Cary felt a trickle of sweat rolling down the centre of his back as he and his uniformed classmates baked on the unseasonably warm day. At least five hours they'd been out in the sun, but the end was finally in sight as the Second Lieutenant was welcomed back to the stage.
The surge of excitement in the group was palpable as the class was told to rise. Everyone knew what was coming next. Various scattered cheers broke out as they all stood, hats in hand. Under the pretence of stretching, Cary craned his neck and was barely able to see the service dress blues of his best friend two rows behind him and a considerable distance to the left. But try as he might, he couldn't manage to see Owen's face. Cary's own summer whites at least had a shot at reflecting the sun. Owen must be sweltering in his dark Marines uniform.
Cary had seen him standing tall above the other graduates earlier as all the Marines had risen for their commissioning, pride and intensity radiating from the face he knew as well as his own. The moment before he'd retaken his seat, Owen's gaze had zeroed in on his for a brief moment, a reconnection Cary had welcomed at the end of a busy, hectic week.
Cary sighed. Pretty pathetic to be missing him already with so much separation ahead of them. It was only a handful of hours and a hundred feet of distance right now. The enforced intimacy of sharing quarters for four years was going to abruptly end-way sooner than Cary was prepared for.
"I propose three cheers for those we leave behind! Hip, hip—"
"Hooray!" Cary shouted with the rest of the graduates.
"Hooray!" He tensed in preparation.
"Hooray!" Cary released all of the excitement of the day and uncertainty about the future in a huge upwards heave of his arm. Over one thousand hats flew into the air then smiling people were embracing and congratulating each other all around him.
Without the structure of the orderly rows of seats, when Cary looked back again, he could no longer pick Owen out of the crowd. Usually his friend and classmate's height made him instantly recognisable, but then again, there were a lot of tall soon-to-be-Marines out here today…
"We did it, Care Bear." The familiar low whisper in his ear was accompanied by a firm clasp to his shoulder.
A breath gushed from him in relief. He graciously finished shaking hands with a female middie near him before he spun around and thumped up against Owen in a fierce hug. He couldn't think of another occasion where he'd be able to hold his lover in public-the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' notwithstanding-and unashamedly took advantage of the rare opportunity.
Owen tensed for a second then curled his body to pull Cary in as close as possible, the muscles he took pride in maintaining flexing and rippling under his dark uniform. Cary closed his eyes and gave himself up to that strength. Just another minute…
Hands closed upon his shoulders and firmly set him away to a more respectable distance. Owen's warm brown eyes met his from under dark brows, arched in warning. Cary took the hint and dropped his probably all-too-revealing gaze.
"Guys! Ring knock?"
The voice of Jared-another of their company-at his side reminded him he hadn't turned his ring crest-outwards yet. Before he could make a move to do so, warm fingers raised his hand slightly. He watched between their bodies as Owen gently rotated Cary's ring upon his finger. It felt like an intimate moment, even though they were surrounded by the chaos of thousands of people, even with Jared standing there watching.
Owen started to withdraw his hands and Cary instinctively seized them, not wanting to lose the chance to do the same for him. The ring resisted his efforts at first, then glided around Owen's long ring finger. He made himself let go long before he wanted to.
Cary made sure the first fist bump of their proudly displayed Naval Academy crests was between him and Owen, before turning and doing the same with Jared and Mike, who had also joined them.
"You guys got family in town?" Mike asked as they stood in a tight cluster.