December 2010: **Hi everyone, I've just been through and corrected all the typos – so sorry about that, I published this in a huge hurry the day I left to go travelling, and I was typing it up all night the night before and didn't have time to proof read it! Thanks so much to everyone who posted nice reviews, you made me smile! Now I'm back home and am working on another one, so stay tuned.**
July 2010: This is my first ever fanfic, hope it's not too awful! It's a bit long-winded because I was mainly interested in the hurdles Assumpta and Peter would have had to overcome at the start of their relationship, and how the people of Ballyk would have reacted. Consequently, I have tried to make it as "realistic" as possible, creating few new characters and inventing few new facts - I've just tried to sketch out what I think the characters we know would have done based on what we already know about them, and I've changed as little detail as possible.
Here's what I did change: since Fitzgerald's' electrical problems were solely invented by Kieran Prendiville as a way to kill off Assumpta, I've eliminated them, but kept the first blackout at the start of The Reckoning, because I thought it was funny that they were all in the cellar when Ambrose came and I wanted to refer to it in my later scene with Ambrose. I've also changed the date of the christening, unintentionally: for some reason I had it in my head that it was the Saturday a week after Assumpta's death, and, because I steadfastly refuse to rewatch Amongst Friends, I kept that idea in my head and never checked it. It was only when I rewatched the fight scene between Peter and Leo (so that I could use Leo's exact words after Peter knocks him out in my own fight scene) and saw some of the dialogue between Peter and Niamh after it, that I realised that the christening was actually only two days after Assumpta's death. But by then I'd already written all the christening stuff so it was too late to change it and, hey, who cares, if I was a real Ballykissangel writer I could make the christening happen on whatever damn day I want.
So, it begins...
"I'm telling you, you have robbed me of my glory, Brendan – with only one other dish eligible, my pie would have had at least a 50% chance of winning -"
"It would have had no chance."
"- it was so much more original than all the others, anyway, a fusion of – what? What did you just say?"
"ALRIGHT, now get out, would ya, before Ambrose comes round again!"
"Assumpta, he just told me I had no chance, when clearly I'd have had at least 50% - if he'd-"
"Yes, fine, fine, I know." She pushed Padraig out the door.
"We should have a rematch, and this time I won't let Brendan -"
"Fine, fine, OK."
"- and – really? Do you mean it?"
But the door was closed. She leaned against it lightly, so much lighter than all those other times, and looked at the priest, who was now carrying glasses to the bar, and seemed to be concentrating on the task a hundred times harder than was necessary.
Padraig looked at the now closed door with a bewildered expression. "Ass...Asumpta?"
"Come on, Padraig."
Padraig and Brendan started walking up the street.
"She didn't mean it, did she?"
She hadn't even been listening. A thousand emotions rushed through her as she stood leaning against the door, her heart pounding.
At a corner table, the sudden silence caught Peter's attention and he stopped moving. Aware of her eyes on him, he turned.
"Job starts now," she said. "Don't drop those."
He'd lost all awareness of the five pint glasses which were dangling from his fingers. They clinked together dangerously as he clumsily placed them on the bar, never taking his eyes off her.
"Well, not now, exactly," she continued. "I need to have a good look at you first, see if you're up to it." She locked the door, and walked briskly behind the bar. "Continue."
She started washing the glasses as he passed them to her. They worked silently for a while, in stark contrast to the clamour that was raging in their minds and chests. Finally, she spoke.
"Your efficiency's improved, I think."
"Well, I've done this a few times already. I hope I can diversify now, though."
"Sure. Now, a few ground rules. Firstly, I don't employ priests, so you can take that off right now."
He was surprised – for the first time in months he'd completely forgotten about the dog collar around his neck. It was as if as soon as he'd decided to let it go he no longer had to worry about it watching him all the time. Just 24 hours ago, he would have felt incredibly guilty for having thoughts like these and would have removed the collar hours ago. But now, all of a sudden, it didn't even matter. He felt so light and free. Why had this decision been so hard, again?
He removed the collar and put it in the inside pocket of his jacket. Then, he removed the jacket too and hung it over a bar stool. Then, just for good measure, he untucked his shirt and undid his top button. Assumpta laughed.
"I think it's about time I relaxed," he said.
This wasn't Peter the priest anymore. Here was Peter the man.
She looked into his eyes for a long moment before turning back to the sink.
"Secondly," she continued, her voice much softer now, "it can't be full time." The truth was that she couldn't afford even part time, not if Niamh kept working as much as she had been.
"But you shouldn't do that anyway, because you would be wasted on bar work."
Peter gave a noncommittal shrug and walked forward to stand right in front of her, on the other side of the bar, bringing a pile of tablecloths he'd just removed from the display tables. He leaned forward, but not too close, and said, "Can I let you in on a secret?"
"I was mostly joking when I asked you for a job. I'll gladly take it, if you'll have me, but don't feel pressured to give me lots of hours or anything. I imagine a part time bar worker would probably earn more than a full time priest anyway."
Assumpta laughed, but the atmosphere between them was still very nervous. She inhaled sharply as he came behind the bar looking for a cloth. She was amazed when she saw that he already knew where they were.
Turning back to vigorously scrubbing glasses, she decided to ask the dreaded question she'd been wanting to ask all evening. "How much longer will you be on the Vatican payroll, then?"
He winced. "No idea. I don't really know what the procedure is."
The wince did not escape her guarded attention.
"Peter, are you sure?"
"Are you really really sure? Because if you regret anything – I don't wanna be that person – if you regret it you'll just resent me, and -"
"NO!" His eyebrows jumped almost to his hairline. "I don't regret this!"
"Well I don't mean the whole thing, but if you feel uneasy about any little things, then -"
"The only thing I regret is that I didn't tell you how I felt sooner." He moved close to her now and gently brushed a stray piece of hair behind her ear. Then he began to stroke her right cheek, first with his thumb and then with the backs of his fingers. Her breathing grew deeper, and all of a sudden she realised that she was in his arms. When did that happen? Her body had responded without alerting the brain. Her heart had responded.
As her eyes fluttered closed in anticipation of a kiss, he began to speak. "Assumpta, I have been praying about this for years. For the past several months it's been non-stop. Not just praying, but thinking, thinking the same thoughts, the same arguments over and over again, and never getting anywhere, desperately hoping for some light to guide my way and never realising that all the time that light was you. I'm sorry I messed you around so much – I was trying to get rid of my feelings, I dunno why I thought going on retreat would help with that but it did the opposite, it showed me that I can't get rid of these feelings, and do you know what? I don't want to. I don't want to stop loving you, Assumpta. That would be a betrayal of everything that is good in the world! And I can finally see now that this is my path. Not the priesthood, this. Father Mac was blathering on about temptation, but that's not what this is. It's not temptation, it's not carnal, it's love. And love is a gift from God."
At the mention of God, the love struck, speechless Assumpta, who had been off in a blissful wonderland, disappeared and the real Assumpta woke up. She raised one eyebrow. "Are you saying that God doesn't want you to be a priest anymore?"
"No, I'm saying that I don't want to be a priest anymore. Free will, remember." He smiled a playful smile and tapped her on the nose. "But I don't think God will mind, and I know my mother doesn't. I was particularly worried about what she would think, because she was so proud of me becoming a priest and I thought I'd let her down. But..."
"You talked to her?"
"Yep." His hand moved to her hair now, stroking big handfuls of it, then wrapping little bits around one finger.
"What did she say?"
"She told me to follow my heart. When I came back here I knew I had to tell you how I felt, I just wasn't expecting to suddenly be alone with you less than 24 hours later. So it came out wrong, and then I kissed you – I'm so sorry about that, by the way, that was completely inappropriate -"
"Wh-n-nah, that's, that's fine, you can do that any time."
"I'm sorry I upset you."
A strange noise appropriating laughter escaped her lips and she said, "All better now!" Her voice felt very weak. Had the floor been pulled out from under her?
Peter swallowed hard. She was looking up at him, with those piercing eyes. Her left hand was resting on the top of his chest, by his right shoulder. Her right was higher up, and it slowly began to stroke his neck. He'd never been more aware of the positioning of his body. He leaned in to rest his forehead on hers. Then he leaned further.
One kiss, two, three, as soft as a whisper. He felt her arms close around his neck as she moved her body closer. He moved his down to her lower back, pulling her into him as the kiss grew deeper. All other things disappeared and the world was only them, their lips moving to an ecumenical rhythm which grew fast with passion, then slow with love.
Eventually, he pulled away, kissing her temple and eyelids and forehead before pressing her head to his chest in a tight embrace. He did not open his eyes, and kept his face snuggled in to the top of her head, as close to her as he could possibly be.
They stood like that for a long time. Eventually, Peter opened his eyes and stood blinking in a daze as the bar slowly came into focus around him. As he became aware of the outside world again, he also became aware of a sharp pain at the top of his spine. She was much shorter than him, and he'd been hunched over for at least half an hour now. But he didn't care. Physical pain was bearable. Only emotional pain was agony. He kissed her hair and closed his eyes again.
Another long time later, there was a loud knock at the door. Peter and Assumpta jumped apart. "Gard on public house duty," called a voice.
"Oh, you are KIDDING me!" A vein in her temple pulsed. Peter made to go out the back, but she grabbed his arm. "No! He went round the back last time! Go upstairs!" He couldn't think - he had to run.
Assumpta unlocked the door, but as she expected, there was no-one there. She walked down the corridor to the back door and opened it. There was no-one there either, but she caught a flash of a blue uniform running out of the yard. Yelling in frustration, she strode back to the front door and flung it open: "AMBROSE! What the hell do you think you're doing? Do you see any customers in here; do you hear any customers in here? This is persecution!"
"Keep your voice down!" hissed Ambrose, who was just now arriving at the door, very out of breath.
"Do you know what time it is, Mrs MacGarvey?" came Kathleen's voice from a window across the street.
"Oh, will you stop calling me that?" yelled Assumpta as she stormed back inside. Ambrose followed her.
Peter stood at the very edge of the corridor that opened at the top of the stairs, remaining as close to the public bar as he could possibly be. Long repressed thoughts and desires were awakening inside him, but he had no wish to act on them just yet. He was still a priest, and she was still married to somebody else. Consequently, standing so close to her private quarters, which he had never been inside, made him feel distinctly uncomfortable.
"You can forget about ever have a babysitter ever again, Ambrose! I'll speak to Peter – he won't do it either!"
"Come on, Assumpta, this is my job. All the lights are on, and it is midnight -"
"And you got out of your bed just so you could come and arrest me?"
"It's my job, Assumpta. Now, may I have a look around -"
"THERE IS NO-ONE HERE!"
"I'd like to have a look in the cellar, please."
"Oh sure, go ahead, I'll just push you down the stairs!"
"Err, now that would be an arrestable offence."
"You wouldn't be able to arrest me, you'd be lying on the stone floor with your back broken!"
Ambrose looked nervously from Assumpta to the trapdoor.
"Well go on, then!" She gestured towards it. He didn't look as if he wanted to.
"What time did you close tonight, Assumpta?"
"Oh gee, I dunno, maybe around the time your wife came home?"
"She came home early."
"No, she left when I closed, it was 10:30!"
"Is it so hard to believe that I might want to close early once in a while?"
"But there were loads of people here earlier for the food fair…"
"Maybe I might want to close early on the day that I am dragged through court by the man whose son I regularly babysit, and whose wife I provide with an income!"
Ordinarily, Peter would have intervened a long time ago. He remembered the time after they'd relocated the ram and Assumpta had been screaming accusations at Ambrose, and he'd just grabbed her by the arms and pushed her into the kitchen. Oh, how she'd struggled! He smiled at the memory. But he couldn't intervene now, no matter how much he wanted to. How would it look if the priest suddenly came down the stairs, from the entrance to the publican's private abode?
"Look, Assumpta, just answer me this. If you closed one and a half hours ago, why are all the lights still on?"
"Because I have cleaning up to do!"
"For an hour and a half?"
"What do you know about how long it takes?"
"Can I please have a look around?"
"No! Get out! Why have you stayed around this long?"
"It's not personal, Assumpta -"
"And don't come back, don't even think about coming back! Ever!"
The door slammed. Peter peeked over the banister to see her jamming the bolts home with the force of a raging bull. He walked down the stairs. She turned and looked at him. "What is his problem?" Her voice was still about 10 decibels louder than it needed to be. He gently put a finger to his lips and winked. She didn't respond to this, but rather stormed around turning all the bar lights off. He waited until she'd finished, then said, "Come and sit down," and made his way into the kitchen.
"Do you know what makes it even worse?" she said, as he shut the door after her. "He ruined a perfect moment, the most perfect moment of -"
"It's not ruined!" He took her into his arms again.
"Yes it is, because now all those nice emotions have been chased away and replaced with angry ones – I get so sick of angry emotions!"
"Well then we'll just have to get the nice ones back again, won't we?" He held her close, and began stroking her hair. "Just relax. I can feel the tension in your muscles. Here – sit down. I'm no good at this, but..."
And he began to massage her shoulders and neck. It wasn't a strong or effective massage, but one of those lovely soft ones that gives that wonderful tingly feeling. Or maybe that just arose from the fact of his hands on her body. She felt all the tension of her life wash away, if only temporarily.
He knew he couldn't stay much longer. Particularly if they started kissing again, he wasn't sure where that might lead. It never had with his previous girlfriends, but they were both Christian girls. Assumpta was uncharted territory.
He bent down and hugged her from behind. She turned her head towards him and he kissed her on the ear.
"I have to go."
"Right, yeah, it's the middle of the night."
He moved to squat by her chair and took her hand in his. "Tomorrow morning, I'm going to go and see Father Mac, first thing. I already wrote my resignation letter this afternoon, so I'll give that to him, and then we'll see what else I need to do – I expect I'll have to go and see the bishop, but that'll depend on his schedule, and there's probably some official Vatican procedure for trying to talk me out of it as well, which I'll have to sit through..."
"You'll have to get past Father Mac first."
"Oh, he'll be OK, he already knows anyway."
"You think he's not gonna try and stop you?"
"No, I don't think he is. He was generally pretty understanding this afternoon."
Assumpta had one eyebrow raised rather high.
"He's not as bad as you think! He expected it, anyway."
"Hold on, so I had no idea how you felt until today, and Father Mac expected this – what the hell have you been telling him?"
"Nothing – he guessed!"
"He's always watched me pretty closely – I guess after the last guy he was specifically watching out for this." He didn't think that was it at all, but Assumpta was the last person he could tell his suspicions about Father Mac. He picked it because he identifies with me?
"The last guy was a sleaze! You're the complete opposite of him! Come on, when did he guess?"
"I think everyone in Ballyk knew except for you."
"Don't know, sometime before he sent me on retreat. At that time, I went to talk to him about general doubts about my vocation, and he just hit the nail on the head – I don't know how he knew, I guess he was just watching me."
"What did he say?"
"He said, 'Your problem is Assumpta Fitzgerald.'"
Her skin crawled. The thought that Father Mac knew what Peter was thinking about her months before she did…
He could tell she was uncomfortable. "Look, I'm sorry – I promise you, I didn't tell him, he just knew. But that makes it easier now because it means he won't oppose it, because he knows he has no hope of convincing me to change my mind."
She smiled. She still couldn't believe it.
"Anyway, I don't know how long it will take, but I promise I'll come and see you straight afterwards."
"And if I have a full bar?"
"What is this kitchen for?"