Her dress had been spun from candleglow.
All Thomas Lynley can do is gape as she walks down the aisle on Nkata's arm, radiant smile lighting up her face. Her hair is piled up in some intricately messy twist on the top of her head, leaving strands of shimmering strawberry-gold to tumble around her face and frame her enormous, liquid eyes. Tiny white tea-roses are pinned throughout her hair, though she wears no veil. And the smile on her face, as always, knocks the wind right out of him.
But it's the dress that slays him. The sleeves are long, tight and plain, hugging her arms. The neckline fell away to reveal most of her shoulders and collarbone, and then smooth, creamy satin tucks close to her body, nipping in at the waist – dear God, he could never stop marveling at how tiny she was there – before the skirts blossom out at her hips to fall softly to the floor and whisper along the flagstones of the church.
It's nearly devoid of decoration – save for lace edging the neckline and sleeves – but it's so very, very Barbara. And with the candles lighting the church, the dress – not pure white, but closer to cream or ivory – seems to absorb the candlelight and reflect it back. The shimmer blends with the glow of her hair so that the very air around her seems to sparkle.
She walks toward him in a halo of gold.
It's a small ceremony; family and close friends only, she'd said, declaring that she wanted to focus on them and not on the hoopla. The Anglican church is hardly bigger than a chapel, and the stained-glass windows drench the floor with light that seems almost heavenly.
He's half dreaming until the vows – all he can do is look at her.
"Thomas Alexander Lynley, will you take Barbara Lynne to be your lawful wife? Will you love, comfort, honor and cherish her, and forsaking all others, keep only to her, for as long as you both shall live?"
"I will." It's all he can do not to drop to his knees.
"Barbara Lynne Havers, will you take Thomas Alexander to be your lawful husband? Will you love, comfort, honor and cherish him, and forsaking all others, keep only to him, for as long as you both shall live? "
"I will." There's such love, such certainty in her voice, he can hardly breathe.
He comes to when she squeezes his hands. They'd written their own vows, in a way; the wording was theirs, but the cadence mimicked the solemn rituals she had loved as a child and that had been a part of his own life since before he could remember.
"I, Thomas Alexander Lynley, take thee, Barbara Lynne Havers, to be my lawfully wedded wife. I vow to cherish you with my body as well as my heart, to share your burdens both heavy and light, be your shelter from the storms however long they last and your strength when your own has failed, to revel in your joy and never shrink from your pain, through all the years to come. Barbara Lynne, I am forever and always yours."
"I, Barbara Lynne Havers, take thee, Thomas Alexander Lynley, to be my lawfully wedded husband. I vow to cherish you with my body as well as my heart, to share your burdens both heavy and light, to be your shelter from the storms however long they last and your strength when your own has failed, to revel in your joy and never shrink from your pain, through all the years to come. Thomas Alexander, I am forever and always yours."
He fights to keep the tears at bay when he sees the look in her eyes.
"With this ring, I thee wed." They say it together.
The priest smiles. "You may kiss the bride."
And finally – finally! – he kisses her, long and slow and sweet, saying everything words never could. Helplessly his hands come up to frame her face, and he holds her there as they tremble – shake, really – as ten years of partnership and faith, love and respect, teamwork and trust surge through them.
When they finally break apart, the entire church is cheering.
But they have eyes only for each other. Feather-light he brushes her cheek as her lashes flutter, and he lets himself drown in her eyes.
"My sergeant," he whispers in unabashed wonder, "my friend… my partner, my wife…"
"My everything," she murmurs softly in response, and says it all.
"And now I am proud to present Mr. and Mrs. Thomas and Barbara Lynley!"
The cheers rise again as he leads her through the door. She's blushing rose red, and he has a slightly abashed smile on his face; but it is still clear they have eyes only for each other.
The toasts pass in a blur. Nkata talks about watching them work together; Hillier says they're the best team he's ever seen. Judith tells the story of the first time Lynley took Barbara riding, and how she proceeded to shock him into near-insensibility by jumping a meter-high stone wall her supposed first time on a horse.
She very thankfully leaves out what happened in the haystack afterward.
And then Lady Asherton rises to speak.
"Ten years ago, my son rang me up one night, informing me that he had been matched with the most stubborn, insufferable, difficult officer in Scotland Yard. I asked him how he could possibly be partnered with himself."
The entire hall roars.
"He chided me for teasing him, then told me that apparently this Sergeant Havers was impossible to work with. I informed him she couldn't possibly be worse than he was and told him, in the time-honored tradition of mothers everywhere, to grow up and deal with it.
"Well, two years later, I finally got to meet Sergeant Havers, and wondered if someone had switched the names around on me because she was everything gracious and polite. And yet there was something in the way she interacted with my son, something I had never seen with any of his previous partners – and I had met many of them. He listened to her. He might subsequently decide to ignore her – he usually paid for that, by the way – but he listened to her.
"And so I watched them both. I saw Barbara support Tommy through the difficult times with Helen; I watched her try to reach him after Helen's death. I watched him as he was devastated when she considered resignation; I heard his joy when he told me she'd been reinstated and his fear when she was shot. And I watched their partnership grow. Because although they fought, and often – and they both made mistakes, as all friends will – through their fights, their respect for each other grew.
"I saw Barbara grow more confident, more willing to stand up and say what she thought without flinching. I saw Tommy learn to work with someone else, and learn not to run them over. I saw them both grow into each other.
"And then they came home for Christmas a year ago, and I knew they had found each other at last. His eyes had sparkle again, and Barbara was simply glowing.
"This day – this moment – has been ten years in the making. This is a partnership that grew into friendship, and a friendship that grew into love – a love that has been hard-fought and hard-won. This is a love story.
"To Tommy and Barbara."
By the time she finishes Barbara is clutching her husband's hand and weeping unabashedly. Lynley himself has a tear or two coursing down his cheek, and he drops a soft, intimate kiss on his wife's hair before he envelops his mother in his arms and clings to her.
There isn't a dry eye in the house.
They've mostly composed themselves by the time the dancing begins. The floor is cleared, and then Lynley holds his hand out to his wife – he will never get tired of thinking that – and leads her to the spotlight as Linda Eder's voice drifts through the air.
Look into my eyes, you will see
What you mean to me
Search your heart, search your soul
And when you find me there
You'll search no more
You can't tell me it's not worth trying for
You can't tell me it's not worth dying for
You know it's true
Everything I do, I do it for you…
They move in perfect unison, two halves of a whole – as they always have been. Her eyes never leave his, and he simply drinks in the sight of her, pure happiness so intense it's almost palpable radiating from everything she is.
It gets to the point it's almost embarrassing to be in the same room with them. Nkata and Hillier never knew it was possible to make love without so much as kissing, but Barbara and Lynley are proving otherwise. The intimacy of their gaze, the way he touches her with such reverence, the way her face glows; it all speaks of a love so fiercely real it seems to be in another dimension entirely.
Clearly, they have completely forgotten there is anyone else in the room.
No, scratch that. They've forgotten anyone else exists, period. The universe has receded to just the two of them. Now this is fine and dandy considering they'd just got married after ten years, but it still feels nearly invasive to see them this way. It's such an exquisitely private moment, it's almost painful.
It's so rare that either of them put their love on display, it's a privilege to see it now, and Hillier is thoroughly embarrassed he'd ever thought of splitting them up at all. Now he finally understands Lynley's point – if their feelings were going to affect their conduct on the job, it had happened over half a decade ago. Those horses are on the other side of the country getting fat off Scottish pastures, and he for one does not feel like chasing after them.
Besides, he's not foolish enough to split up the most effective team the Met has ever seen.
So he just sits back and listens to the last lines of the song echo through the room.
Oh, you can't tell me it's not worth trying for
I can't help it, there's nothing I want more
Yeah, I'll fight for you, I'd lie for you,
Walk the wire for you, yeah, die for you
You know it's true
Everything I do, I do it for you…
The last notes of the song float through the crowd, and the couple at the center of the dance floor come to a halt, Lynley holding his wife with an exquisite, almost unfathomable tenderness.
Their kiss is so radiant, the glow is very nearly visible.
An hour later, Barbara and Lynley have somewhat rejoined the real world, Judith and Nkata have taken to the floor to dance an extremely flashy tango and Hillier has escorted Lady Asherton for at least two waltzes (she insisting she couldn't dance anything else, to which her son coughed an extremely audible "Bollocks!")
Nobody in the crowd is under the impression that the newlyweds won't be the first out the door, so the official "final dance" is, of course, nothing of the kind for anybody except the pair in question.
What is a shock is the fact that the music for that dance had been recorded by the bride as a surprise for the groom.
"This is for you, love," she says quietly, though the microphone picks up her every word. "I had to do it. It was too perfect."
"Barbara." His eyes are glowing star-bright, and he extends his hand with a regal grace that makes him look every inch the lord he is.
When she places her hand in his, she is every bit his lady.
The music swells as they start to move in a dance that is nothing more than an excuse for them to hold each other close and look at nobody but each other.
We were strangers, starting out on a journey
Never dreaming what we'd have to go through;
Now here we are, and I'm suddenly standing
At the beginning with you…
Every jaw in the room hits the floor in unison.
Her voice on the recording is sweet and pure and clear, a little girlish perhaps but so rich with emotion all Lynley can do is stare at her.
The crowd rather gets the sense that if he could whisk her off someplace private and have his way with her, he would.
No one told me I was going to find you
Unexpected, what you did to my heart
When I lost hope, you were there to remind me
This is the start…
Her eyes blaze as she gazes into his own, the look on her face fired with emotion so potent everyone in the room holds their breath.
And life is a road and we will keep going
Love is a river that we will keep flowing
Life is a road now and forever wonderful journey
I'll be there when the world stops turning
I'll be there when the storm is through
In the end I will be standing
At the beginning with you…
She is mouthing the words along with the recording now, and nobody doubts that she had meant those lyrics with everything in her, or that she still does, even more with every passing day.
We were strangers on a crazy adventure
Never dreaming how our dreams would come true
Now here we stand, unafraid of the future
At the beginning with you…
I knew there was somebody somewhere
Like me alone in the dark
I know that my dream will live on
I've been waiting so long
Nothing can tear us apart…
The look they share is almost too intimate to bear as the song whispers to an end.
In the end I will be standing at the beginning with you…
The very instant the last note begins to fade he's kissing her desperately, greedily, almost starving. She yields immediately, throwing her arms around his neck and pouring her own soul out to meet his in a kiss so passionate the very air around them scorches.
The audience rather pointedly looks away.
She's bright red when he lets her go, and he looks halfway to drunk. Since he has had no more than a flute of champagne and a glass of wine all evening, the obvious conclusion is quickly reached, and the level of chatter-noise rises noticeably while Barbara and Lynley make a seemingly unobtrusive exit through the rear door.
The party continues long into the night.
Barbara and Lynley, needless to say, do not attend.
"Oh, Barbara." They've barely made it to the landing before he's pulling her impossibly close to bury his lips against her hair. "Oh, Barbara!"
Instinctively she presses her lips to his throat, and glories in the full-body shudder that wracks him as he clutches her. "Tommy, Tommy…"
"Barbara. Barbara-lynne, I love you. I love you so much I ache with it."
"I know. Oh, love, I know…"
Unsteadily they make their way up the rest of the stairs. They'd decided to have the reception at the house in Cornwall for several reasons – the quick escape to a bedroom and total privacy being the chief of those. This is hardly the first time they've loved each other this way, but this is their wedding night, and after so many years believing this would never happen, they're all but drunk on adoration and each other.
"My God, you're beautiful." The gown has long since been discarded, clothes abandoned at last as they caress each other.
When he undoes her hair, the roses cascade around her like fragrant rain.
They lose themselves in each other then. He touches her softly and she sighs. She kisses him and he groans, long and low. He marvels at the petite curves of her body; she revels in the strong warmth of his arms as he cradles her.
And then the world flies away as he enters her.
He swallows her gasp and strokes her hair; helplessly her hands stroke the smooth planes of his back as they abandon themselves to pleasure so sharp it's edged in exquisite pain.
When they wake, wrapped in each other, their faces are both damp with tears.
Gently he kisses one eyelid and then the other; she wipes her thumbs over his cheekbones with a look of awed reverence.
"Dawn," he remarks softly, as the first rays of pink-and-gold light set her hair afire. "At the beginning…"
"Always, with you." She rests her head on his chest, hearing the strong, steady beat of his heart beneath her ear.
Together, they watch the sunrise.