Nate scrubs a hand through his hair as he stacks his notes together. It was an honor, obviously, to be a guest lecturer for his alma mater, but that didn’t mean that it wasn’t hard work. The Q&A had been interesting, even if it wasn’t what he was expecting.
“Happy for it to be over, Nate?” Tom Ricks asks, grinning at Nate from the front row. He’d sat in on the lecture ‘for my own amusement, Nate, don’t be so suspicious’. Nate had noticed that he was smiling a lot more than usual, but had put it aside, intending to ask once they were out of here.
“I enjoy lecturing, you know that,” Nate replies, with a smile. “But I will be perfectly happy to go home, have a beer and watch Brad grill up something.” He smiles, still warmly happy every time he thinks of Brad and the life they’ve made together since DADT was repealed. He turns back to the desk, dropping the folder of notes in his briefcase, pulling on his winter coat and wrapping his favorite green scarf around his neck.
Suddenly, there’s a tingle on the back of his neck; something warning, the hint of someone watching, that sixth sense that he’d developed in theater in Afghanistan and Iraq. Immediately, he straightens and turns, sweeping a look across the lecture theater. There are still a few students there, quietly discussing the lecture or tidying notes or putting away laptops – and catches a flicker of movement at one of the doors as someone moves.
His eyes narrow with suspicion, even as he questions what he saw. That back view is unmistakable to any Marine – blue trousers with bloodstripe, sword, navy jacket and white belt, white gloves, white cover. Dress Blues? And at Dartmouth?
He flicks a look down at Tom, and Tom is grinning, closely resembling the Cheshire Cat. Suspicions confirmed, Nate growls, “I knew you had ulterior motives.” There’s a student girl coming forward, looking so hopeful and young, and Nate adds, “You can answer the questions, Ricks. I’ll be back shortly for my briefcase.” It’s an order. He’s not angry, just vaguely annoyed and slightly worried.
Tiredness is forgotten as Marine training kicks back in instinctively. His breathing evens out, and he steps into motion, taking the stairs two at a time, up and out, and yes, that was Dress Blues – disappearing around the corner of the corridor.
Striding out, he makes his way through the few, scattered students that are still here after six. Always, those Dress Blues are just out of sight. He can’t shake the feeling that something big is happening – Tom and Marines are involved, there’s bound to be shit-stirring going on – but he has no idea what it is.
As he rounds the corner, the Marine is trotting down the stairs. At the foot of the stairs is another Marine in Blues – who looks up, and Nate recognizes Hasser. Clearly realizing he’s been seen, Hasser ducks his head and follows the other Marine out. Nate pauses, confused. Walt Hasser? He was never been much of a troublemaker – why is he invol- wait, the other Marine was short and lean, with dark hair. Ray. Nate grins, almost involuntarily. Ray Person was one of the greatest shit-stirrers that the Marine Corps had ever had the displeasure of enlisting. If Ray was involved… Well, at least this is going to be good.
He heads down the stairs, pushing open the doors and emerging to early-winter chill and leaden skies that smell of snow. Walt and Ray are walking quickly along one of the paths across the snow-dusted Green, and Nate keeps up easily – and then sees where they’re going. Marines in Dress Blues are lined up in an aisle from the path to a particular tree – one of the great old elms opposite the Baker Library, the Century Elm.
He knows what that tree is traditionally the site for – proposals.
His steps slow as he takes in what’s happening. There’s a small crowd around, obviously drawn by the dress uniforms and the Century Elm. His heart is swelling, full, and the winter cold is falling away in the warmth of the love that is burning in him. He knows he’s smiling – grinning fit to burst – but he’d always relegated this day to something that would never happen. DADT had meant his and Brad’s relationship was a secret, and even when DADT was gone, they’d had trouble deciding if they were even going to live together. Brad had never been much for marriage, for obvious reasons, and Nate had never pushed him. Marriage was too big, too much, for them to even contemplate.
Nate had never been happier to be wrong.
He pauses at the end of the aisle. Ray and Walt are there, have slipped into formation, and Ray flicks a quick wink at Nate – and behind him, Reporter snaps a picture. Nate raises an eyebrow, and Wright just grins.
“Platoon, draw SWORDS!” comes the bellow from the other end of the line – the unmistakable rumble of Mike Wynn’s voice. Nate has had too much amazement for the last few minutes to even be surprised. The Marines draw as one, and for a moment, Nate remembers watch them practice this, one balmy afternoon before Iraq. “Platoon, ATTEN-HUT!” They all snap to attention – smart, precise, and Nate’s pride swells for his men. “Present ARMS!”
Swords snap out and up, saluting, and for the first time, he looks down the aisle. There at the other end is Brad, in Dress Blues and the most handsome man on the planet. Nate admits he’s biased, but those broad shoulders and narrow hips are exactly what the uniform was designed for. The bloodstripe on his trousers is endless red, belt and cover sparkling white, sword at his side as befits a warrior.
Nate has never felt so in love, wanting so badly, overwhelmed by how much he needs this man. He takes the first step down the aisle of his Marines, passing their smiling, proud faces, and then he’s in front of Brad. Brad is smiling, and hope and fear are warring in his eyes. Nate reaches out, Brad takes his hand, and there’s electricity in the contact – as there always is.
Somewhere behind them, Mike is calling Parade Rest, but Nate doesn’t care. Brad is here, and this is one of the most important moments of his life.
And then Brad drops to one knee, looking up at Nate with clear eyes. “Nate. I love you and want to be with you. Will you marry me?” It’s in a tone Nate has never heard before – laced with hope and love, foundationed with absolute surety that this is the right thing.
Nate smiles, and reaches down, sliding cold fingers across Brad’s jawline. “Yes,” he says, completely sure.
Brad stands, and his smile could have lit a thousand suns. His hand lifts, tilting Nate’s chin up. His eyes are blazing blue, and totally consuming – and Nate leans into him, kissing him with all his heart and all the heat in his blood.
It’s an endless, perfect few seconds.
A cold drop hits his face – and they look up, to see the snow beginning to fall, fat white flakes. Brad huffs out a laugh, and Nate smiles with him, because it doesn’t matter – they’re warm.