There's just something about being trapped in a cozy cabin overnight during a raging snowstorm with Peter Clifford that is appealing somehow :-) I've taken liberties with the seasons in this story. The part of the story from series 3 where Leo leaves, I've changed to winter.

Snowstorm, or Undiscovered Country

by Lynne

Why am I doing this? Assumpta asked herself as she dashed out the door. Leo had left that morning and Niamh had convinced her that the decent thing would be to go after him and talk to him in person. Make an explanation. Easier said than done, thought Assumpta. What should I say? Terribly sorry about that Leo, but I'm in love with the priest, not you. That should go over real well. Assumpta had been so lost in her own thoughts, and anxious to get her conversation with Leo over with, that she hadn't noticed the dark gray skies when she left Ballykissangel

As she got out of the car and trudged around to the other side Assumpta knew she shouldn't have tried to keep going. It was turning dusk and what had been wet on the road was now turning to black ice, the most dangerous kind. She had taken a curve a little too fast, the car slid off the road and traveled a ways down the slope. "Damn, damn, damn," said Assumpta.

Looking around she realized that no one could see the car from the road. Leo had said that he was going to stop in Cilldargan for the night and then go on to Dublin the next day. She had been planning on catching up with him in Cilldargan, it was after all only a few miles away from Ballykissangel. When she arrived there, the landlady at the local hotel told her Leo had canceled his reservation and decided to drive on to Dublin, she had just missed him by 10 minutes.

Assumpta had driven on, thinking she could catch up with him. She had been driving too fast, and now here she was. She had already driven well past Cilldargan. Stranded, cold, no one knowing where she was. She could only hope someone would come along.

Not too bright Assumpta, she said to herself. She was bending down looking for any damage when the car suddenly slid and the tire landed right on her foot. The pain was tremendous. She frantically started trying to dig her foot out, but the car kept sliding. "Oh great," Assumpta said through clenched teeth. She wasn't too worried, she hadn't been completely stupid. At the last second she had left a note for Niamh propped up behind the bar in front of the large mirror, and the landlady at the hotel had seen her.

She glanced at her watch. It seemed like hours since she left Ballyk, but it had only been one. Hopefully someone would put the picture together and come looking for her. Soon, she prayed. She hadn't done that in a long time she thought, asked God for help. Peter would be proud, she thought with a touch of humor.

Peter had seen Assumpta drive off in a hurry. He glanced up at the darkening sky and wondered where she was going. For some reason he had a very uneasy feeling about seeing her drive off. He walked over to Fitzgerald's to find Niamh just reading the note she had left. "Niamh, do you know where Assumpta went off to in such a hurry? I'm a little worried about her, the sky is starting to turn very sinister out there."

Niamh sighed. "I'm afraid that's my doing, I didn't think she'd run off so suddenly like this though."

"What are you talking about Niamh?"

"Leo left this morning Peter. I knew they were unhappy, it seems like this marriage was over before it had a chance to get started. I convinced her that she shouldn't just let Leo go like that, that she should go after him and talk to him in person. Give some kind of explanation. Did I do wrong Father?"

Peter didn't know if he could give an impartial answer here, but he would try. "Well, they are married. I suppose she owes him an explanation. Why did he leave, did she say?" asked Peter, trying to sound like a priest.

"No, she didn't say, but he did. He said that Assumpta just didn't love him. That she was interested in someone else."

"Did he say who he thought it was?" Peter said, trying not to look too interested in the answer. He felt a twinge of guilt thinking of the look on Leo's face when he asked him if he was on a hidin' to nothin' as the old expression went. He couldn't in that moment, in all honesty, deny it to Leo. He was tired of lying.

"No. But I have some ideas of my own on that score." Niamh looked at Peter with an appraising look.

"What?" asked Peter.

"Nothing," said Niamh and would say no more about it. "I'll run the pub for her tonight, I don't know if she will try to come back here tonight. I hope not, I don't like the look of that sky."

Peter went back to his place but he couldn't stop thinking about Assumpta. Nothing new about that, he admitted to himself. He glanced out at the sky, the snow had started to lightly fall and the news station was predicting it would be a big storm, the first of the season. As the minutes dragged on, Peter started to feel more and more a sense of impending doom about Assumpta. Suddenly he couldn't stand it anymore. He was going out to find her, before the snow started to really come down. He got in the car Judge Bradley had given him and set off.

In Cilldargan, Peter learned that Leo had not stayed but driven on to Dublin, and that Assumpta had driven after him. He had just missed Assumpta by half an hour himself. Go back to Ballykissangel, Peter told himself as he drove along. This is really between them, why are you getting into the middle of this? You are already in the middle of this, he reminded himself. He couldn't help himself, he drove off onto the Dublin road, not really understanding why he was doing this. He just knew he couldn't deny the sense of urgency that gripped him, as if something was terribly wrong and he had to find Assumpta, now!

Peter peered out at the falling snow as he drove. Soon the roads might be blocked and he had to decide whether or not to turn back. He had seen no sign of Assumpta's car, or Leo's for that matter. Not that he would be able to see anything with the snow falling. He had stopped the car and was just contemplating turning around when he glanced off down the slope and saw what he thought was a man standing next to some trees and shrubbery. He blinked and rubbed his eyes, he couldn't see anything through this snow. Strange, why would there be anyone out there in this storm? Maybe it was one of the mountainy men, stranded in the snow.

Peter got out and made his way carefully down the slope, when he got to the bottom he was shocked to discover Assumpta's van. He ran to the car as fast as the snow would allow, but Assumpta wasn't in it. He thought he heard something and went around to the other side of the car.

Thank God I had my coat and gloves on when I got out of the car, thought Assumpta. When the snow had started to fall more heavily she had maneuvered her body to be under the car as far as she could and out of the wind. The engine was still hot and would keep her warm for a while. Then what? She thought. God, don't let me die out here. Her anger at herself for being stuck out here like this had given way to panic as she tried repeatedly to free her foot. Now, huddled under the car, all she felt was regret. Regret that she would never have the chance to tell Peter how she really felt about him. She was also beginning to feel very sleepy. The only good part was that the cold was numbing the pain in her foot.

All she wanted to do was sleep. As if reliving her life, her thoughts went over every moment she had spent with Peter. She gave a sharp laugh remembering the day she threw the bucket of water on him outside the pub. It was this laugh that Peter heard. He rushed to her side and started brushing away the snow that had piled around her. Assumpta looked up at him in a daze. "Peter, am I dreaming?" She had a rough wool cloak thrown over her. She vaguely remembered a dream about sheep.

Peter started to pull her out, but she cried out in pain. He soon saw that her foot was caught, and now frozen in place. "Assumpta, Assumpta," he said cradling her face in his hands. "You have to listen to me sweetheart, I'm going to heave this car up and you have to pull your foot out. Assumpta, did you hear me?" he said frantically. She seemed to be going into shock. Suddenly Peter came into focus for Assumpta.

"Peter, did you call me sweetheart?" she said through chattering teeth.

"Assumpta, for the love of God, we have to get you out of here. When I pull up the car, you pull your foot out, OK? Can you focus on that?" Peter said desperately.

"Yeah, yeah, OK, Peter, I'm ready when you are." Peter could tell that Assumpta was really listening to him now.

Peter heaved with all his might, and Assumpta pulled her foot out. By this time the snow was really falling and he could barely see a few feet. He didn't think Assumpta's ankle was broken, maybe a few toes, but her whole foot had started to swell up. He had to get her out of here, he thought frantically. He picked Assumpta up and struggled back up the hill to his car. Even if the roads were blocked he could keep them warm by turning on the car occasionally. Besides, he had a first aid kit he always carried for emergencies. He even had a hypodermic with painkillers Doc Ryan had given him, and had even showed him how to use.The only problem was, his car wouldn't start.

Now what? thought Peter. He looked over at Assumpta, she was shivering so hard he thought the whole car would shake with the force of it. I have to get her warm, he thought. Now I suppose I have to trudge back down to the van and see if it will start. At that moment, there was a loud rapping on his window that made him jump. He opened the door to be confronted by a powerful smell of sheep. It was one of the mountainy men, the one he had seen earlier down by Assumpta's car. "I see you found her," he said. "I'm not strong enough to lift a car, but I covered her with my cloak. I was just wondering how I was going to get help when I saw you pull over." At least, that's what Peter thought he said, his accent was so thick it was hard to get every word.

"What are you doing out here?" asked Peter.

"Lookin' after my sheep, what else? I don't think you'll be going anywhere tonight," he said looking up at the dark sky. "Come on, I keep a rough cabin for sleeping away from home out here, can you carry her? Is that your first aid kit? I'll carry it, come on with ya." Peter wrapped Assumpta up in a spare blanket from his car and startedback down the slope.

It was indeed a rough shelter, a crude wooden shelter. But it had a roof and wooden walls to keep the snow out, no windows, but an iron wood burner in the middle of the one room. Peter laid Assumpta down on the sleeping platform while the old man started the fire. At least there was plenty of firewood, thought Peter. He immediately removed her shoe and sock and gave her ankle a shot of local anesthetic. He then tightly bound her ankle with supplies from his kit.

He looked up from his labors when a blast of cold air blew in. The mountainy man was on his way out the door. "Wait, where are you going?"

"Why to tend my sheep of course," answered the man with surprise. "This storm came up suddenly, I didn't have a chance to find all my wooly ones, their lost without me. But I found you two lost sheep didn't I, eh?" said the man with a cackle of laughter.

"You can't go out there, it's a blizzard man!" exclaimed Peter.

"Ach, don't worry about me. I'm going on 60 and I haven't met a storm that could harm me yet. I'll just take my cloak back, if that's OK. I'll walk back to Cilldargan and send for help with the first person I see. I don't think she's in any danger now. Just get her warm. The old-fashioned way works best, if you know what I mean. Skin to skin," he said with a twinkle in his eye. Peter realized that he wasn't wearing his uniform and the man didn't know he was a priest. Peter tried to convince the man to stay in, but he was determined to get to his "wooly ones."

Assumpta was still shivering and Peter turned his attention to her. He removed her coat and sweater and shirt, but stopped short when she was wearing a thin undershirt and her pants. He didn't think he could go any farther than that, the pants were mostly dry anyway thanks to her long coat. For the next several hours Peter wrapped Assumpta up close to the warmth of his own body and as close to the fire as he dared without catching her on fire. Eventually the shivering stopped and he sensed she was asleep. He felt strangely contented and more alive than he ever had in his life holding Assumpta while the snow fell outside. He pulled her closer and she made a sound in her throat that sent shivers through him.

After his exertions to get Assumpta here and all the worry, it didn't take long after that for Peter to fall asleep as well. He woke up still holding Assumpta across his lap, he looked down to find Assumpta looking up at him. "My hero," she said with a smile. "My ankle doesn't hurt, is it broken?" she asked.

"No, I'm no expert, but I don't think so. Maybe some of your toes. I gave you a shot of painkiller, by the way."

"Oh yes? I'll have to add doctor to your list of impressive abilities," Assumpta said teasingly.

They continued to gaze at one another, all sorts of questions were asked and answered without saying a word. Assumpta reached up one hand and put it on his cheek and said "Peter" softly. Peter bent his head down and kissed her, a long soulful kiss. As natural as breathing the sweetest, most pure air.

Peter knew in that moment that he had made his decision. He loved this woman. He didn't know what would happen, but there was no going back. Not much going forward for that matter, not until certain issues were settled.

"Assumpta, do you remember when we kissed at the play rehearsal?"

"Mmmm, oh yes," she replied.

"You ran away then. I've always wondered why?"

Assumpta shifted away from Peter's arms and sat up. He reluctantly let her go. There were things that needed to be said, and a little distance right now would help his powers of concentration.

Assumpta shifted her weight around so that she was sitting next to Peter and stared at the fire. "Peter, I've always had feelings for you, you must know that?"

"Well, you don't give a lot away Assumpta."

"Hey, I don't give anything away, especially not to a priest!" she said with some of her old spirit.

Rather than be put off by her response, he just grinned at her and said, "You must be feeling better, you're insulting me again." Assumpta looked abashed.

"Why did you run?" he repeated.

"I ran out of there like a scalded cat because I realized just how deep those feelings were. Look Peter, you know how I feel about the church, but that doesn't mean I'm without morals. Do you know how often I have to remind myself that you are a Catholic priest? That you're off limits?"

"Probably as often as I have to remind meself," Peter muttered.

"What?" Assumpta turned to him.

"Assumpta, you must know how I feel about you. I think about you all the time. And as for me being a priest..."

"Yes?" prompted Assumpta.

Peter paused for a moment, "Have you heard the polar bear joke?" Assumpta shook her head no with a quizzical look.

"A baby polar bear goes to his mum and asks, `Am I really a polar bear?' `Of course you are,' his mum replies, `you've got white fur, you eat fish. Don't be daft,
go back in the sea.' But the baby polar bear is not satisfied so he asks his Dad, `Dad, am I really a polar bear?' `Of course you are, you've got white fur, you eat fish. Why do you ask?' `Because I'm freezin',' answered the baby polar bear."

Peter stares at Assumpta, the look on his face pleading with her to understand.

Assumpta looks quietly at Peter. "Peter, come here," she says and opens her arms.

Peter goes into her arms with a feeling of relief and release. She holds him for a moment and he starts to plant feathery light kisses on her neck, then along her jaw. He pauses with his mouth close to hers and looks into her eyes and kisses her. She pulls her head back, "Are you still freezin'?" she asks teasingly. He grins back and kisses her again. Peter starts to kiss Assumpta's neck again, he trails kisses down to the top of her undershirt. His hand has started to slide up from her ribcage and was continuing on its way when Assumpta made a noise of protest in her throat and pushed him gently away.

Peter looked up slightly alarmed. "I'm sorry Assumpta, did I hurt you?"

Assumpta looks surprised by this. "Hurt me? No, no Peter that's not it at all, it's just that, we have to stop here, you know that, right? Believe me, there's nothing I'd rather do than take this to its ultimate conclusion, but I know we'd regret it. While you're still a priest, and I'm still legally married to Leo, we have to stop."

"Yeah, you're right Assumpta. Damnit," he added as an afterthought. He got up and walked over to put wood on the fire. "Peter! I've never heard you swear before." Assumpta said in a shocked voice.

"Oh, yeah, sorry about that. I need to talk to Father Mac, as soon as possible." Peter said after a moment.

"Yeah, and I need to talk to Leo, and a lawyer."

They silently contemplated the difficult conversations ahead of both of them. "Peter, what are you going to tell Father MacAnally?" Assumpta asked, needing to hear it spelled out.

"Isn't it obvious?" Peter said in surprise.

"Humor me," says Assumpta trying not to look as vulnerable as she felt.

"Assumpta, I love you. I have for a long time, though I tried to deny it. And when I did admit it to myself, I tried to convince myself that I could live in Ballykissangel and be around you and not act on those feelings. I know I can't do that. I want you Assumpta, whatever it takes, whatever you want. I can't stay a priest. Loving you is the most important reason, there are others, but those aren't for now. I want to marry you Assumpta, have children, grow old, watch our children grow up and have babies of their own. Is that clear enough for you?"

Assumpta had started to smile as Peter was talking, now she just sat there with a foolish grin on her face. "Peter, come here to me. Damn this ankle!" she added in frustration.

Peter came over to her, sat down, and pulled her into his lap again. "Assumpta, please, don't just leave me hanging out here in the wind, talk to me."

"Hmmm, sorry, I was just thinking," she said, looking up at him.

"About what?"

"About little boys with green eyes," she kissed him, "and little girls with curly red hair," she kissed him again, "and grandchildren around the Christmas tree. I love you Peter Clifford, I'd like to marry you some day, if you'll have me," she added with uncharacteristic humility, kissing him again.

Peter was awakened by thumping sounds and shouts coming from outside the cabin. It was just barely beginning to show light around the cracks in the door and the snow seemed to have stopped falling. They had continued to hold each other in front of the fire. Peter put wood on occasionally and made them some hot tea from the mountainy man's supplies. Assumpta was still lying across his lap, now asleep again, which is why Peter didn't get up immediately when he heard someone outside. Besides, his legs had fallen asleep during the long night. But he wouldn't have changed his position for all the tea in China, Peter thought grinning to himself. Ambrose made no comment about their closeness when he was finally able to clear the snow and get the door open.

After a quick check to make sure they were OK, he left to tell the mountain rescue team that they had been found. They waited in companionable silence for more rescue to come, they had already said all that needed to be said for now, at least to each other. While they waited, Assumpta said, "Why did you think you had hurt me?" she asked, referring to their earlier moments of passion.

Peter looked embarrassed, "Well you cried out, I just thought...It's just that I'm not...I'm still a...I mean, I've never..." Peter said blushing pink.

Assumpta looked amused. "Well, when it comes to that, I've a confession to make. I suppose since you're still a priest, I can tell you. " She leaned in and whispered in his ear, "I've never either."

"You're joking! " exclaimed Peter "But you and Leo...?"

"I just never wanted to, never met anyone it was right with. Despite what Leo says about our college days, it just never happened. And when we got married, I just couldn't. Every time Leo touched me, images of you popped into my head. Not very conducive to wedded bliss. Leo didn't push me, he was patient, but we never..." she trailed off.

"Ah well," said Peter, "I guess we'll just have to explore that undiscovered country together. Lots of practice, that's what's required here. Lots and lots of practice." Assumpta just laughed and then kissed him.