Guns and battles are far from Mohammad's true passion: baking sweet desserts. The young pastry chef loves making indulgent treats for Homs' fighters, families and children.
"When I give a family sweets, it is as if I am handing them a treasure," he said as he laughed loudly for the first time, thankful for the power of a single cookie in a city ravaged by war.
Ayat shared Mohammad's delight for delivering glimpses of joy through pastries drizzled with sweet "ater" or syrup, even as gas, flour, sugar and milk were in short supply.
"She loved sweets, and more than that, she loved to watch me make them. We had even made date cookies and she died before she could eat them, so we gave them away," Mohammad said, still smiling.
A childhood cut short
Ayat was born and raised in the Old District of Homs, Syria's third largest city. Her father was a laborer and her mother stayed at home with the kids, instilling in her the value of hard work and family. The third of five children, Ayat's two older brothers spoiled the brown-eyed girl while the two younger siblings depended on her care.
"She loved to study and she would always study. When the siege happened there were no schools left open," Ayat's mother said.
More than 2,000 schools have been damaged or destroyed in civil war-related violence, and about 600 schools serve as makeshift shelters for internally displaced people, according to the Syrian government.
"She loved to help me with the housework, but I would not let her. I wanted her to study," Aisha said.
The western city of Homs relies largely on industrial jobs. For Ayat's family, education provided an opportunity for their children to escape manual labor in a country where the average monthly salary is $300.
"She wanted to be an expert in Sharia law -- maybe she could have even got her Ph.D. if she got good grades, but God did not plan this for her," Aisha said.
War and marriage
The Syrian uprising sparked by revolts across the Middle East forever changed Ayat's country and transformed Homs into a bastion of resistance against al-Assad's government.
"(Ayat) grew up on the love of God and when the demonstrations started she fell in love with the revolution and was very proud of her brothers who fought and died for freedom," Mahmoud said.
Revolution morphed into a full-scale civil war, consuming every corner of the beautiful country in a bloody and relentless fight for power. Amid a stifling siege on Homs, where the Syrian Army regularly blocked food, medicine and supplies, Mohammad and Ayat got married.
"I am very happy here with my life. Here our life is better than a honeymoon outside our country. We are not like the people who fled. Here we have our pride and we are defending our nation. I would prefer my honeymoon to be here amid the bombs and shells than for me to abandon my nation," Ayat told CNN earlier this year.
But as the bitter winter cold and intensifying government shelling added another dimension to the struggle for survival, Ayat began fearing for her life and the life of her unborn child.
"She began to get very scared, and every time she would hear a plane fly overhead she would become afraid," Mohammad recalled, "but she never asked to leave Homs. The opposite -- she was proud to stay, and I thank God for her martyrdom."
In Islam, martyrdom is a high honor granted by God to those who die fighting for their religion, country or rights of their community. Muslims believe a martyr is destined for heaven, so loved ones must celebrate rather than mourn their death.
"God gave her parents the patience to overcome the death of her brothers, and God gave me the patience to overcome the death of my brother. God willing, he will grant us the patience to overcome Ayat's death, too," Mohammad said.