A/N: Well, this just took forever and a day to get done. Literally, I've been working on this since March, and I think the sheer length of it explains why. I am sorry for not getting this out sooner. I suppose I could have cut this into pieces, but I desperately wanted to keep this a three-shot (for reasons I don't even know!) And that means, if you are wondering, yes: there is going to be one more part of the story after this. (But just how long will it take to get that out…)
Anyway, I hope this part makes up for the long wait. I can't believe how many reviews this has gotten – I was expecting two at the most! So, thank you all for your kind and insightful reviews. I hope you all let me know how you like this next installment!
Par usual, please review and enjoy!
Belle stood in front of her bookcase, her eyes scanning the various titles and covers assembled in front of her. She only had a meager amount of books with her in Paris, but she had been able to expand her collection by searching through small bookstores and bargaining in markets the few weeks past. Some were worse for wear then others, but all of their words were still on their pages, which is all that really mattered to Belle.
The sun had set, and a single candle was lit to illuminate Belle's small but well-furnished room. Even though her room here in Paris was smaller than the one in their old cottage, she was perfectly happy with her accommodations. Belle had never cared much for luxuries anyway – all she needed was a bed, a candle and a bookcase and she could live comfortably for a very long time. Besides, Belle spent very little time in her house, having always preferred the expansive to the confined. Still, it was always nice to return to her own protective bubble after a day of stares and snickers from strangers. The only ones she need worry about at home were her father and her books, both company she delighted in keeping.
Tonight, however, she had a job to do. A job she enlisted herself to do, of course, and one that was hardly a chore, but a difficult task nonetheless. Choosing a novel for her new friend to read for the first time was proving more difficult then she thought it would be.
Friend. Well, they weren't exactly friends yet, Belle supposed. But she liked the thought of it anyway. It actually surprised her quite a bit how happy the prospect of her and Quasimodo becoming friends made her. But perhaps it wasn't that surprising, considering Belle never had a friend in her life. A real one, that is.
Belle reached out and traced the edges of the books with her delicate fingers. She was feeling leather and paper, but in her mind, she was tracing the contours of that unusual man's face – every crooked line, every asymmetrical shape. It was so unlike the rigid and symmetrical formation of her novels. There was no rhyme or reason to his build-up, with curves and angles everywhere they weren't supposed to be. Everything about him was awkward and out of place.
But that was why she liked him. In a world full of squares, Belle found it oddly comforting and refreshing to find a fellow circle. Quasimodo had no choice in the matter of the way he looked, just like Belle couldn't change her mind and personality even if she bothered to try. They were both outcasts. They were both misunderstood. They both didn't belong. But maybe, just maybe, they could find someplace they belonged with each other. Belle knew it was a strange thought. But perhaps that's what makes it all the more perfect for people as strange as we are, Belle thought with a smirk.
Belle was having trouble deciding what to bring Quasimodo to read the following evening, as she promised she would. Interestingly enough, for someone as poor as he, Quasimodo was remarkably intelligent. To know three languages was something Belle could only dream of, and yet the bell ringer could speak them all flawlessly. But at the same time, Quasimodo had none of the impressions of a scholar. Some of it had to do with his appearance, true, but it had even more to do with his personality. The boy had nearly no confidence in his own mind, unlike most educated people. Belle supposed it had something to do with being shunned and despised by the populace for so long, but it was probably more due to that so-called "master" of his. Belle shuddered with revulsion at the very thought of him. She hadn't even met the man and she was already furious with him. Whatever kind of man that could put so much hurt and fear into Quasimodo's soft green eyes could be no less that evil in her opinion.
Forcing herself to focus, Belle wondered if Quasimodo would enjoy reading more high-class and renowned works. She only had French novels, but Belle could pick up some Greek play in the market place in the morning, perhaps. But she had no idea what kind of books he liked. She doubted he knew either, considering the only book he had read in his life was the Bible. Would he want some high-strung adventure, or perhaps something more thoughtful?
Her eyes stopped on a thick spine that protruded from the edge of the bookcase. It was a collection of French fairytales – one of Belle's favorites. She had loved reading them as a girl, but Belle still found herself rereading those stories even as a young woman. She picked up the book and flipped through its pages. Illustrations and words she knew almost by heart flew by with every flip, giving the impression that the stories were ready to jump right out of the storybook. Everything about the fairytales was fanciful and naïve; even if there were some dark parts here and there, a happy ending was guaranteed. As much has Belle loved her sophisticated novels, having the reassurance of a happy ending was always a nice place to fall back to.
Belle thought back to her encounter from that afternoon: the damp sunlight danced off the bell tower's stone walls and golden bells, illuminating his stained glass and figurines, and revealing Quasimodo's figure from the shadows. But what she remembered best about it all was Quasimodo's eyes. Despite all of his deformities, it was his eyes that truly made Quasimodo who he was. Even after only a few minutes spent with him, Belle could tell that he was no monster – monsters don't have eyes like Quasimodo's. They were a soft emerald green, one of the most unusual yet stunning colors Belle had ever seen. Their brilliance was usually clouded by the pain and fear that mirrored his hunched-over and closed posture. But once or twice, his fear lifted, like the sun peaking through the clouds; and if only for a few seconds, his eyes glistened the most beautiful color Belle had ever be held. Though the clouds quickly came in again and their brilliance retreated, she knew that the beauty she saw in those glimmering eyes was the real Quasimodo. And now that she had found him, she desperately wanted to find him again. She needed a way to chase the shadows from his eyes and draw his shy yet shimmering personality into the light.
Perhaps, thought Belle, what Quasimodo really needs is a happy ending.
Belle smiled, remembering the man who acted more like a boy when she first met him. She closed the book in her hands, and decided that she would bring the collection of fairytales to him the next evening.
The door to their home then creaked open. Belle put the book on her desk as her father walked in and gave her a tired smile, the result of a long day at business, no doubt. "Hello, darling. Are you just going to bed?"
"Yes Papa. But sleep can always wait," said Belle with a grin, stepping out of her room to hug her father.
"Aw, don't give me that," said her father playfully, "If you're going to sleep, go to sleep. I'm just going to get myself something to drink, and then I'll be off to bed as well."
But Belle wouldn't give in, insisting on spending the few moments she could with her father. She barely saw him during the day, what with him constantly out and about trying to get recognition for his inventions. They sat down at their small table, drinks in hand, and after a few minutes of conversation her father asked the same question he asked her every day: "Did you make any friends in town today?"
Belle never had a different answer to this question before in her life. Tonight, however, she realized she did. She felt her stomach flutter with joy at that one simple thought as she answered him:
"Yes Papa. I think I did."
"T-t-thank you for the book," said Quasimodo with a toothy grin. Belle noticed that his cheeks were red as he handed back the book to her, but she also noticed a hint of that beautiful gleam in his eyes. The shy creature still stood rather awkwardly and closed up, embarrassed and bashful, but his expression was the happiest Belle had seen from him since they'd met.
Belle had delivered the book to Quasimodo after sunset a few days ago, and since then she had been restless. She was unable to keep her mind as clear and absorbed as usual, often bumping into passerby's even when she wasn't reading. She scolded herself for being overeager to meet with Quasimodo again and tried to rationalize that giving him one book barely meant anything. But after what she thought were a sufficient amount of days passed, Belle was just about ready to bolt to the bell tower. It took a lot of effort to keep up her façade of nonchalance and self-control that evening, when on the inside Belle was no less than a raging ball of anticipation.
At Quasimodo's words, Belle finally felt her shoulders go lax, and she breathed in a small sigh of relief. "Did you like it?" But she did have to ask. His shining eyes said it all.
"Very, very much," said Quasimodo, with no quiver in his voice this time. When he reached out to graciously hand the book over to Belle, which she took from him with a smile, she thought she saw his cheeks turn a slightly deeper shade of red.
"Well, then, what should I bring for you next time? I mean, if you want to keep doing this. If you like it," said Belle a bit hurriedly, a part of her worried that he would say no.
"I. Um. A-a-actually" murmured Quasimodo as he looked down as his hands, which he was frantically rubbing together. "I was thinking…maybe… are you still reading that English poem?"
"Oh…well, yes," answered Belle, a bit confused.
"Well…I-I was thinking that…I would like to learn some English too, and I was wondering if we could…maybe…read it…together?" Quasimodo's voice had gotten quieter and quieter, until it was no more than a whisper when he uttered his last words. His expression was worrisome and doubtful, but also held a hint of hope.
Belle, on the other hand, resisted the urge to jump up and down. This was exactly what she wanted. Butterflies threatened to burst from her chest from the bliss. The rational part of her reminded Belle that she shouldn't be overreacting to his proposal like this, but the rest of her simply didn't care. Quasimodo was opening up to her already; reading with him would be the perfect way to get him to feel comfortable in his own skin – and hopefully around her.
"Yes Quasimodo," said Belle with an eager grin, "I think that's a wonderful idea."
So they decided to meet each other every night in the bell tower after sunset. Belle would bring Beowulf with her, usually along with a copy of a book for Quasimodo to read during the day. Sometimes it would be a book or play she borrowed from somebody or the library (mostly material in Greek and Latin that Belle couldn't even begin to guess was about) and other times it would be one of her own novels. Quasimodo usually returned them the next evening completely finished, even the books that usually took her days to read.
At first they tried reading together by candlelight on his makeshift desk, but both found that to be troublesome and irksome with the lack of light and space. Then Quasimodo suggested that they read together on top of the tower. Belle was a bit wary about this idea, but all of her doubts were erased the moment she reached the top and saw the view. It was break-taking - it was like nothing she had ever seen before. Even at night the entire city was visible, twinkling with lights from houses, and the Seine that encircled the cathedral glimmered in the moonlight. It was with this moonlight and the added assistance of some candles that Belle and Quasimodo huddled together and tried to dissect the epic English poem.
Belle was astounded at the rapid rate Quasimodo learned. Belle knew that he was unusually bright, but Quasimodo was more than just educated: he had a mind that naturally observed and absorbed everything around him. Quasimodo had a love for learning. Within the first two weeks, he had reached the same level of understanding English that Belle was at after seven months. Soon, he was the one who was helping her. And Belle simply couldn't be upset about it. Normally she would be overly-envious (even the best of people have egos), but watching the way his face lit up when they were reading together made her too happy to be upset.
It didn't take as long as she thought it would for Quasimodo to open up around her. He was still a bit awkward when he spoke directly to her, but Belle had learned much by just observing him when they read together. She found so many little things about him that enchanted her that she didn't see before. She came to treasure the light tone of his laugh, the slight dimples of his chin, and the handsome shade of his ginger hair. The way he effortlessly slid and climbed through the entire tower left Belle breathless as well. He looked like he was flying when he swung too and for from his bells (Quasimodo felt comfortable enough to introduce her to them after a few days). He almost looked like he had wings – like some sort of strange yet wonderful angel.
She also very, very much liked the way his large and brutish hands tenderly enfolded hers. Quasimodo was very nervous to touch Belle at all at first, for reasons unbeknownst to her, but he decided it was necessary for him to hold her hand as they climbed to the top of the bell tower together through the unsteady-looking banisters and steps. She hadn't expected to like how her hand felt in his as much as it did. She liked it much more then she probably should have. But she liked it. A lot.
And as time passed, Belle couldn't help but think that he liked it as well. He soon started to become reluctant to let go of her hand once they reached the tower. It eventually got to the point where neither of them really let go of each other's hands - they would just stand by the edge of the tower together for a while, looking out silently over the city. Belle would sometimes glance over at him with an affectionate look in her eye, then quickly look forward when his eyes started to glance her way. With a few of these sneaky side-glances, she could see that that he was doing the same.
Belle couldn't decide what she loved more - the moments they shared spoken or in silence. But in either case, the highlight of her entire day always came after sunset. It started with a little buzz of excitement when they first started to meet, but as weeks passed, Belle found it near impossible to keep herself from going mad with anticipation during the day. The thought of the safety and seclusion of the bell tower and its bellringer was what got her through the day, especially the days of cruel whispers and glares. She no longer cared what those fools thought of her. All she cared about anymore was her father and her Quasimodo.
Her Quasimodo. Belle instantly blushed at the thought. She stuck her head further into her book, as if she thought some passerby might be able read her mind with that blush. But a glowing smile was not lost on her lips.
Belle was sitting in the square of Notre Dame that late afternoon. Belle had no more chores or errands to occupy her mind that day, so she instinctively migrated towards her favorite spot in the city. She sat in Notre Dame's square most every day now. Though she couldn't meet up with him until sunset, it made her feel warm inside to think that Quasimodo was nearby. Perhaps even watching her. This idea caused Belle's cheeks to turn even redder, but with embarrassment or delight, she herself couldn't be sure. But Belle had a creeping sense that it was the latter.
Why am I acting like this? Thought Belle, for once in her life only pretending to be engrossed with the words on the pages in front of her. I've only known him for a few weeks. I'm not the sort of girl to fall this far for any sort of man. I'm not like those idiotic and empty-headed girls in the village who obsess over men every minute of every day. I'm sensible. I'm intelligent.
…Am I in love?
Belle snapped her head up. Her hands trembled. She squeezed her eyes shut, and shook her head.
No. No, she wouldn't allow herself to think like this. Quasimodo is a dear friend. A wonderful, amazing, incredible dear friend…But only a friend.
Belle sighed. Nothing more.
She rested her head on her hand, allowing her eyes and mind to roam. She quickly caught sight of a young woman a few yards away from her. She was dark-skinned with raven hair: a Rrom. Her kind were also (mistakenly) called Egyptians, though more commonly referred to as "gypsies". She was decked in bright purples and golds, spinning and dancing to the beat of her tambourine. A few other Roma surrounded her, playing various instruments, and a small white goat pranced around her feet.
The girl was just about Belle's age, but was living a completely different life. Belle knew that it wasn't right, but she sometimes almost wished to be a part of the Romani life. Nothing tying you down, roaming wherever you please – it all seemed very appealing to the free-spirited girl. So many of the Roma were scorned for who there were, and the life of one could not be easy. But still, Belle could imagine living a happy life as a gypsy. She was mad for thinking so, of course. But then, what else was new?
In one of her spins, the Roma girl locked eyes with her. Her eyes were sparkling emerald green. Just like Quasimodo's. Belle gave her a small but friendly smile, and the gypsy girl smiled back. But her eyes suddenly grew dark, and before Belle knew what was happening, the Roma girl and the other gypsies were gone.
A shadow fell over her. Looking up, Belle could see a tall and intimating figure atop a pitch-black horse. Her stomach lurched a bit at the sight. The man was decked in all black, his face long and tight, and his eyes unmercifully hardened. His eyes were nothing like the Rrom or Quasimodo's – they were dark, calculating and scrutinizing everything they set their sights on. She wanted to bolt at the sight of him, but it was too late now.
"Mademoiselle," said the man in a deep, commanding voice, "It's best for you not to be out alone at this hour. Thieves and tricksters are at every corner at this time of day." He gave a meaningful look towards the spot where the Rrom girl had been dancing just moments before. "A young woman like you could run into trouble."
Belle doubted this man cared for her safety as much as he did for finding those gypsies. She could see the deep distain in his features at the very mention of them. "I'm sorry Monsieur. I was just reading. I'm afraid I lost track of time."
He glanced down at the book in Belle's hand. "Ah, yes. I've seen you around here the past couple of days with a book in your hand. Why is that, Mademoiselle?..."
"Isabelle," she said, giving her birth name that she almost never used for this unpleasant stranger.
"You are new," noted the man without any particular emotion. "I am Judge Frollo. It is my sworn duty to keep peace and order in this city, and for all of its inhabitants."
Belle froze. Then her skin began to burn. Judge Frollo. This was Quasimodo's master.
She now understood why Quasimodo was so afraid. There was not an ounce of kindness in those bottomless eyes, not a drop of compassion in his rigid expression. It was as if he was made of stone – something inhuman, unfeeling, unloving. If he acted so hardened towards a total stranger, Belle could only imagine what Quasimodo had to endure. A sick shiver ran down her spine and her eyes burned fire.
Belle suddenly had an unfamiliar urge to act violently. She wanted so badly to hurt this man to had hurt her Quasimodo. He doesn't deserve you, her mind screamed at Frollo. He is a better man then you'll ever be!
But she could do nothing but give the judge a cold nod in substitution for all the anger boiling up inside of her. She wasn't the type to lash out physically, despite her fury, and she also wasn't stupid enough to attack a man with such power at court. It really was unfortunate.
"Why do you spend so much time at Notre Dame?" Frollo asked again.
"I feel safe in the shadow of the cathedral," she replied curtly. It wasn't a lie, was it?
Belle's voice was now hard and tight, and she stared resolutely into his eyes without a hint of fear. Frollo must have noticed this change of attitude. His callous eyes narrowed, and spoke in a voice even deeper and more threatening then before, if that was possible.
"Mademoiselle," he started, "I recommend that you go home straight away. I don't know where you come from, but here, woman like…you are best staying in and remembering their place." Belle noticed that he looked straight at the book in her arms as he said those last words.
Tightening her arms around her novel, as if Frollo's evil stare might burn holes right through its precious pages, she could only bring herself to nod before hurrying away. She doubted she would've been able to restrain her rage a moment longer if that man remained in her sight.
He's not a man, she told herself, He's a monster.
"Why do you keep coming?"
Belle looked up from the novel, surprised at Quasimodo's abrupt question. They had been happily reading their book aloud when this somber question was asked. Since their ritual began and the two became friends, Quasimodo seemed much happier and more comfortable around Belle when she visited. So when he spoke to her that evening in such a dejected manner that seemed to come out of nowhere, Belle was concerned.
"Because you're my friend," she said simply. She thought Quasimodo had known that for quite some time. What other reason was there to give?
"But don't you have other friends?" asked Quasimodo, not convinced. "Why spend your time with someone like me, when you can be with others who are…better suited then I?"
Belle closed her novel. She was silent for a moment. But then she gave Quasimodo a smile.
"I have no other friends, Quasimodo," she said softly, "And even if I did, I believe that none of them would be better 'suited' then you."
Quasimodo's mouth dropped open. "B-b-but how c-can you not have any other friends?" he asked.
"Because I'm odd," Belle said bluntly. "I suppose a few people tried to talk to me at first because I'm… 'prettier than most', as they say…but as soon as they find out how strange I am, they never talk to me again."
She looked into Quasimodo's bright green eyes, this time with sorrow veiled in her face. "In their eyes, my oddness makes me ugly."
Belle could see Quasimodo tense and freeze up. She started to worry – did she offend him by deeming herself ugly, when he obviously suffered far worse from physical deformities alone? Did he think that she had no right to complain about her own situation? Ashamed, Belle casted her eyes downwards and stared at the closed book in her hands.
But then, she felt Quasimodo tenderly take her hand and enfolded it in his own. His massive and calloused hands, the hands that many believed to be the hands of a monster, exuded such warmth, such comfort, and so much love. Belle couldn't imagine how such wondrous hands, belonging to the most kind and loving person she knew, could ever be deemed monstrous. Belle could only feel blessed to be touched by such hands – the hands of an angel.
"What others think is 'odd'," he whispered, without a single stutter in her soft voice, "Is what makes you beautiful, Belle. You're intelligent. You're imaginative. You're strong. While the rest of the world only sees how beautiful you are on the outside, I know all the things that make you beautiful on the inside."
Belle could feel her heart squeeze. Her whole body seemed to shiver with emotion at such touching and sincere words – words she never expected to hear from any man. She blinked back tears, her heart overflowing like a dam. She never felt like this before in her life. And she never wanted to let this feeling go.
She took her other hand and gently cupped Quasimodo's face. The moonbeams lit up his deformed face in the night, but it also made his emerald eyes glimmer like precious jewels. Maybe people considered him to be ugly, but in that magical moment, Belle didn't want to look upon another face in the whole wide world. "I've never known anyone more beautiful then you," she whispered.
Plain shock was in his every feature. He glanced back and forth, as if expecting some dashing soldier or prince to be standing behind him, even though Belle's eyes looked into no others but his. "B-b-but –"
"Other people think you're ugly, I know. You think you're hideous," said Belle, her voice threatening to crack as a single tear slid down her face. "But I know you're beautiful. More beautiful than the most handsome man in the entire world."
She smiled and lovingly stroked his round cheek. Quasimodo was now smiling as well, a single heartfelt tear rolling down his cheek and gently colliding with Belle's tiny hand. And they both knew that, for the first time in their lives, they were not crying because of pain or fear. They were crying because of each other…they were crying because of love.
"Your oddness is what makes you beautiful, too," she whispered into his ear as she wrapped him into an embrace. "Don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise."
Belle's eyes fluttered open. She lay atop her bed, her mind racing and her heart pounding after waking up from her dream. But not out of fear – out of pure, adrenalized joy. What made it even better was the fact that it wasn't dream that she had played out in her mind – it was a memory.
Had that happened just last night? Belle wondered, sitting up in her bed, still wearing her daily attire. A book's pages were sprawled across her chest and the candle on her night desk still burned. It couldn't have been too long after sunset. She came home that evening, still fuming over her encounter with Quasimodo's 'master', and decided to lie in bed and read a while to sooth her mind. She didn't remember falling asleep. But the memory was as vivid as if it had just been relived.
Her stomach still fluttered with butterflies from the lovely experience atop the bell tower, even as just a memory. Her cheeks blushed red as she remembered her hand within his hand, her arms around his neck. She didn't care if it was improper to act such a way with a man – she had no regrets about that evening. It was absolutely perfect.
Almost perfect thought Belle, slightly brushing her figures against her lips, imagining how it would have felt to have his lips touching them…
I do love him. Belle couldn't believe she hadn't accepted it before – she had been pushing the idea out of her head for weeks now, and she knew it. She had been afraid, perhaps, that the only reason Quasimodo would love her was because of her exterior appearance, and she knew very well that falling in love with her face wasn't like loving her at all. Her experience with the men in her village had made her wary – she hadn't been in a relationship with any of them, but many men had given her declarations of love just to scurry away after a week together. They had been drawn to the beauty of her face, but repelled by what was beneath the skin.
But Quasimodo had made it expressively clear that night that he liked her (loved her?) for herself, and not her beauty. And that wasn't the first time he had hinted as much. Since they had met, he had always treated the young woman with respect and admiration – and Belle was a fool not to see it.
But love? She thought. Could he possibly love me back?
She jumped off her bed and rushed into the kitchen, where she saw her father sitting with his head in his hands. He must've come home while Belle was sleeping. He looked upset and exhausted. Belle was going to tell him that she was going out, but seeing her father in such a sickly state wiped the idea from her mind.
"Papa?" she asked worriedly, "Are you alright?"
Maurice heaved a depressed sigh. "I'm fine, Belle. I'm not sick. Just disappointed, that's all." He looked up at Belle, fatigue and discontent from the look in his eyes to the lines in his wrinkles. "You should probably go say good-bye to your friend."
Belle's stomach squeezed, but this time there were no butterflies. "What do you mean?" she asked, speaking with trepidation.
"I'm sorry, Belle. No one's investing in my invention," he said, speaking like a king who had lost his entire kingdom. "We're going back home in the morning."
Her eyes grew wide and her heart beat fast. In her mind, one single word bounced back and forth in dire apprehension: Quasimodo.
Belle took off in a sprint towards the cathedral. If her prediction earlier was correct, then she still had time to meet Quasimodo. And then what? She didn't know. All she knew was that she had to see him again – see him one last time.
It usually took her a good hour to reach the cathedral from her house, but at her pace it took her nearly half the time. Sweat was pouring down her forehead when she finally made it to the square. She could see dozens of people piling into the church doors – it must have been time for the evening mass. Belle usually made her way in before then to watch Quasimodo ring his bells in the splendor of his bell tower.
But where are the bells tonight? He should've been ringing the bells for the evening mass by now. The times the bells rang out during the day had become instinctive to Belle over these past few weeks, since she usually stayed relatively close to the church. And she knew very well that nothing could keep Quasimodo from ringing his precious bells, and he never, ever forgot. It was then Belle knew that something was terribly, terribly wrong.
Belle ran into the cathedral doors, recklessly pushing people aside to get through. Horrible ideas of what might have happened to her friend were racing through her head. Had he been hurt? Or worse yet – had someone hurt him? Belle gulped with worry, one evil man in particular man coming to mind.
After making her way through a steam of complaints and grunts by the churchgoers, Belle came to the stone staircase that led up to the bell tower. She raced up the first few steps, then froze. She stayed stone still and dead silent, listening carefully after she thought she heard a sound, a sound that she dreaded to hear.
Someone was coming down the stairs. And it definitely wasn't Quasimodo.
Running down the stairs as quickly as she ran up them, she threw herself behind a stone wall that projected from the sanctuary, panting like a wild animal. In the back of her mind she was grateful that mass hadn't started yet – she would've looked like quite a spectacle if it weren't for the added buzz of the churchgoers and the noise they made as they walked to their pews. But the majority of her mind was petrified, and she prayed to God that whoever was coming down the stairs wouldn't find her. She instantly regretted not attending mass as much as she should've – if there was any time she needed God's favor, it was now.
Finally, she could hear someone walk away from the stone door that led up the stairs. Belle risked a look from behind her wall. An all-too familiar tassel followed a tall creature (for she couldn't regard him as a man) dressed completely in black.
It was Frollo.
Belle held her breath, dying with anticipation, until she saw Frollo walk out the giant church doors that she had just run into a few minutes prior. Her body shook with relief once the threat had finally gone. After glancing back and forth, she silently made her way back into the stone staircase. Once inside, she took off faster than a stag. Frollo had never been to the tower at this time before. Since the bells for evening mass hadn't been rung as well, she had to assume that Frollo had done something to Quasimodo...
He was standing right at the top of the stairs, and Belle nearly ran him over because of it. A cry caught in her throat when she saw him. He was hurt. A long trickle of blood rolled down his face, over his shut eye and onto the wooden floor.
"Quasimodo!" said Belle in a strangled combination of a whisper and a scream.
"H-h-he f-found o-out," stammered Quasimodo. He was shaking as hard as a leaf, and his eyes were as terrified and clouded as the first time she saw them. He looked like she was about to topple over with nausea and terror.
Belle, letting common sense overpower her irrational emotions, lead Quasimodo over to his makeshift bed. She tore a strip from her apron and wrapped it around his head. The gash wasn't as terrible as she first thought, but she still got a lot of blood on her hands while trying to stop the bleeding.
"H-he f-found the b-b-book," he stuttered miserably. "H-he b-burned it. I'm s-sorry."
"I doesn't matter," replied Belle, caring more about what Frollo had done to Quasimodo then to her book. She usually held her books in highest esteem, taking importance only after her father. But Quasimodo had now overtaken that spot, some burnt pages seeming insignificant in comparison to his wound, though the thought of her book in ashes still stung. Though it didn't surprise her much that Frollo would burn books, since only the most wicked of men did so, at least in Belle's mind.
Once Quasimodo's wound had stopped bleeding, both he and Belle calmed down a bit, but not much. They both knew what Frollo's discovery of their meetings meant. It was only a matter of time, they both knew. But that didn't make it any easier. On the contrary, the truth pierced them both like flaming arrows.
"We c-can't meet anymore," whispered Quasimodo, his voice filled with regret for those words. He looked like a man broken and stripped down, having lost everything in one fatal swoop. Belle imagined that if she could see herself she would look exactly the same.
"I know," said Belle. "My father and I are moving back. That's why I came tonight. To say goodbye."
She could already feel the tears start to run down her face. She wanted to sob and take Quasimodo in her arms, find that warm and wonderful comfort from them again. And more than anything in the whole world, she wanted to tell him that she loved him.
But she couldn't. It would only hurt them both. She was leaving Paris tomorrow, probably never to return to the city again. In all likelihood, she would never see him again either. Why should she strengthen their bond just before it was to be broken? It would only cause her heart to bleed more afterwards and take more time for the wound to heal – though at that moment, Belle sincerely doubted it ever would.
She didn't know what to say. She couldn't say she loved him. She couldn't say goodbye – she couldn't bring herself to. So she said the only think she could say from the bottom of her heart without hurt or pain.
"I hope you find happiness," she said with a tearful smile, lovingly brushing her hand against his soft ginger hair. They had only been together a few short weeks, but now Belle couldn't imagine a life without him. But she prayed that Quasimodo would someday be free. Free to find his happiness, and free to find himself. And when day finally came, she knew they could both live in peace.
And that should've been enough. She should have left him then and there, before she fell any deeper. But before she knew what she was doing, she pulled his chin closer to hers. Her mind was screaming for her to stop, but her heart, which was breaking and overflowing all at the same time, was now in complete control. If she was never going to see him again, then she had to make sure he knew.
She kissed him. She no longer had to wonder how his lips would feel again hers. She knew now exactly how it felt to kiss the man she loved: it felt beautiful. Wonderful, bittersweet, heart-wrenching, and beautiful.
There was nothing but a silent moment left for them to share. Then, Belle ran down the tower's stairs for the last time, back into reality, and back into the future they would both have to face – a future without each other.