Natalie's hands shook as she stood in front of the mirror in her old bedroom at Llanfair and looked at the reflection staring back at her. She'd spent the morning at Foxy Roxy's, completely at the mercy of Roxy and Tina, so she considered it a minor miracle that her makeup was understated and her hair was tied back in a simple chignon with just a few curled strands hanging loose to frame her face. She'd never been a dresses-and-frills girl, so as she took a long look in the mirror, she almost didn't recognize her last look at Natalie Buchanan Banks.
Natalie turned at the sound of the voice in the doorway.
"Wow," Rex said with a grin. "Natty, you look…wow."
"Thanks." Natalie hesitated and glanced down at her ivory cocktail dress. "You don't think it's too much? Or maybe not bridal enough?"
"I think it's perfect," Rex assured her, stepping into the room. "Of course, if you've changed your mind…"
"Rex, we talked about this," Natalie interrupted, a warning tone in her voice.
Rex threw up his hands defensively. "I'm just saying, if you want out, I've got a car out back," he said. "No one would blame you. It's only been a few months since the whole serial killer thing and…"
Natalie sighed and glared at her brother. The last thing she wanted to be reminded of today was that horrible day when she thought she'd lost everything. It had taken weeks for her to even be able to close her eyes at night without the image of that man's face haunting her. It hadn't been until the FBI had picked him up at a hospital in Connecticut that she'd been able to get a full night's sleep. And although she took some satisfaction in knowing that it had been an infection from the bite wound she'd given him that had finally caused him to slip up and get caught, there were still days that she struggled. She couldn't imagine what the past few months would have been like if John hadn't been with her every step of the way, even on her worst days.
"Rex," she said, forcing her voice to remain calm. "That's enough. I want this, so if you want to be a part of today, you're going to have to stop trying to talk me out of this and start being supportive."
"I am supportive, Natty," Rex said. "I'm not saying this isn't right…I'm saying, is it the right time? There's no harm in waiting a few more months."
"I thought about that," Natalie admitted. "When Mom first suggested this, John and I both thought long and hard about it before we agreed. But honestly, Rex, this is so long overdue…if my life has taught me one thing, it's that there's no point in wasting time. Isn't that the same thing you told me last year?"
"That was different," Rex protested. "Gigi had just come back from the dead."
"And I didn't?"
Rex frowned. "Alright, you have a point. And you're happy?"
"Yeah," Natalie nodded. "I'm happy."
Rex threw up his hands and grinned. "Well then, what the hell are we waiting for? Let's do this!"
Natalie laughed as she grabbed the bouquet off the bed. "I'm glad you're here, Rex."
"Hey, where else would I be on my favorite sister's wedding day?" Rex asked. "I'm just surprised Clint's letting me do this this time around."
"Well, he can't very well do it himself," Natalie pointed out as she looped her arm through his and he led her out of the room. "After all, he's not just the father of the bride today - he's a groom, too."
John frowned as he stood in front of the mirror and reached up to untie his crooked tie yet again.
"You always were useless with a tie."
John shook his head as he dropped the ends of the tie and turned around to face his mother and his little brother. "I am perfectly capable of tying my own tie," he insisted. "There's something defective about this one."
Eve shook her head and stepped forward, picking up the ends of the tie and getting to work. "There's nothing wrong with the tie, John. Now, those shaky hands of yours…"
"You nervous about something, Johnny?" Michael asked, stifling a laugh at the look his brother shot him. "Come on, you've done this before. You should be old hat at playing the groom by now."
"Michael…" Eve warned.
"Sorry. I'm just saying, it's nice to finally be invited to one of my big brother's weddings," Michael said. "Marcie and I were starting to think you didn't like us. And poor Gabe, the boy was starting to get a complex about the whole thing. And Jen…"
"If you try to tell me that your ten month old daughter has a problem with not being invited to weddings she wasn't even alive for, I'm going to smack you, best man or not," John said.
"Hold still," Eve instructed, pulling on the tie to get John to turn his head away from Michael. "And Michael, stop antagonizing your brother. I'm sure you remember what it was like when you married Marcie, so cut him some slack. Honestly, it's like the two of you were still little boys on the playground."
"Sorry," John and Michael both muttered.
"Uh huh," Eve said skeptically, tugging on John's tie was last time and straightening the knot. "There. Now, I'm going to head out and grab my seat. Can I trust that the two of you won't kill each other before the ceremony?"
Both McBain men nodded, so Eve smiled and kissed them both on the cheek, lingering just a moment as she wrapped her arms around John. "I'm so happy for you," she whispered, pulling back quickly and hurrying out of the room.
"You've got the rings, right?" John asked, turning back to his brother.
Michael nodded and patted his front pocket. "Same place they were when you asked me ten minutes ago," he said. "And ten minutes before that, and ten…"
"Alright, alright, I get it," John interrupted.
"You know I'm just teasing, right?" Michael asked. "I'm not really upset that we couldn't come to your last wedding attempts. I'm just glad you two kids are giving it another go. Third time's the charm, right?"
John nodded. "I'm not letting her go this time, Mikey."
"Good. Because if you screw this up again, I might have to kill you, John. You are far too unpleasant without Natalie." Michael paused and glanced down at his watch. "Now come on, let's get out there and get you married."
Growing up in a rough Atlantic City neighborhood, under the less-than-watchful eye of a drunk gambling addict, Natalie would have been afraid to admit to anyone that when Roxy was out at the casinos, when she was home alone or stuck in the corner of a pool hall somewhere, she sometimes dreamed of her wedding day. It had seemed an impossible dream at the time, of course, but as she'd once told Cristian, she had dreamed of having the whole nine yards - a traditional church wedding with all the bells, whistles and frills a girl could dream up.
That afternoon, she wasn't anywhere near a beautiful old church, and it was her brother, not her father, who walked her into the library at Llanfair. Her mother walked in front of her in a wedding dress of her own, escorted by Kevin and Joey, and her fiancé waited beside her father in front of a Christmas tree, not an elaborately decorated altar. Instead of a half dozen bridesmaids in some shade of turquoise that only a bride could love, she had Jessica and her mother had Tina, both in simple dresses of their own choosing. Her dreamed-of hundreds of guests had been whittled down to less than thirty of their closest family and friends.
There was no priest to welcome the "dearly beloved," no long homily celebrating love and commitment and partnership. The justice of the peace was nothing if not efficient, direct and to the point. The only traditional element that was saved were the vows. There would be no heartfelt, self-written vows for her silent, brooding fiancé.
At least, that had been the plan. Her parents had gone through their vows, she'd dutifully repeated "in sickness and in health," and stood waiting for John to do the same, when suddenly he was telling the justice of the peace that he had his own vows to recite.
"Okay, stop looking at me like I've got two heads," John said, smiling when Natalie laughed nervously. "I know I don't say much, but I've got to be a little bit more specific than that 'for better and for worse' stuff, so just bear with me here. I promise all of that stuff, but there are a few other things I need to promise you with all our family and friends here as witnesses. Natalie, I can't promise you that I'm always going to say the right thing or do the right thing or be in all the right places at all the right times. In fact, I can promise that I'm going to screw up and we're going to get in fights and we won't always have a perfect relationship. But I can also promise that no matter how much you yell or how much I refuse to say anything…I promise to fight for you, for our family. And I vow that no matter how far apart we might be, no matter what might have happened, I will always find my way back to you."
Nothing about that afternoon matched what Natalie had once thought she needed in order to make her dreams come true. Yet somehow, as she looked into John's eyes and heard the justice of the peace introduce "Mr. and Mrs. Clint Buchanan and Mr. and Mrs. John McBain," Natalie couldn't remember a single moment in her life that had ever felt quite so right.
A/N: And there it is! I can't believe we've reached the end. Thank you all so much for all the follows, reviews, favorites and messages for this story! I've already posted the first chapter of my next OLTL story, Dear John, so if you haven't already, be sure to check that one out. Thank you all for coming along on this ride with me!