his room as he mumbled to himself over the "depravity" of it all.
It was only depraved if you treated it like it was, Jehan decided, and even he was guilty of that. He had been raised to be just as devout and obedient as his brother — unlike him, though, Jehan wanted more out of life. He couldn't live like a horse trapped in a stable forever, not when he knew the excitement of what was out there in the world!
Despite having been lectured time after time about the dangers of alcohol, Jehan discarded it like everything else he was lectured about. He knew when to stop, the maybe one, two, or three times Claude had to come pick him up and give him a bucket to vomit in notwithstanding. Fine, maybe he didn't know when to stop, but did that really matter to anybody except stuffy old Claude?
Oh, speaking of stuffy old Claude, it was his birthday, and Jehan knew just the way to celebrate!
The cathedral was dark, now, the light of the candles fading as Claude wandered the halls. Snuffing out the candles was part of his nightly routine after evening mass — his or Jehan's, usually, it would've depended on the night, but as Jehan left to wander more frequently, Claude found himself the sole candle snuffer after hours. It was menial work, menial work he was grateful to do, but menial work nonetheless. It was yet another responsibility of the Frollo brothers' lives that Jehan had so carelessly abandoned.
Finally finished with the candles, Claude set the brass instrument aside and rubbed his eyes, never having done well around smoke or fire. It was growing late — he would retire for the night were it not for his studies, which usually kept him awake until the latest hours of the night. There wasn't time to waste — he had catechisms to write out by morning, and was disheartened to find he and his brother's room empty when he entered.
It was no surprise anymore, as Jehan spent more time in taverns and at festivals than he did with his own family nowadays, but Claude still found himself wishing. Life had been easier for them before Jehan turned of age, and succumbed to all of the boyish urges that came with it. There were moments Claude wished he was a child again, rowdy at worst, but with none of the heathen desire he'd expressed now. He hated to be angry at his own kin, but a healthy amount of it was acceptable, wasn't it? After all, everyone was born a sinner, and Claude's anger came not from entitlement, but worry for his own brother's welfare.
Jolting in surprise, Claude turned at the creak of one of the doors near the end of the room. Shouldering it open, in stumbled the man in question. A brown bottle swung from Jehan's hand, his face reddened as he laughed to no-one in particular. The familiar stench of alcohol invaded Claude's senses, and he wrinkled his nose as Jehan drank another swig of it.
Claude had no patience for this, and couldn't hide the exhaustion in his voice when he snapped, "Jehan, where have you been?! Why weren't you at evening mass?"
Jehan corked the bottle, his glassy, drunk eyes widening with a gasp Claude couldn't tell was genuine or mockery. Suddenly grinning, he made his way over, grabbing Claude's shoulders as slurred words began to fall from his mouth. "It'sss your birthday! We have to celebrate!" Pulling away, he gestured proudly to the arrays of saint statues lining the shelves. "I brought you a gift...!"
Before Claude could ask, a woman emerged from behind them with a light laugh, tousling her dark and curly hair as she did. She was Romani, her dress's low neckline and slit in the leg — not to mention, apparently being an accomplice of Jehan's, and a... "gift", in his words — making Claude conclude she was some form of prostitute. She moved over to Jehan, wrapping her arms around him in an embrace as he explained, with a cheerful tone Claude found almost unsettling, "she's a friend of mine!"
Claude was nearly speechless, unable to form a sentence for a moment. So many questions were swirling through his head — how long was she even there?! — but all he could manage was an angered "...in our room?"
Jehan said nothing to his brother's evident discomfort. "Florika," he continued, grin widening, "she's a beauty, isn't she?" After holding her tighter than Claude felt was appropriate for any "friend", Jehan shoved Florika in his direction as she let out another surprised laugh. "My brother, Claude!" He introduced, visibly more enthusiastic about this affair than Claude himself was.
"Well, happy birthday," Florika smiled his way, circling him, "Claude."
He felt frozen in place, unable to do much but gawk as she hooked her fingers through the buttons of his shirt. "Don't be shy."
Jehan bent to pick up the dropped cork of his bottle, before pushing Claude further towards the advancing woman. "I can see you want to," she continued, as his fear either went unnoticed or only spurred her on further. "I can see it in your eyes." She brought her hands to his hair as his own began to uncomfortably cramp at her sides, somehow feeling both chilled and overheated all at once.
His breathing quickened as she leaned towards him with that predatory grin, feeling like he was either about to vomit or faint as places he didn't even want to think about were touched when she pushed herself into him with another jovial laugh — "Oh-ho! I can feel it, too—"
"STOP!" Claude finally regained his voice with a shriek as he shoved her away, Jehan catching her to keep her from stumbling. He continued to hyperventilate, hands clenched tightly, but had no time to defend himself to the confused Florika as footsteps sounded from down the hall.
"Claude?" A voice followed, making the brothers freeze.
"It's Father Dupin, help me hide her-!" Jehan started, already in the process of unceremoniously shoving the girl back into her hiding place behind the bookshelves. Like everything Jehan did under his watch, he had no room to object, pushing one of the statues into place as Father Dupin entered.
"What's going on in here?" The older man's hands were placed on his hips as an eyebrow was raised in the two's direction, Jehan all but hiding behind Claude, whose hand still rested on the shoulder of one of the statues.
"Nothing, Father!" Jehan loudly answered in a botched attempt to sound sober, making Claude wince with the proximity to his ear. Dupin wasn't convinced, having been fed that lie endless times before, with Claude present for most of them, as his eye turned to the elder Frollo.
"Is it 'nothing', Claude?"
Claude's teeth ground in frustration — he had never been a good liar, and especially not now. He pulled away from Jehan, gaze hard as he hoped the gravity of the situation would be clear to the drunken man.
"Tell him, Jehan."
Silence. Jehan's eyes were wide, and not a movement did he make. Always, Claude had defended him, or he had found some other way to evade punishment for his long-lasting hedonism, but not now. Claude's blood boiled, and he yanked Florika out from her hiding place by the arm, nearly tipping a statue in the process as years of frustration at his younger brother's actions seemed to overflow.
"If you won't, I will!"
Florika screamed as she was roughly thrown to the floor, just managing to catch herself on her palms. Claude could see Jehan's heart drop as he stepped forward to try and help her, and though he was a pious man, Claude couldn't help but feel the smallest amounts of glee at his brother finally facing the proper consequences for not listening to him.
That glee vanished in an instant, however, at Father Dupin's voice as he pointed a finger towards the couple. "You must leave, Jehan, this holy refuge where you've grown."
Claude blinked, having expected a light slap on the hand at worst, knowing how the Frollo brothers were like sons to Notre Dame's archdeacon. "Leave? But Father—"
To silence him, Father Dupin raised a hand in his direction, glaring down Jehan as Florika got to her feet and huddled into his side. "I'm sorry, Claude, but I've no choice. Your brother is expelled."
Without waiting for further answer, content to let his answer hang in the air, Father Dupin turned and left as guilt began to consume Claude. Facing his brother, he was met once again with that same wide-eyed expression, and could see tears starting to form in his eyes.
"Wh—what did you think," rare disappointment and anger was etched onto the normally cheerful Jehan's features, silencing Claude in the middle of his sentiment, "that they wouldn't send me away?" His hand was outstretched, incredulously gesturing towards the door Dupin had vanished out of. "Who do you think these people are?"
Despite being bombarded at every angle by every negative emotion imaginable, Claude took a deep breath to try and address his brother. If Jehan truly was to be expelled, this was the last chance Claude would have to get through to him. It was not yet too late to save his soul, and if there was anyone he'd listen to, Claude hoped it would be him. "These people have given us a home, and comfort, and safety."
"Comfort, you call this comfort?!" Jehan suddenly yelled, making Claude flinch. Instantly, he seemed to regret it, voice lowering into a tearful whisper as he continued to gesture with shaking hands in ways only his drunken mind understood. "You call this safety?" He shook his head, sniffling as he stepped back towards Florika.
"Well, you can have it." Jehan attempted to blink away his tears, giving a mock bow in his brother's direction on unsteady legs. "You're welcome to it." His voice continued to tremble as he reached for Florika's hand, and as she took it, the duo shoved past Claude out the door without another word.
That was the last he saw of his brother.
Jehan began to stumble the moment he was out the door, lurching forward and grabbing onto Florika for support, just barely managing to keep them both from toppling to the ground. His head spun, eyes still stinging with tears as he sniffed again to wipe them from his face. Florika said nothing, lips pursed as she returned his grip on her hand, casting another final glance at the Notre Dame cathedral as the two cast it off, never to return.
Jehan left its walls countless times before, most every night, but never with the finality he was leaving them with now. He would go into town and enjoy the nightlife, the brothels, the taverns, living as he pleased, and then return to his sanctuary with Claude and the churchgoers. That was how it always was, just as much a part of their routine as the sermons. Jehan always reasoned that if they wanted to truly punish him for his behavior, they would've a long time ago, so he felt no fear or unease when he brought Florika in for Claude. It would have been a funny story, one they'd laugh about next year, maybe... anything but what actually transpired.
That wasn't supposed to happen. He expected a scolding at worst, nothing harsher than the usual lecture he would daydream his way out of listening to — Claude loved him, and Father Dupin loved him, and... and... they never would have let this happen. They loved him more than they hated the alcohol, or the festivities, or the whores, so it never mattered what he did, right? He was still their boy, the boy the church had spent the past ten years raising, from a starved child on the streets — and all of it was discarded in an instant, because... because of this?
It wasn't fair! It wasn't fair at all, and... and...
Jehan wasn't fully certain what he wanted to say, but he felt as if he had to say something. "Bet... I-I... bet they were waiting to do that. Claude's always been..." He went silent — with all of the feelings in his head, cultivating in a drunken stupor, he could barely land on a single word to describe how he felt towards Claude in that moment. Angry felt like a good start, but from there, he wasn't sure. Claude was the intellectual of the two, he always had been, not his dull, dim-witted, stumbling brother — and so, all Jehan could settle on, was "...weird."
"Oh, I could tell." Florika chuckled, somewhere between her usual light-hearted tone and what Jehan wanted to think was sympathy for him. He couldn't be sure — her entire job was to make him feel better, but he guessed that dealing with a customer being excommunicated wasn't something the prostitutes were taught. He was unsure how to deal with it himself, loosening his sweaty hand's grip on the bottle he'd emptied and tossing it down an alleyway. The sound of the shattering glass made Florika wince a little, but it was all Jehan could do to get his emotions out.
Anger at Claude and Father Dupin, pity at himself, and the unholy mixture of disgust, fear, and Lord knew what else, were berating Jehan's mind from every angle.
"Are you going to be alright?" Florika asked, her voice soft, and then Jehan knew she was sympathetic. At least someone was. He let out a trembling sigh — for once, he wasn't sure, but he didn't wish to bother Florika about it, not on top of everything else she must have endured tonight. He ran a hand through his hair, still jittering and restless, whether from the alcohol or the panic he wasn't sure.
Florika clicked her tongue, and Jehan was embarrassed at how pained he felt when she pulled away from his hand. She stepped in front of him, tilting her head to the side as she met his gaze. He appeared a disaster, no doubt, but there was no judgment — or so he hoped — in Florika's expression as she spoke. "Hey, c'mon, prettyboy, look at me."
There was a moment's pause as Jehan gathered his bearings, then looked her in the eye. She shook her head with a small smile, as amiable and carefree as ever, and in a moment, Jehan's worries began to melt. "I doubt you were getting much out of that place anyway."
"No, not really..." Jehan wasn't truthful, but it would be better for him to think positively, for now. Think positively and let his tears dry, for now, focusing on his freedom and on Florika. He could worry over what to do later.
Lightly cupping his face, she brushed his cheek with her thumb. "I have somewhere you can stay. It may not be..." She paused for a moment, and her nose wrinkled as if in disapproval. "...the cathedral, but I won't let you catch your death of cold out here." She leaned forward, needing to shift onto her toes a little, to kiss Jehan.
It was soft, caring, a delicate touch of her lips to his, unlike the rough and passionate ones they'd shared in taverns and alleyways before. It was affection he was practically a stranger to, but nothing he objected. Florika laughed when she saw the grin he bore when she pulled away, and he felt his face heat up again. Jehan Frollo was never a modest man, but after tonight, he supposed anything could happen.
And that was good, right? Who needed that strict, uptight old church, anyway?
Meanwhile, Claude's life felt almost empty from the night Jehan was excommunicated. On the surface, there was very little real change, as Jehan was slipping away from Notre Dame long before the fateful night with that Romani girl, but Claude grew painfully aware of the other bed in his room that would forever remain empty. Truthfully, he still viewed Jehan as a child, despite only having an age difference of three years, with how he had been all but forced to father him following their parents' death, and it stung his heart to think his younger brother was out alone in the world.
Wherever he was, Claude had no clue, and it worried him sick to think about — possibly he was with that whore, or a group of beggars and scoundrels like the ones in the rumored "Court of Miracles", catching diseases or starving to death or freezing out in the winter, everything Claude vowed to shield him from when he began to raise him. Following Jehan's departure, Claude had asked Father Dupin about taking it back, but the archdeacon's mind was made up. Punishment for Jehan's hedonism was long overdue, Claude agreed, but it made his anxieties no lesser.
The world was cruel and ugly out there, and the brothers had experienced it firsthand. Why Jehan wanted to return to it was beyond him, and now that he had, there was no calming Claude's paranoia. He was unsure what he expected, when he sat awake later than usual some nights, leaving the door to their room open just in case, even when the snow blew in. He knew nothing would come of it, and that Jehan being officially exiled was the final push he needed to leave just like he'd wanted, but Claude still hoped against hope that he would return.
It never happened, and when one of the nuns finally snapped at him one morning for letting rain and wind come in, he stopped trying.
He finally decided that there was no room in his heart for fear, after he spent night after night tossing and turning in the wake of his brother's absence. Some would have called it immature — many did, in fact — but Jehan was the only person Claude had ever loved, and with how vehement the church seemed to be in pretending their failed scholar never existed, he felt as if that love was for nothing. He wanted to believe Jehan still loved him in return, but it would be no surprise if he didn't. Whether he did or not, though, there was no way of telling, as time crawled on and Claude didn't hear from his brother for several years.
By that point, he began to bury himself in his studies, turning to faith even more strongly than he had before. He wished to become a clergyman, able to educate people like Jehan before they went astray. He became a star student, a role model near everyone in Paris looked to, but it still felt hollow. He was complimented often on how wise beyond his years he was, but he found it more of a curse than a blessing. Looking at himself, dark circles formed even deeper than before beneath his eyes, and he had always been rather bony, but his face was almost skeletal when he saw it in the mirror, and his hair was beginning to thin and fall out with stress. He wasn't sure if the raising or the departure of Jehan was what did it to him, but regardless, he wasn't the same person he was upon being taken in by Notre Dame.
He was a smart person, Father Dupin had told him over and over again, and it showed in his studies and how quickly he ascended through the ranks of the church. When he was named the archdeacon at last, following the elder's retirement, he was thankful for how much he'd learned and grown, and being granted the ability to spread that knowledge to others. He had vowed long ago to worry for Jehan no longer, for his own sanity, but he couldn't help it, either.
Eventually, his prayers would be answered one doleful day. A letter was passed to him by a woman, saying it was for his eyes only. Upon opening it, he didn't recognize the handwriting, and its message to meet the sender urgently in a far-off city was only confusing until he saw the name that it bore: Jehan.
Claude froze when he saw it, and immediately the memories came flooding back. Truth be told, he didn't expect that his brother was still alive after all of these years, even when it was something he never acknowledged out of fear of thinking it into fruition. Why now? Why did it take so long to contact him — and what happened to make him do so now?
Had he finally realized the error of his ways?
As much as he dreaded to leave his sanctuary, Claude had no choice but to follow the letter's directions. The brothers may have had their fundamental differences, but what kind of guardian would he be if he didn't go to him in this time of need? Concealing his face and body with a dark cloak that just hung over his long robes, and a lantern in tow, for one of the only times in his life, Claude snuck out.
He shuddered to think where Jehan may have been living now, so far away from Notre Dame and its teachings, but he would get him away from those sinful places and bring him home. They would be together in their holy sanctuary, and Jehan would really listen to him this time. Claude's life would have purpose again.
Everything would be fine.
Everything hadn't been fine for a while.
At first, definitely! They were better than fine! Florika took him in, he helped work at the brothel, and despite his fear at first, Jehan realized that he really was living his dreams! He was around the woman he loved, and following her pregnancy, they set to traveling from place to place after the brothel fired her. There was no care in the world for them, even when they were scraping by with so very little.
The birth of their son, despite his misshapen state, was one of the happiest moments of Jehan's life. Some might've called it a curse, but Jehan never believed in any of that — he was their son, no matter how hideous or deformed. The midwife even offered to have the child given up to an orphanage upon seeing his appearance, and Jehan immediately swallowed down his shock at it himself to snap at her that nobody was going to take their child from them.
What he never considered until it was too late, though, was that their son's deformities were only the beginning of the couple's misfortune. Florika fell ill a mere week after the birth — first, fatigue and headaches he foolishly brushed off as some mother thing (What was he supposed to know? He wasn't a mother!), then rough and ugly rashes and patches along her skin and frequent vomiting. Nothing pained Jehan more than seeing her suffer and being unable to do a thing for it.
They came from two vastly different worlds, Florika brought up from a rough and rotten childhood in the slums of Paris, never even taught to read or write, while Jehan was given the treatment of a king with how many clergymen were at his aid as he grew. His early life was rougher, but he managed to crawl his way out of it, whereas Florika never could. He didn't understand true suffering, and had never felt more useless than he had when she went cold beneath him, having left the world mere weeks after her son came into it.
So there Jehan was, working through his grief to be a father himself. He was... not particularly great at it, never having been one for responsibilities of any kind, no matter how personal, but he hoped at least that the effort was appreciated by the little half-formed baby. He wasn't sure what he'd do when his child grew big enough to be walking and talking, with Jehan the only source of information on how to do so, but he believed he would manage.
As long as nothing bad happened to him. And nothing bad would happen to him, right?
By this time he found the same blemishes on his skin as on his late partner's, Jehan was beginning to believe in curses again.
From there, he seemed to lose his strength and energy all at once, vomiting up what little water he could keep down as his bedsheets grew soiled with pus. He realized he wasn't long for this world, especially not after seeing Florika waste away before his very eyes. The matron of the brothel the two worked at now, at the very least, was kind enough to look after their son as Jehan grew weaker and weaker, but even that kindness would run out soon enough.
He asked one of the workers to pen a letter for him, unsure if it would even reach its destination, but he wasn't in much of a state to travel anymore.
He knew Claude wouldn't be immediately accepting of such a malformed child, but he was Jehan's only option. Even then, he figured his brother would want to see him on his deathbed, rather than live the rest of his life worrying himself ragged about his whereabouts. Last Jehan heard, he had ascended to archdeacon of Notre Dame, and even though he would forever disagree with the church's ideals, he couldn't help but be proud for his brother, either.
Claude looked as if he'd aged a century when he rushed through the bedroom door to appear at Jehan's side. His hair was graying, thinning, his eyes sunken in even further than before, but Jehan was no less happy to see him. It had been years now, and he managed an uneasy smile as he forced himself to sit up with a groan to greet him.
"Hello, brother dear..."
"Jehan!" Claude gasped. "Oh, thank God, where have you been?!" Ah, that old question. Like music to his ears.
"Traveling." Jehan's voice was strained and hoarse, he could tell, but he didn't have the strength to clear his throat. "Ousted from city to city, with my beautiful Florika..."
Claude's expression soured, and he shook his head in disappointment. Jehan wasn't surprised, but it still gave him a pang to see. "That... that girl, you're with her?"
Jehan's eyes shut, and he exhaled, fingers scratching the edges of the blanket over his lap. It was too recent, too fresh in his mind to say, but he had to. "She died, three weeks ago. The pox." Claude's expression was unreadable as Jehan's hand moved to his heart, shaking his head. "T...terrible thing, to watch her suffer."
"Jehan—" Claude knelt by the bedside, hands on Jehan's shoulders. He found himself instinctively leaning into the touch, and while it wasn't the main concern, he was happy to find his normally germ-fearing brother not pulling away. "Let me take you back. I'll bring you home."
The aching returned, and his breathing grew labored as Claude's grip on him tightened, staring intently into him. Jehan could only blink slowly through the pain. "Come with me. We can find a remedy for this sickness."
Jehan suddenly winced at a sharp stab of pain, panting increasing. He could feel the alarmed Claude shift so his arms were around him, holding him close in a way they hadn't done since they were two starved children living under bridges. "I can heal your body and your soul. We'll be together again, in our holy sanctuary—"
The idea brought Jehan none of the comfort it was meant to, only anger at the audacity. Summoning strength he didn't know he still had, Jehan shoved his brother's hands away. "Enough, Claude, enough of your pieties, it's too late for me, anyway!" He snapped, lowering his voice upon seeing how the other flinched away. "But... if you truly have discovered charity at this late date..."
He nodded towards the doorway, where Claude followed his gaze to the matron holding his barely six-week-old boy bound in ragged green cloth.
"...there is someone you can help."
Claude's eyes were wide as he extended his arms to reach for the baby, slowly and carefully, even when unaware of how fragile it truly was. "A baby? Yours?" He turned his head towards Jehan with pride welling in his eyes as the other nodded.
Uneasily, as if he were handling a precious artifact, Claude lifted the cloth from the child's face, only to immediately recoil with horror. "Oh! A monster...!" Quickly, he pulled it back over its head, turning to Jehan with wide eyes, the neurotic edge to his voice the other didn't particularly miss starting to return as he crossed himself. "It's God's judgment on you! The wicked shall not go unpunished—! "
"I should have known." Jehan huffed, wishing to stop that panicked lecture before it started. He lowered his head with a sigh — disappointment wasn't an emotion he expressed often, but here, he had to make it known that there were more important matters at hand. "I was a fool to think that you would look after him."
Claude blinked, looking puzzled. "Look after him, me?"
Jehan tipped his head towards the doorway the matron had vanished from. "He has nobody else."
"But he's deformed! A deformed Romani child born out of wedlock in these- these slums— " Claude began, starting to wildly gesture as well as he could with the baby still in his arms.
"And my child as well, lest we forget." Jehan glared, silencing his brother as he shifted in his bed with another wheeze. He had gone so many days now, bedridden with nothing to do, that just this interaction seemed to be sapping his strength. "Take him."
He could feel his grip on his blanket loosen, feeling like he was about to sink into the bed beneath him for good as his head lolled limply back. He wasn't even sure if he was forming words or if they were just in his head when he croaked out, "if you can find it in your heart."
Claude's gaze went from the baby to Jehan. He opened his mouth to speak, but his brother could barely hear him anymore. He was too tired for this, as much as he wanted to stay awake longer, tell Claude everything he'd experienced in their time apart, tell him about his son, about Florika, about...
He knew it was a possibility. It was always lurking in the back of Claude's head from the moment he'd stepped in, that Jehan wouldn't last the hour. He had seen more than enough people on their deathbeds as he gave them their last rites to recognize the looks in their eyes, the expression of someone who knew their time was short. He just didn't want to believe it. He wanted to believe that faith could get them through this, that they could be happy together again like they were supposed to.
Jehan's skin was damp with sweat and already chilled as Claude shook his shoulder, though he knew the stench of death immediately. His brother was usually so warm and lively, even if through the buzz of wine more often than not, and feeling him as cold as a mere object felt wrong, wrong, wrong. The life Claude had spent most of his own nurturing and protecting was snuffed out in an instant, all because of some whore that took him away and brought him to this sinful lifestyle, gave him this mangled half-formed child as a testament to his failures, and then a disease that cut his life short.
Cut his life short after Claude did everything he could to keep him safe. He cared about Jehan's safety more than his own, and this is how the Lord repaid him? Or was this punishment for not being stronger for him, not stopping him from seeing that sorceress or sneaking out at night? He thought he had done everything right, but apparently not, and this was his punishment for it. His cross to bear. His—
The baby let out a loud sob, beginning to wail.
Its disgusting features were even more twisted in its misery, splotchy face with odd dark markings turning blood-colored as it started to cry, its crooked teeth and overbite apparent as it quivered its lip, tears flowing from its one human eye and beneath the wart obscuring the other. Claude's hands shook until the visage of the hideous monster in his arms was completely blurred by his own weeping.
Quickly, he turned to dash out the door, roughly shoving the matron aside as he ran through the disgusting, grime-ridden brothel his brother shouldn't have had to spend his last breath in. The wind was whirling outside, the cold and fresh air doing nothing to ease his panicked breathing, the snow crunching beneath his feet as he ran blindly through the night.
This place took away the only thing that had ever made him happy, rewarded his love and care with the most grievous loss he could imagine. The thing Jehan called a son was sole proof of that. Punishment for his sins in life, God's judgment on the wicked in the form of a grotesque, crippled mockery of a human being that could only come from the womb of a penniless whore and a reviled alcoholic.
It wouldn't stop screaming. It felt like nails being driven into his ears, and the jostling of being held in trembling hands as Claude ran to find someplace far away from here only made it cry more. All he could see was blue, black, and gray blobs only vaguely resembling buildings, statues, sky, and snow. He felt as if he was going to double over any moment, whether from the exertion or the grief, he didn't know.
Whipping his head around and blinking away tears, he finally caught sight of a well with snow along its rims. Scrambling up towards it, nearly slipping and falling on the ice more than once, he raised the creature high above his head in preparation to throw it down, out of sight, drown it like the mistake it was—
—before he stopped himself. Or, rather, something stopped him. Through the murkiness of his grief and fury, a twinge of fear stabbed through, and it was enough to make him stop in his tracks. This was a child in his arms. His brother's child. His... nephew. Florika may have been a treacherous whore, but even she didn't snuff out its life. How could the illiterate prostitute whose only foray into a church was to harass a clergyman show more kindness to this creature than him?
Lowering his arms, the baby's crying ceased as Claude clutched it to his chest, unable to shake the feeling he was being watched. He felt the gaze of the frost-covered statues around him as if they were the eyes of the Lord Himself, having watched someone who dedicated his life to serving in His name attempt to murder his own nephew out of hysteria. He shuddered, though the cold had little to do with it.
"Oh, Lord..." His voice was weak and hoarse, as if the death of Jehan had aged him by a decade. This was too surreal, too detached from any semblance of reality, but he was certain the hesitance he felt was divine intervention. "You've sent me a test. This child is my... cross to bear." His shoulders slumped as he let out a shaking breath, tears still streaked upon his face as his heart continued to hammer in his chest.
Claude swallowed, attempting to steady himself and speak levelly. "I may not have saved my brother, but I will save this..."
Looking upon the child, his resolve died. This was all that was left of Jehan — a humpbacked, half blind infant with crooked limbs and splotchy skin, grotesque beyond all imagination, as a monument to his sins.
It was a truly loathsome creature, but Claude was a holy man. He had to show kindness to it, just as the Lord showed kindness to all. Lesser men would have drowned it upon sight — it was Claude who had the conscience to spare it.
He would keep and care for it in Jehan's absence, just as he kept and cared for their home after his excommunication. He would never have forgiven Claude if he fled from the child, left it to rot in a watery grave or freeze in the snow. Foolish as Jehan was, he loved his son, the care he gave it in the few seconds Claude saw them together making that abundantly clear.
This could be his chance to start again, raise someone up to holiness like he'd failed to do with Jehan. He wasn't a failed brother yet — God was giving him another chance to teach someone close to him to be just as righteous. While its appearance was that of a monster, the baby was pure of heart, untainted by its father's licentious and sinful behavior. The only beauty that mattered would be the precious light that came from within.
His name meant "half-formed", Quasimodo was told. It was an accurate description — he didn't see many people around except for his Master, but the few he did often recoiled at the sight of his twisted features. He was also told he was half-formed because of his family, as punishment for the mother's perversion and the father's recklessness, but his Master, his father's brother, was kind enough to look beyond that and raise him as a son.
Quasimodo lived far up in the bell-tower, he always had. He helped to keep it clean, even when he didn't walk as well as his Master, but he learned early on how to avoid slipping and spilling anything. He cleaned the floors, and the statues, and the bells, and the bells were the most important! He rang them every day, right on time, controlling the schedules and working days of every single one of the tiny little townspeople he saw from up there.
Oh, how he wished he could see them up close. He wished almost every night that he could walk among them one day, even when his Master told him it was dangerous. He couldn't hear much, having made the bells sing too much for his poor ears to handle, but if he strained hard enough he could hear the people from the square shout and laugh. He wanted someone to shout and laugh with. He wanted to be able to wander in pairs and groups like them, but all he had up here was the statues.
But that wasn't to say the statues weren't nice! The saints cared for him, and the gargoyles protected him. There were special chimes that played in his head for each one, and the three gargoyles that watched over the city were especially good to him. He could hear their voices so much clearer than he could hear those of his Master or the townspeople — his Master told him constantly that stone couldn't talk, and he knew that wasn't true, but Quasimodo didn't like to upset his Master Frollo, either, so he reminded himself to not talk about the statues in front of him.
His Master was a kind and patient man, even when he was upset about the statues. He took Quasimodo in when no one else would, and gave him a view of Paris even the king likely didn't have. He taught him stories from the Bible, speaking slowly and deliberately to him so he'd understand. Quasimodo could hear some, yes, but everything was muffled, and it was much easier when he had lips to read, or hand-signs like the ones he and his Master made. Quasimodo was far better at signing than speaking, but in the real city, not many people signed, so he would have to learn to speak better.
...he wasn't very good at it, truthfully. He remembered he could speak when he was younger, albeit still with a rasp, but when he stopped being able to hear, it was almost as if he'd forgotten how. His voice was coarse, rough, and loud, and full sentences seemed to fail him sometimes. But he would learn — it was one of the many, many things his Master was teaching him.
He would need to talk to the townspeople after all, and he practiced and practiced for that "someday, maybe" when he would finally be able to wander like Master Frollo promised.
Nothing could have prepared Frollo for the stress that came with raising Quasimodo — and here he thought Jehan had been a handful. Jehan had autonomy (unfortunately), he could speak and think and do things for himself, even when those things invariably caused a mess and embarrassed himself and everyone else.
Quasimodo needed help with everything. At first, Frollo was naïve enough to think the boy's issues were only physical — his hunched back, deformed face, stumbling walk, the traits Frollo learned to look upon without fear — but it seemed the Lord had a much longer line of misfortunes in mind for the boy.
He couldn't forget the haunting day when Quasimodo was fourteen, shambling towards him and screeching at the top of his lungs in a panic as his eardrums bled. Nor could he forget the way his heart dropped when he heard the boy describing how the statues in the cathedral supposedly spoke to him. The man-child was to be his toughest challenge yet, and it showed in how the experience aged him.
Ultimately, though, it was a blessing as much as it was a curse, Frollo thought as he read to Quasimodo the story of Saint Aphrodisius for the third day in a row — it was less so for the spiritual merit, moreso for the speech therapy merit, as the boy continued to slur the titular saint's name — lack of autonomy meant lack of disobedience. The most disobedient the hunchback had ever been was when he neglected table manners — the sinful world beyond Notre Dame was a mystery to him. He wouldn't be drinking alcohol, or running away with the outcasts of society, and after twenty years of dealing with Jehan, it was a relief.
If only his brother had been this crippled, Frollo thought darkly, with a misshapen face even the lowest of prostitutes wouldn't go near, crooked hands permanently bent inward, unable to roam to unholy places, deaf to the poison that the lowlives outside of the cathedral spewed. Both of their lives would have been far easier.
Quasimodo rocked happily in place as Frollo closed his book to depart, balled-up hands excitedly drumming the bench they used for a makeshift table during his studies. No impure thoughts, no need to wander astray, no dissatisfaction or ungratefulness. Despite his disfigurement, Quasimodo truly was the picture of piety. The simple, obedient, well-mannered Catholic boy Frollo should have raised forty years ago.
He may have failed as a brother before, letting Jehan die alone in a filthy slum district, but the Lord gave him another chance. This time, he wouldn't let it happen. Every human was born a sinner, that Frollo knew well, but he would try his hardest to raise one as pure as possible. The isolation was necessary — if he was properly isolated, Jehan never would have strayed into temptation. How could he protect a young, impressionable mind like his unless he always stayed in here? The world was too cruel and wicked for those desperate souls, but here, Frollo had raised a boy with no concept of desperation. He had no yearn for more, he was happy here in his sanctuary, and that was all that mattered.
Finally, Frollo's debt was paying off.