Author's note – I'm so sorry I'm not posting new chapters as quickly as I was. I'm afraid I've done what I said I'd never do and have started writing another story before finishing the previous one. In my defence it's a Christmas fic and I want to get it finish and posted before Christmas but I will try and finish this one at the same time!
As soon as the door had closed behind Niamh, Assumpta rounded on the priest. "We're not open," she said through gritted teeth.
"I realise that but I wanted a quiet moment to have a word with both of you."
"And what word would that be exactly?" she snapped.
Father Mac ignored her and turned to Peter. "It sounds like you had quite an ordeal. How are you?"
"I'm fine Father. I think it was much harder for Assumpta than it was for me." Peter worked hard to keep his tone even.
"Yes quite. Well I'm glad you're safe."
Assumpta laughed derisively and Peter asked, "Was this just a social call?"
"Partly, I wanted to make sure you were both okay, but that's not the only reason I came."
"Why did you?" Assumpta narrowed her eyes at him.
"How long do you intend to stay in Ballykissangel?" Father Mac saw there weren't going to be any niceties in this conversation and got straight to the point.
"What business is that of yours?" Assumpta retorted angrily.
"I don't want to see this community divided by you."
"Oh you've got to be kidding me," she snorted.
"No Mrs Clifford I am not kidding you. You may think it's been a while but this village has a long memory."
"Everyone's been welcoming so far."
"Yes there are those who will welcome you back and there are those who will resent your return for digging up old wounds and memories." He glanced at Peter who was staring tight-lipped back at him. "You were a well-liked priest and a lot of people will still feel betrayed by you. It's true some will understand and welcome you both back with open arms but some won't, and you two will split this community down the middle."
Assumpta glanced at Peter who looked pale and inwardly cursed the old priest. He really knew how to get at Peter. She focused her attention back on Father Mac and said coldly, "So half the village will be welcome in here and the other half can mind their own business."
"Ah but it's not just yourselves you have to consider is it?" Assumpta looked at him quizzically so he continued. "There are your children, would you have them suffer for your mistakes?"
Assumpta snapped. She rounded on the priest and her words were tinged with fury as she spoke, "Don't you ever bring our kids into this. Don't you dare."
Peter caught her hand to prevent her from stepping forward and squaring up to the priest. "I think you should leave now Father," he said through gritted teeth.
"There's no need to take that tone with me, it's still my job to look out for the welfare of the entire parish," Father Mac retorted angrily.
"We are not your parishioners," Assumpta spat.
"While you're living here the church will take an interest in your well-being."
"Provided that well-being doesn't interfere with the church?" Peter's voice was quiet and cold.
"I'm not sure what it is you're implying Peter," he said sharply.
"That you haven't always shown such an interest."
"I care about every member of this community," he said angrily.
"Assumpta nearly died in that fire and you were more concerned about the gossip," Peter snarled.
Father Mac narrowed his eyes, he remembered that night well. "You were still an ordained priest and should have behaved in a more dignified manner. That's all in the past though and isn't why I came here today."
"No you came here to what? Warn us, threaten us, scare us? Or was it just to tell us that our relationship is a mistake?"
"I came here to offer my advice to think carefully about your future."
"The church will not interfere in our lives. Your advice is not welcome and neither are you, now get out, you're barred."
"What?" Father Mac spluttered. He glanced at Assumpta.
"You heard him," she said coldly. She was aware that she and Peter were still holding hands; in fact Peter seemed to be gripping onto her hand for dear life.
Father Mac gave them both a look of disgust and headed for door. Upon reaching it he turned round and said, "If you stay here you'll regret it, mark my words."
The door swung shut behind him and they both continued to stare at it. Assumpta finally broke the tension by laughing.
"You just barred your first customer and a well chosen one at that," she said with a glint in her eye.
Peter finally loosened his grip on her hand and gave her a wry smile, "For the clergy, every time."
"I can't believe he'd come in here and say that, what gives him the right?" she began to rant.
"I know, why does he think we'd stay around here through choice anyway?" Peter shook his head.
The rest of Assumpta's rant died away on her lips and she looked at Peter. "Why wouldn't we?"
He stared at her thinking maybe he'd misheard. "Eh?"
"The pub needs someone to run it, the kids are settling in well, we should think about staying."
He looked at her dumbfounded. "You're kidding right?"
"No, I think I want to come home."
Several emotions flitted across Peter's features and they finally settled on incredulity. "Okay who are you and what have you done with my wife?"
"Peter," she began.
"I don't understand. You were the one who had us hot footing it out of here all those years ago. Then a few years later when Brian didn't want to renew the lease and I suggested coming back you reacted like I was suggesting we sell our first born."
"Maybe we should have, he's a good kid, bright and handsome like his father, we could've gotten a good price," she tried to joke.
"Assumpta," he said ignoring her joke and waiting for an explanation.
"I wasn't ready then but now I am. Maybe I've grown up," she shrugged.
"You're really serious about this?"
"Yes. Do I take it you're not exactly sold on the idea?"
"Not exactly no," his tone dripped with sarcasm. "I don't understand why you think it's a good idea."
"Because this is my home Peter and it use to be your home too, and it could make a good home for us as a family." She sighed, "Now's not the time to talk about this. Let's have a nice day with the kids, but promise me you'll think about it."
He looked doubtfully at her. "I think maybe the stress of the last few weeks has tipped you over the edge." She threw him one of practised dirty looks. "Okay I'll think about it."
Fitzgerald's had definitely gotten busier in the last few days Niamh thought, as she pulled a pint for another thirsty punter. It wasn't hard to guess why. Half of Ballykissangel wanted to see the pub's latest arrival, either to hear of his adventure in a war-torn country or to reacquaint themselves with a man who had been so well known and liked within the community. Many also came for other reasons; to see the ex-priest who'd fallen from grace so quickly and especially to see him together with his previously divorced, clergy-hating wife.
Whatever their reason they had tripled the pub's profits. Peter and Assumpta had spent the weekend following his return outside of Ballykissangel with the kids but now they were spending more time in the pub. Peter had been given a few days off by his work to get over his ordeal and he'd been helping behind the bar when he wasn't spending time with the kids. He was a natural with them and they clearly all adored him. Niamh had always thought he would make a great dad, she remembered how good he'd been with Kieran all those years ago. She shook her head, she still couldn't believe she'd never seen Peter's "defection" coming; all the signs had so obviously been there.
She had wondered if Peter and Assumpta would act awkwardly around each other when their relationship was so clearly on display and being judged by so many. But if either of them had thought about this it didn't show. It was true what Sam had said, they were very affectionate with each other. It had become something of a running joke among the regulars about who had to go into the kitchen to interrupt the 'snogging', as Ashling had very matter of factly had put it. Although, in fairness this had only happened once, when a red-faced Orla had scurried out of the kitchen muttering apologies followed by a sheepish Assumpta and Peter also mumbling apologies. But once was enough for the regulars who found the whole thing hilarious, especially given that Orla had only recently been filled in on the whole back story of the Clifford's relationship.
It was nice having a young family back in the pub, Niamh mused, and the three Clifford kids had quickly become at home in the place. The other thing that was nice was how easily both Peter and Assumpta had slipped back into their old roles. Assumpta was back behind the bar alternately scolding, mocking and laughing with the punters. Peter had quickly been welcomed back into his old role of friend, peace-maker and occasional provider of sarcastic comments.
These were the roles they were both playing now; Assumpta was behind the bar listening to Brendan and Padraig's passionate argument about the Irish rugby team's chances in the upcoming season. She was occasionally rolling her eyes and making scathing remarks. Peter was applied to for his opinion but he merely looked up from his crossword, grinned and said they didn't stand a chance against England anyway. Sam wandered through from the kitchen and said that he definitely wanted England to win.
"Assumpta, would you listen to the traitorous things your son is saying," exclaimed Padraig.
"It's too late Padraig, he's a lost cause. He's been indoctrinated." She rolled her eyes towards Peter with mock exasperation.
"That's my boy," Peter said smugly.
Abby looked up from the stool next to Peter's where she was sat colouring something in. "Sam only supports England cause he thinks they'll win. He used to support Ireland when they won."
"That's not true," Sam cried indignantly.
"It is," Abby insisted.
"It's a good ploy," Siobhan laughed, "always on the winning side, eh Sam?"
Abby jumped off the stool and announced that she was going to get a different colouring book. As she was leaving she said, "It doesn't work anyway, if you want to always win you should support France cause they're much better than England or Ireland anyway," and disappeared upstairs.
Peter watched his daughter leave the room. "France?" he raised his eyebrows at Assumpta.
"Don't look at me," she said.
"Right little mercenary you're raising there, national pride be damned eh?" laughed Padraig.
"She's going to be trouble when she's a teenager," remarked Siobhan.
"Mmm hmm," Peter agreed.
"Takes after her mother," Brendan said.
"Tell me about it," smiled Peter.
Assumpta whipped round. "Exactly what does that mean?"
"That she's intelligent, witty, passionate and incredibly, incredibly beautiful." He leaned over the bar and kissed her.
Assumpta shook her head. "Such a smooth talker, but how come whenever one of our kids says something cheeky everyone immediately remarks that they take after me and whenever they're being as good as gold they're apparently exactly like their Father?"
Peter's reply was interrupted by the phone ringing. "Saved by the bell," he said triumphantly and went to get the phone.
Assumpta watched Peter on the phone and said to Niamh with a sigh, "It's his work, probably asking him to come back. I knew it was too good to last."
"How do you know?" Niamh asked incredulously. "It could be anyone."
Assumpta laughed and watched Peter. "I don't know he must have a work phone voice or stance or something. Bet I'm right though."
"Fiver," said Siobhan who'd been listening in. They shook hands on the wager just as Peter put the phone down and rejoined the group at the bar.
"That was work," he said to Assumpta. She groaned, as did Siobhan who handed a note across the bar. Peter watched this but decided it was best not to ask and continued. "I'm really sorry they want me to go over to the London office for a couple of days."
"See, too good to last," Assumpta muttered to Siobhan and Niamh.
I can't believe you need to leave," Assumpta grumbled as she followed him out the door.
Peter dropped his bag on the pavement and pulled her into a hug. "I know but it's only for a couple of nights. I need to go and sort things out at work."
"Like asking if they'll transfer you over here?" she asked hopefully.
"We haven't decided if we definitely want that yet," he replied doubtfully, leaning against the car.
"But the charity does have an office in Dublin and you've mainly been working from home recently anyway, so theoretically we could move and you could still keep your job."
"Yes but they won't necessarily have an opening for me."
"You got stuck in the middle of a war zone for them, I'm sure they'll accommodate you if you ask."
"Maybe, but we still haven't decided if it's the right thing for us."
She looked at him intently. "I really think it is." When he continued to look doubtful she laughed and shook her head. "I can't believe I'm the one trying to convince you to stay, I feel like it should be the other way round."
He took her hands. "Maybe if you explained to me exactly why you think it's a good idea."
"This was our home and we always said we'd come back. It's an idyllic place to grow up and I want that for our children."
"We haven't exactly been living in a big city 'Sumpta," he protested.
"No and it's nice there but it's not a community, not like this. We have friends here, good friends."
"A lot of times passed."
"Maybe that's why it's time to come back."
"We have a fairly torrid history here."
"Which everyone seems to be coming to terms with."
"Not everyone will."
"Well that's their problem then, isn't it?"
"And it could be the kid's problem."
"I thought you'd given up listening to Father Mac?" she snapped.
"As much as it pains me to say it, he had a point."
"No he doesn't, he's a bitter, twisted old man."
"I'm not defending him but if people do say things about us it could be the kids that get hurt."
Assumpta sighed. "Maybe we should tell them how we met and let them decide."
"They're too young to understand."
"That depends on how we explain it."
Peter gave her an exasperated look. "Why now?"
Assumpta stared at the ground and then looked up at him. "Because when you think you've lost something that was your whole life, it makes you evaluate everything and cling on to what you still have, or could have. Whenever I forced myself to think about the possibility that you might not come back every instinct I have told me that I should come back here."
He pushed a strand of hair behind her ear and sighed, "And the gossips?"
"Be damned." She gave him a flirtatious smile. "Look there's one right across the road." She nodded towards Kathleen Hendley, who was doing a poor job of sweeping the front step because all her attention was focused on the couple.
"Be damned eh?" He said raising an eyebrow. She simply bit her bottom lip and gave a small smile. He groaned, it was a mannerism that even after all these years together he still found irresistible. He pulled her close and whispered in her ear, "I always wished we'd gotten to do this before we left, really given them something to gossip about I mean," before kissing her soundly.
Assumpta was vaguely aware of wolf-whistles from Padraig, who was walking down the street and could only imagine the look on Kathleen's face right now, but her main focus was on Peter's lips, the feeling of his hands in her hair and his body pressed up against hers. It was a bittersweet reminder of how little time they'd actually spent together since he'd got back, but he'd been trying to spend as much time as possible with the kids and she didn't begrudge him, or them that for a second. Peter finally broke the kiss off and she shook her head saying breathlessly, "You kiss me like that and then you're just going to up and leave for two nights?"
He grinned cockily at her. "So you won't forget me."
"I'm sorry who are you again?"
He laughed then turned serious and said, "It's only two days. I'll be back before you know it and then we can sit down and really talk about all this."
She nodded and kissed him. "Take care; call me when you get there."