A/N: The final chapter is here! This has been such a grand adventure, and I'm so glad that you, my dear readers, have enjoyed it with me. Here's to 'the end'... and the beginning of a new adventure sometime soon! ;)
Chapter 25: Into Heaven's Light
Nakoma's shock was broken as she felt Quasi slipping from their grasp.
"Quasimodo…Quasi…" Esmeralda pleaded with him. Nakoma saw Quasi's eyes fluttering with fatigue and shock.
"Hold on!" she demanded. "You've got to hold on!" Even with both of them using their full strength, he continued to slip.
"No!" Esmeralda cried as she lost her grip, and Nakoma began to panic as she was quickly losing hers without Esmeralda's help. Esmeralda frantically grabbed at his arm, but moved aside as someone else bent over the railing and gripped Quasi's arm firmly.
"Stand aside, milady," a familiar voice sounded behind her, and to Nakoma's surprise Clopin reached down and took her place, grasping Quasi's other arm. Looking beside her, she realized Phoebus had taken Esmeralda's place, and together they hauled him back up and safely onto the balcony floor.
"Quasi?" Quasi's eyes fluttered open as a gentle hand moved his sweat-drenched hair out of his face. Phoebus' concerned features came into focus, and Quasi smiled with relief, pulling the man into a bear hug. He is my friend after all, he thought. Esmeralda embraced him next with a motherly fondness, her arms tight around him. As she pulled away, her eyes seemed to communicate more than words would say. Thank God you're safe, they said, and then she turned those turquoise beauties on Phoebus. And thank God you showed up when you did. Quasi could see the look of love they exchanged, and suddenly remembered Nakoma. Looking around frantically, he saw her waiting patiently by the railing. When he caught her gaze she smiled widely. Her eyes, too, were communicating with him, that same look full of heaven's light that he could see between Phoebus and Esmeralda.
With a look of determination, he stood and grasped both Phoebus' and Esmeralda's hands, pulling them closer and joining their hands between his. He looked back and forth between them with a bright smile, as if to say, You have my blessing. Then he moved to join Nakoma at the railing, pulling his torn ace of hearts from his tunic and handing it gingerly to her.
"It's yours now," he said softly, taking his hand in hers. He looked at the ground, afraid to meet her gaze. He'd been such a coward. "I hope you still want it."
Nakoma tucked the ace of hearts into her skirts and gently lifted his chin.
"A guy like you was worth waiting for," she replied. Quasi smiled, and she pulled him into a hug. So this is heaven's light, he thought with bliss. This is what courage has brought me.
Drizella smiled, her eyes filling as she watched Nakoma and Quasi embrace. Esmeralda and Phoebus were happy as could be, looking on with shining eyes at Quasi's utter joy. I'm so glad…glad everyone is alive, glad everyone is happy. She looked up lovingly as Clopin draped an arm around her shoulders.
"For some strange reason," he said, looking on with an expression of tired joy, "it seems to take people a long while to realize love, and only an instant to hate."
"That is strange," she replied.
"Well, my rose, we shall see how the people of Paris react to their hero," he said. "That is the final test." He slipped away, and Drizella followed the others to the front door. As Phoebus and Esmeralda emerged into the light, Drizella tapped Nakoma on the shoulder. Nakoma turned and with a cry of glee embraced her.
"We did it!" she said, and as if in reply the crowd responded to Phoebus and Esmeralda's upheld arms with cheers of delight. "I knew God would provide!"
"So God must love me…" Drizella whispered. Nakoma glanced at her curiously.
"Did you have doubts?" Drizella nodded.
"How could I not? Everything seemed to be over. Just when I had found out what love really means…" she smiled. "But Clopin was right. Better to die a rose than live as a weed. But here we are, safe and sound…"
"God has plans for you," Nakoma said gently. "And I told you you had a lovely heart. Apparently I'm not the only one who can see it."
"But I don't feel beautiful," Drizella protested.
"What matters is the heart," Nakoma said. "If you truly desire to be God's friend, He will give you all that you need to be His friend. And His graces transform souls, even souls that were previously dead, blackened with hatred and cruelty and vice, into blooming flowers of virtue. That is what I see in you, and that is what Clopin sees, too. But just as roses cannot plant themselves, so God must move us to a better place for our souls, and we must be entirely dependent on Him as the gardener." Esmeralda came back, beckoning for Quasi to follow her. He looked back questioningly at Nakoma, and Nakoma took Drizella's hand and then Quasi's.
"Let's go," she said. As they walked into the light, and Drizella felt the gentle heat of the sun on her face, she smiled. God had brought her to another day, and to a greater understanding of Him, but it had taken the dark night of near hopelessness to appreciate the light of this knowledge.
I am a rose in bloom, she thought with renewed hope, and God is my gardener.
Quasi stared nervously out at the silent crowd, shielding his eyes against the sun. Nakoma still held his hand comfortingly, and she squeezed his fingers encouragingly. As they watched, a single little girl came forth shyly from the crowd and approached Quasi cautiously. Nakoma let go of his hand and stood aside; he looked back at her in panic, but she shook her head and gestured toward the girl. Looking back at the girl, he realized she was examining him. Fear came over her features for only a second, but it sent a knife through his heart. She is afraid of me. I'm ugly.
But to his utter shock the girl came closer and put a gentle hand on his face, looking deep into his eyes. His shoulders, drawn up in fear, began to relax as the little girl wrapped her arms around his neck and patted his hair gently. She likes me! He placed his hand on hers, smiling in relief as she hugged him and then tugged on his hand, leading him into the now cheering crowd. He reached back for Nakoma's hand and pulled her with him, laughing with glee.
I can't believe it. They are cheering…for me! Nakoma took his free hand as they moved into the crowd, and his joy overflowed as the people began to pat him on the back and applaud as he passed. They didn't draw back in fear; they didn't scorn or frown at him. Instead they picked him up on their shoulders and began to carry him through the town. "Nakoma!" At his shout they picked her up, too, and carried her alongside him. He took her hand and lifted it in the air, tears of joy streaming down his face.
"I've never been so happy," he said to her. She beamed at him.
"Just imagine," she replied, "how much more joy God has in store for His friends in heaven."
His smile faded a little.
"But we are outcasts," he said. Nakoma laughed.
"In this world we always will be," she said. "Because our true home is ahead." She pointed up at the cathedral window shining splendidly in the sunlight. He looked and for the first time saw the sublime joys painted there, the promise of perfect happiness.
"I always thought God was cruel," he said. "All Frollo ever talked about was sin and damnation. But I see mercy and goodness in you, in Esmeralda…it doesn't make any sense."
"God is a just judge, yes, but He desires to give freely of His mercy to all. The only ones who are denied His mercy are the ones who reject it themselves."
"Like Frollo," Quasi said, and thought sadly of his master. Nakoma squeezed his hand.
"Don't be too quick to judge him, Quasi," Nakoma said. "Only God knows the heart. For all we know, he might have repented before he died."
"Or he might not have," Quasi said. "Poor Master."
"All we can do is pray for him," she said gently. "But for now, we must celebrate. God has seen fit to deliver us from that persecution." She smiled. "We are no longer outcasts, not even to the people of Paris."
"Does God always help the outcasts?" Quasimodo asked.
"He certainly seems to."