I, Duncan, take thee, Claire
to be my lawfully wedded wife,
knowing in my heart that you will be
my constant friend,
my faithful partner in life,
and my one true love.
On this special and holy day,
I give to you
in the presence of God
my pledge to stay by your side as your faithful husband
in sickness and in health,
in joy and in sorrow, as well as
through the good times and the bad.
I promise to love you without reservation,
honour and respect you,
provide for your needs as best I can,
protect you from harm,
comfort you in times of distress,
grow with you in mind and spirit,
always be open and honest with you,
and cherish you for as long as we both shall live.
Duncan stood inconspicuously amongst the mourners who had gathered for Claire's burial. He kept his head lowered. Partly because the thought of watching the love of his life being lowered into the ground, never to be seen again overwhelmed him, and partly because he had been consumed by guilt from the second that he had heard the news of her death. The vows that he had once promised to take haunted him as he tried to prepare himself for something that he would try to forget for the rest of his life.
I promise… to protect you from harm. The vows rang through Duncan's head continuously. A cruel reminder of what he could never have. A reminder of how I failed her.
Duncan was well aware that Claire had her faults. But somehow they always found their way back to each other. This isn't how it's supposed to be. It was my job, my duty to protect her.
Throughout the funeral service he had avoided the curious glances of Claire's family and friends. He wondered if they blamed him for what had happened as much as he blamed himself. Sitting in the church where they were supposed to have been married was excruciating. He had been unable to take his eyes off her coffin for the entire service, as if by staring hard enough at it and allowing the pain to consume every inch of him would somehow force him to wake up and realise that it was a sick dream.
I promise… to protect you from harm. The vows repeated themselves in Duncan's mind. He tried to remain still and composed. As the mourners gathered in the cemetery the woman standing beside him started to cry loudly. Duncan studied her face. He had never seen her before. Probably just for show, he thought sickeningly. He hated public displays of grief by mere acquaintances. Another woman whom he had never seen before either went to her side and hugged her. They sobbed loudly together. Duncan felt his jaw clenching with rage as he took a step backwards.
The Pastor gave a solemn biblical reading as Claire's coffin was lowered into the ground. Her parents threw the first handfuls of dirt over the coffin. Duncan's heart was pounding so hard, it felt as though it was going to burst out of his chest. He thought of the wedding vows again. I promise… to protect you from harm. He forced himself to look up at the sick irony before him. Duncan took another step backwards. It was too much. He turned around and walked, grief-stricken, away from the burial. The pain that he had masqueraded with anger overcame him and he fell to his knees behind an oak tree which had been there as long as anyone could remember. As guttural sobs racked his body, he did not hear his colleagues approach him.
Simon, Jennifer and Matt, all of whom had been watching the service from a respectable distance made their way towards their broken colleague. They didn't say anything at first. Nothing they could say would suffice. They knelt down beside Duncan and gently pulled him to his feet.
"Come on, mate," Simon said gently as the four Detectives slowly walked towards the car, away from the burial. "We'll look after you."