Ayat Al-Qassab carefully slipped the beaded satin wedding gown over her small frame. She peered at herself in the rusted mirror and cautiously smiled. For a moment, her war-torn world was transformed and she was a beautiful bride -- free, safe and happy.
A mortar shell exploded somewhere near her Syrian home in Homs, waking her from a daydream. She quickly wrapped a white headscarf tightly around her hair and prepared to leave for her wedding.
Only a week earlier, Al-Qassab met her husband-to-be, Mohammad Jumbaz. Their families had coordinated the introduction. He was a pastry chef and part-time fighter for the rebel Free Syrian Army which wants to oust President Bashar al-Assad. She was 18 and from a family who didn't like the al-Assad government.
They took no lingering looks across the room, and time didn't stand still when their eyes met. They simply chatted as Syria's nearly 20-month-old civil war rumbled in the background.
"I had a feeling in my heart," Jumbaz said, recalling that day. "I cannot describe it to you.
During the interview, a shell boomed in the distance.
"In a time when we are under siege and there are sounds like this, I told my mother I decided to fulfill half my religion and to get married," he said, "and without ever even seeing my bride, everything went perfect."
"We saw each other and we liked each other," she said, "and in just one week we were married to each other."
Marriage as revolution
Homs has borne the brunt of the Syrian military's wrath since violence broke out nearly two years ago in the nation. Many who live in the city consider it to be the unbowed guardian of the Syrian revolt. A massacre in the spring killed scores of women and children.
There, even marriage is an act of revolution.
"We must get married. Our lives must continue," Jumbaz said defiantly. "We have not surrendered, and we will not surrender. This is a promise. A promise we will keep, God willing."
Out of respect for the dead, the couple held a small ceremony in the family apartment rather than a traditional large and noisy Syrian wedding.
"It was not appropriate to dance and play music," Jumbaz said. "We recently received the body of my martyred brother, and many other families have martyrs as well. So it was a small family affair."
Speaking via Skype, the couple seems to have little interest in chatting about romance or the frivolities of weddings. Instead, both are enthralled with their love for revolution and an ancient country that appears lost to war and strife.
"I wore a white dress, but we did not have a traditional wedding because of this animal in power," Al-Qassab said. "We hope once the regime falls we can have a wedding, because our happiness is the end of this government."
The couple spent their honeymoon at home, struggling to survive as al-Assad's forces relentlessly shelled Homs.
But Al-Qassab said she is very happy to stay.
"Here, we have our pride and we are defending our nation," she said. "I would prefer my honeymoon to be here amid the bombs and shells then for me to abandon my nation."
In the Middle East, where arranged marriages are common, there is an Arabic word for love after marriage: "ashra." It means the love from living life together. It is emotion based on mutual respect, understanding and a need for a partner to survive all life's struggles.
"I am not upset that I got married under these circumstances," Al-Qassab said. "The opposite. I am proud that I married one of the revolutionaries, and I am proud to be here in old Homs defending my nation and my dignity."
Now, after more than a year and a half of violence, living life amid the constant killing and dying is the greatest form of rebellion for the couple.
"I took this step, because I am a man who has faith in God and destiny," Jumbaz said. "The days that passed were very hard on us. I still thank God for everything, but I felt something was missing in my life. I do not know how to describe it.