The Frocked Man

by Pol

A/N: Teehee, I’ve finally decided that after almost ten years of complete and utter adoration of Ballykea to write something! Something that is hopefully postable! Hurrah!

I think the problem with Ballykea fics in general is that everyone wants to re-write the end of the Peter/Assumpta era (everyone including me), so I’ve decided to steer clear by just reworking episodes, hopefully with loads of UST…

This one is a take on the "do you ever want what you can’t have" conversation, which I’m sure has been done to death, but hopefully not like this.

Continuity: You may recognize ideas or sayings or whatever that I’ve pinched from later in the show. There is no need for chronological nit-picking, okay? Oh and everything after the actual do you ever want conversation is basically changed. I may have kept a bit of dialogue, just for fun


Assumpta slept in that Sunday morning, as she did every Sunday morning when she didn’t have guests. This particular Sunday, however, she wasn’t sleeping very well.

All through the night that ridiculous conversation had spun through her head, tilting this way and that, blurring and clarifying, and never once could she stop the rush of anger that came at the end with Peter’s cop-out.

She would have expected it from anyone else, but not Peter.

And what was worse was that she had been stupid enough to open up to him. Just enough to be let down. Maybe it was the alcohol combined with the exhaustion, maybe it was the indignation she still felt at Niamh’s accusation, or maybe-and this one was a real kick in the guts- she actually trusted Peter enough to want to talk to him.

Well, clearly the feeling was not mutual. She should have known better.

They could sit in a wooden box in a frock and listen to strangers blabbing about their petty problems, but when backed into a corner and asked something point-blank they could only ever manage excuses. Her all-time favourite was God works in mysterious ways. Why, after all, would God want to work in mysterious ways? Assumpta had never been an atheist, but this idea of an all-seeing, all-knowing entity keeping His cards close to His chest in a private joke that only He would ever enjoy was just too unbelievable, although highly amusing. She liked the idea of a God with a sense of humour.

When her alarm began its morning screech, she found herself relieved.

"So much for the day of rest," she mumbled, washing her face and disconcerted to see in the little mirror dark circles under her eyes. She hated that he kept her awake at night. The priest was keeping her awake. Humph.

Downstairs had that still, thick early morning feel that she loved best. The part of the day before all you could smell were the pints and the cigars, and if it wasn’t working properly, the downstairs bathroom. She drank in the cleanliness, the stillness, the perfect silence, before unstacking the stools and checking the barrels.

It was time to open.

Normally in the morning she could open up and lean against the doorframe in her own company for quite some time before a passerby would see her or Brendan got out from school. Sometimes Niamh would come to tell her the latest in her ongoing family drama; Brian on the dodge from tax officers, Ambrose cutting his finger on the bread knife. But none of this quiet routine existed on a Sunday.

It was the post-church rush that she disliked. Those who filtered in later in the day in understated relaxation were easier to deal with than the crowd still vehemently discussing whatever it was that Peter had been talking about, clearly eager to wash down their holy water with a pint of lager.

Usually Assumpta disliked this behaviour on the grounds that her friend didn’t deserve this half-assed attempt at worshipping, that if they really believed in all that stuff they might show a bit of respect, a bit of piety. But Ireland was full of hypocrites, and the money never went astray, and this particular Sunday Assumpta wasn’t feeling sorry for Peter at all. He was just another hypocrite, just as half-assed as the rest of them, in his own way.

The fact that even in the height of her anger she hadn’t been able to fully believe that idea pissed her off even more.

Peter didn’t come in until the early evening, as he generally did, to avoid the confrontation with drunken churchgoers questioning his every word. When this did happen he always said the same thing; I’d be happy to talk it over with you when you’re thinking a bit more clearly. Usually she found that pretty generous of him (she would have told them to shove it) but in her head that evening it sounded like one more cop-out.

He was lucky this Sunday, however, finding only Brendan and Siobhan in one corner and Eamon at the table by the door, chomping away on a handful of crisps.
When he looked up at Assumpta she didn’t smile, but she did meet his eye.

"Assumpta. Found anyone to give you a hand yet?"

"I’m doing fine thanks."

Even to herself, her voice sounded really cold. Really dry. She hadn’t thought she was that angry.

Brendan suddenly called out, "Assumpta, your heating’s on the fry again."

"What? No, it’s not!" she protested, turning away from Peter’s confused expression with some relief.

"Then why is it this place just froze over?"

"If you’re not gonna behave you can just get out," she told him firmly as he smiled cheekily at her.

She turned back to Peter with a scowl still on her face.

"What can I get ya?"

"Coffee, thanks."

She could feel him watching her as she retreated back into the kitchen.

She was angry, he could see that straight off. Assumpta angry was not an uncommon occurrence but what was odd was that it seemed to be directed at him. What had he done?
He looked around him for help but Brendan and Siobhan were in the midst of some conversation or other and Eamon…well, Eamon wasn’t that chatty at the best of times.
He got up from his stool and followed her out.


She was facing the sink, back turned to him. His coffee water was already beginning to bubble.

"Assumpta, what’s wrong?"

Her head snapped around at him and he froze. He didn’t think he’d ever seen her quite this angry. Her beautiful eyes were hard and wide and she’d gone almost white.

"See, that’s what gets me!" she yelled suddenly. "You don’t even bloody know what you’ve done, do you? You have no idea! I don’t know why I expected anything different from you but it was clearly my mistake. I won’t make it again."

He thought it was possible there were actually tears in her eyes, but he couldn’t be sure so he stepped closer.

She stepped back.

"Oh, come on, Assumpta. I don’t understand," he implored, turning his palms upwards. There was a strain to his voice, a distress that he couldn’t hide. "At least, tell me what it is. If I’ve offended you, I had no idea."

"No, you didn’t." She didn’t look at all forgiving.

Peter shook his head. Only the night before they’d been chatting away after hours like the best of friends. In fact, he had really valued that time getting to know better the Assumpta that didn’t come out during the day. She was softer, quieter, more vulnerable, but that just made her more fascinating and he had thought she had liked it too. Or perhaps he was wrong.
"Is this about last night?" he asked tentatively.

His water had boiled. He watched her fix his coffee as if in a trance. She seemed to be taking an undue amount of care with her actions, as though all her attention was on anything but him.


"No, thanks."

She handed him the cup and saucer before retreating back to the sink and leaning against it wearily.

"Look, I-" she was starting.

"Assumpta! Customer!" Brendan called.

"Wait!" Peter interrupted. "Finish what you were saying."

She shook her head.

"Some of us have a living to make."

And she was gone.

If Peter had been given to swearing , he would have been indulging just then.

It was only Padraig and Assumpta didn’t attempt forced cheer for him. She just pulled his drink and took his coins.

"You all right, ‘Sumpta?" he asked, when she’d returned with his change.

"Careful, Padraig, she’s biting today!" Brendan replied loudly.

"Right, that’s it. Out!" She pointed furiously at the door.

"It’s all right, I’ll go. I seem to be the one causing all the problems," Peter said from the kitchen door. He brushed past her, slapping a note on the bench and not even greeting Padraig as he passed him.

"What’s the matter with him?"

Nobody answered.

Assumpta stared at the money on her counter. She didn’t think she could take that, not today.

She left it there and focused on cleaning the empty glasses that Brendan and Siobhan were sending her way. She focused on the drip from the sink, rearranging the coasters, making Padraig a plate of sandwiches. By eleven she had focused her way into exhaustion and Peter’s money was still lying where he’d left it, despite an attempted swipe by Donal at some point in the evening.

Shooing Liam, her last customer, out the door, she fished for her keys and was about to close when a hand pushed the vibrant blue door back at her.

"I can’t sleep. I’m not going to sleep. I wanna know what I did," Peter was saying doggedly, shouldering his way past her and heading for the fireplace she’d just put out.
"Peter, it’s after eleven. Go home."

She was surprised that her voice had lost its harsh edge. She wasn’t feeling any more inclined toward forgiveness than she had in the afternoon. It must have been the tiredness.

But she couldn’t possibly have looked as tired as he did. When she was standing by him and finally looked at him properly, he looked positively haunted.

"Why can’t you sleep?" she asked, trying to keep the edge out of her voice.

Peter took a deep breath and met her eye.

"You brought up one hell of a topic last night," he replied, his tone unmistakably accusatory.

Well, this wasn’t what she had expected.

"You didn’t seem particularly interested in it, as I recall," she shot back, also accusing, finding her anger again.

"You said you were tired!"

"No. You said you had to go and say mass in the morning."

They glared at each other for a second, before Peter looked away.

"What was I supposed to say?" he asked, giving in.

"You were supposed to be a friend. Friends don’t just walk out on each other in the middle of a conversation."

"Assumpta, I’m a priest! Ask me something like that and you have to expect that it’s a touchy subject!" he objected.

She was stunned. During the past day she had never once thought that she was the bad friend. She hadn’t thought how he’d felt at all. It simply hadn’t occurred to her.
"Sorry," she murmured, "I wasn’t thinking of it that way."

"Yeah, well, I wish you’d tell me what the problem is before you start taking out the customers," he replied, half-joking.

She smiled wanly. Peter was always much more generous in these situations than she was.

"They could do with being taken down a notch or two," she answered, glad to be out of tricky ground. But underneath her relief was still the nagging feeling that something was wrong. Peter wasn’t sleeping and it was clearly getting to him. She had no idea what it could be that she had triggered, however.

Peter attempted a laugh, leaning noticeably against the mantelpiece.

"Here, pull up a stool," she invited, upturning one from the bar.


"I guess you won’t be out partying all night, huh?"

"Oh, I’m in fine form. I took a catnap between Father Mac yelling at me about voluntary collection plates and Kathleen Hendley demanding that the organ be cleaned by a professional."
"Brendan could hook you up with some of his finest," Assumpta quipped.

"I’d thought of that. Apparently they don’t charge enough to be considered professional."

"You mean, they’re your only affordable option."

He raised an amused eyebrow.

"You just tell Ms. Hendley to clean the damn thing herself. I bet she’d like that."

"Then I’d never get rid of her."

Assumpta chuckled.

"Wanna drink?"

"But, Assumpta, it’s after eleven. What would the garda say?" he teased, suddenly all innocence.

"Who cares what Ambrose Egan has to say? Just bless him and tell him to be on his way."


She inclined her head in appreciation. Sometimes the childlike, jokey side of Peter caught her offguard, which was how she liked it best. He was a sweet man, as everybody knew. She thought he was probably everything that she was not.

A businessman from Cilldargan had ordered a glass of red earlier in the evening, but most of the bottle was still there, so she grabbed two clean glasses and offered one to her re-found friend. She thought she probably owed him a proper apology for what she could only think of now as a hissy fit, but as that wasn’t likely to happen without a bit of encouragement, she downed a good portion of her glass immediately.

"Thirsty? I don’t know if I’ve been taught wine into water."


"I thought so."

She paused. They were so relaxed it was a bit of a pity really to disturb it. But the conversation was going to have to happen at some point and Assumpta thought it would probably be wiser to happen before inebriation set in.

Peter wasn’t watching her. He sat slightly angled away from her, sipping at his wine.

"I shouldn’t have been so angry with Niamh, I guess," she admitted, although she had yet to make up with her best friend. In fact, the prospect hadn’t occurred to her, as preoccupied as she was with Peter’s misbehaviour the night before.

"She’s a bit highly strung at the moment," Peter agreed. "Cut her some slack."

"Yeah, well, it was a stupid thing she said."

Peter shrugged.

"Everyone wants what they can’t have, Assumpta, it’s human nature. You don’t have to take it as an insult."

"She meant it as an insult, Peter."

"I know, but the reason it offended you is because it was true, not because Niamh was being hurtful."

Assumpta took an incredulous breath. Childlike and sharp at the same time, apparently.

"So you’ve just accepted it, have you? That you’re gonna want things you can’t have and that’s life and you’ve just gotta suck it up and take it?"

He was looking into the remnants of his glass, maybe avoiding her, maybe not.

"It sucks," he acquiesced.

"Yeah, it does. Want another glass?"

He nodded silently and she poured silently, wondering just what it was that Peter wanted. Wondering if he would tell her. Peter didn’t lie, but he could hedge his bets with the best of them.
"Do you think you ever do?" she asked curiously. "Get what you want?"

"Defeats the purpose, doesn’t it? I mean, wanting requires not having. You long for it because it’s inaccessible. I think if you got it, it would never be the thing you wanted in your head."

"That’s depressing."

She clinked glasses with him and sat down on her own stool.

"It doesn’t have to be."

"Then why aren’t you sleeping?"

When she said that, then why aren’t you sleeping, Peter felt something physically sharp jolt through him. He had felt on top of the nicely metaphysical conversation, but she was fully intending it to become real and personal and there was a natural concern in her voice that she was probably unaware of.

He couldn’t possibly tell her, of course, but they’d been doing so well, talking so comfortably and he didn’t want to start another bout of furious behaviour by avoiding the conversation for the second time.

He attempted a nonchalant shrug but she was watching him too closely, her second glass of wine already hanging empty in her hand.

"Preoccupied, I guess," he told her, which was the truth after all.

She accepted it.

"Maybe you need to get away from here for a few days. I bet Father Mac’s just dying for an opportunity to poison the minds of your congregation."

"They’re well trained."

"Then it’d be safe to leave them for a bit."

"I don’t think a change of location is really gonna help," he admitted, seeing a flicker of something pass through her eyes. She raised a questioning brow.

"That bad, huh? You wanna talk about it?"

She was giving him the option? The idea was overwhelming in relief at the same time as being horribly clarifying. The thing in her expression before had been fear.

"Not really," he answered evenly.

"You coulda just said that last night."

"You wouldn’t have let me."

She laughed.

"I was all about confessions last night."

"That’s funny. I was all about confessions today, from twelve till two."

"Don’t you ever just want to laugh at them? Or trade gossip with Father Mac?"

"Don’t be silly. He wouldn’t hear of it."

They both laughed at their own mental imagery.

"Silence is hard. A lot harder than telling people what you think and feel." Peter felt a gravity hit him, an unwelcome pressure. "People suffer in silence."

And not just people. Him. He was suffering in silence too, and he knew that it wasn’t good for him.

She shook her head, a quick dash of dangly earrings.

"So silence is a good thing or a bad thing?"

"I dunno. Unhealthy maybe."

She tilted her head. It was, horribly, his favourite mannerism of hers, something that he understood to mean wit and sympathy and cynicism all together. She was a complicated person, Assumpta Fitzgerald.

"So maybe you should tell someone what it is that’s screwing with you?" was her relatively harmless suggestion.

"Who does the priest confess to?" he pointed out, a trifle cynical himself. The wine must have been getting to him. He’d never been able to hold much alcohol.

"Let me guess…God?"

"Good listener."

"Lousy problem solver, right?"

Normally he wouldn’t have let her get away with that, but it was fitting. Where was the logic in this situation, after all? Why give a man a vocation in the first place, only to do this to him? It was cruel and ironic. The vocation, of course, had brought him to Ballykissangel. That is what he imagined he would be told, if he ever got an answer.


He must have been silent for too long. He felt weary and angry and tired all at once and he didn’t know how he was supposed to continue this conversation. If she were a real friend…
"Assumpta," he said finally, twisting to look at her square in the face, "if you’re a real friend to me you’re going to tell me to go home and forget about this."

That sneaky little…Rock and a hard place, honey, she thought to herself. On the one hand, there was still the accusation she’d laid out earlier that he hadn’t been a real friend to her, but on the other, there was clearly something in his system that a good night’s sleep would do nothing to abate. What he needed was someone to listen to him. She knew that feeling well. And it hurt a bit that he didn’t feel she could be that person for him. After all, in his time at Ballykea she thought she’d got to know Peter Clifford better than almost anybody else, with the possible exception of Brendan.

"But you’re not gonna forget, are you? I think a real friend would want to help you deal with whatever this is."

He laughed shortly.

"I’m sorry, Assumpta, but you can’t help me out of this one."

She could feel the shock transfer to her face.

"Is this about your…vocation? You’re having a crisis of faith?" She couldn’t believe it. Not Peter.

"No. Not a crisis of faith."

"Then what? What do you want that your vocation can’t give you?"

And there it was. The second that stupid sentence left her mouth she bit her lip. Peter’s eyes caught hers and there was so much there, so much to try and understand, that she found she was shaking her head in confusion. She looked down to avoid it but her mutinous eyes slid back up and that expression of pain and anger and profound disappointment stared back at her.
She couldn’t think of what to say. Of what could fix the one thing that he wanted and the one thing he couldn’t have, wasn’t allowed to have.

"Go home, Peter, " she murmured, her stomach sinking inexplicably. "Forget about this."

He closed his eyes slowly and took a breath, before getting up and putting his half-drunk glass on the counter.

"Thanks for the drink."

"Any time."

He nodded and disappeared. She was glad that he was gone, relieved. She’d started to feel sick in the pit of her gut, in some incomprehensible twinge of affinity.

She pushed the thought away. It had always been a stupid thought and she’d always tried her best to ignore it, despite the occasional moment in which she would think she’d see something similar in him. But then she’d know afterwards that it was imagined, that she was playing games with herself.

She locked the door and took the glasses to the sink for the morning, before heading up to the bed that was still disheveled from the night before’s disquietude.

Was it possible, she wondered bitterly, that he meant her?

The next morning, when she could bear to think about it again, Assumpta decided that Peter was wanting the idea of love. Of in love. That it was an abstract thing that was out of his reach and was therefore taunting him at every turn. That his passion for it didn’t have an object, but rather existed in a perfect form in his head, in a form that could never exist in real life, as he’d pointed out the night before.

Still, over the next few weeks, she would catch herself out holding her breath, waiting to find out if she was wrong.