Life was not particularly easy for those who were left after the galactic war, but time was on their side. The pieces that were laid askew were put back together once they were found and reached, and no one could remember a time in history when everyone, even those who had once been bitter enemies, flew under a banner of peace.
Tertius wasn't entirely sure how the political spectrum fared, considering the Citadel had been found in ruins, the council itself gone, and it hovered as a new satellite above mankind's Earth. Then again, like most people in the galaxy, he didn't really care; homes needed to be rebuilt, people returned to their families, and precious communication systems put in place. Anyone who was suspected of cheating these efforts was diligently put in their place, even by those who were self-professed pirates. It was enough to make one wonder why it took a war to make it all happen.
Since Citadel Security was officially disbanded due to it becoming obviously unnecessary and many officers vowing never to return to that place again, he decided to take what remained of his civic duty someplace more familiar. He enlisted with the rescue fleet alongside his brother, taking up missions to secure far outposts and retrieve stranded soldiers on various worlds. Without a colony to return to, being a vagrant on a military vessel seemed as much a home as anywhere. For the time being, anyhow.
Despite his feelings towards being grounded for too long, Keeda and what family welcomed her back were happy to have both turian brothers stay with them; they found themselves stationed around the Perseus Veil anyway. Of course, the extra hands for constructing homes on Rannoch didn't hurt. Tertius would even help his brother build a humble home for Keeda—a surprise wedding gift, Caien said, which, luckily for their bruised and broken hands, she accepted.
Watching the ceremony along a cliff side of the quarian home world was almost surreal, the sun setting off in the distance as both turian and quarian officials performed the rights of marriage. They took the most profound bits from each culture, neither seeming to want to outdo the other, and entwined the words of both turian duty and quarian devotion into something strangely, yet beautifully, poetic. There were people from all walks of life who decided to come, from members of other quarian flotillas to turian platoons. There was even a small ground of human troops he recognized from one of his messages; the man who was missing one of his legs seemed to be the life of the party, at least with the single women. The festivities were truly a sight to behold, and he was both happy and proud for his brother.
He couldn't help but think, though, that perhaps she would have wanted to see it.
It had been two years since he talked to Mary face to face. While she sent messages to him frequently through text, as it was the fastest and most efficient way of reaching anyone since most of the communication beacons were fried, he was still...saddened by her departure. He had no reason to be; she was on Earth, with her family and happily living in someplace 'out in the boonies', as she put it. Still, he missed seeing her, to know for sure if she was okay or not. Maybe she wondered about this herself, since, over time, she kept asking how he was more frequently. He would always say he was fine, but he wasn't so sure of that himself.
As the stars of the universe began to burn brightly in the night sky, the celebrations in full swing, his omni-tool started to flicker. It would do that every so often, sometimes from an incoming transmission and other times from feedback radiation bouncing through the atmosphere. All he could do was try not to think of what it could be and wait until the signal became stronger.
Eventually it did, Tertius subconsciously wandering off to view it. Everyone was preoccupied enough not to wonder where he went, at least, allowing him to find a quieter spot to access his messages. Even if it was his day off, it might have been from the fleet. What he received, however, was not typed as he expected, nor was it even prerecorded.
He froze in his tracks, his mandibles flicking out slightly in shock. "Mary?"
"I was wondering if you were going to answer!" she said, carrying a hint of relief. "Or if this thing would even send. Half way across the galaxy and you still leave me in suspense, huh?"
Though the image was a bit grayed and crossed with interlaced lines, the face he saw was clearly hers. She had aged, as was expected, with her blond hair a little longer and her smile lines a little deeper. It was dark where she was, most likely night as well, her back against the rough surface of a tree. Despite being surprised and overjoyed to see her, he couldn't help but remain silent, staring at the scarf that wrapped around the right side of her face. She appeared just as nervous about it since the day they last spoke, noticing that he was staring and tugging at the seam near her lip.
"Sorry, been a little busy," he tired joking, taking in a breath to break himself from his thoughts. "What with Caien having a marriage ceremony and someone having a birthday pretty soon...By the way, did you get your present?"
"Oh yeah, tell Caien I said congrats and...Wait, you, what?" she stammered, shifting in her seat. "You remembered my birthday?"
"Of course I did!" he laughed. "I asked, what, six months ago, didn't I? I sent it out around then."
"What did you get me?" she beamed, tucking her lose hair behind her one exposed ear.
"I can't tell you that! It's bad enough I said I sent you anything!"
He had been sure to research the significance of birthdays for humans beforehand, though. Apparently, eighteen constituted as a partial passage into adulthood, at least where some restrictions were removed. Though he had unfortunately missed that event, the same rules still applied. These revoked limitations included her favorite vid series her parents had once disapproved of. Despite the Citadel's destruction and the extranet being disconnected, copies of Blasto still existed in various merchant outcroppings in the galaxy. He just so happened upon a recording from a volus and, while the price was ridiculously high for it, he managed to purchase and send it off on a freighter heading for Earth. What he had wrapped it in, and what he would wonder if it was foolish of him to do so, was an embroidered scarf an asari maiden had weaved in exchange for a few rations. He paid twice of what she asked, considering it was worth far more than that, but the fact remained if Mary might find it...insulting. Tertius wasn't entirely sure how she was coping with her scars until then, and seeing her trying to cover them as much as she could with several noticeable layers made him more anxious. There would be a time and place to address it, though; all he wanted to do was talk to his friend.
"Maybe grandma got it," she mumbled, tapping the side of her face. "I moved, so I haven't gotten much physical mail lately."
"You did?" he asked, surprised. "I thought you liked it at your grandmother's."
"Oh, I do! I technically still live there," she corrected, "but I'm at an Alliance base now. Apparently my sister's insurance policy still carried over so they're, uh...They're going to try and fix my face."
"I've...never heard of that," he replied, trying to sidestep the greater issue.
"Neither did I," she shrugged, her face becoming distorted momentarily from the message's signal flickering. "But whatever works, right?"
"Yeah," he nodded. "As long as you're happy."
She paused, her smile twitching away ever so slightly as the feed became filled with more static. He could tell she wanted to say something more about it, taking in a breath and quickly letting it go while her left eye fluttered in thought. While he wanted her to say whatever was on her mind, unsure if they'd be able to speak like that again, he wasn't about to ask. If it would cause her to cry, he couldn't bring himself to do it.
"Hey, I'm not so sure how long this is going to hold out—"
"I miss you," she said abruptly, pressing her lips together from saying anything else too quickly. "I just...thought you should know that."
He smiled, the ache in his chest falling away. "I miss you, too. Next time I'm on leave I'll try to hitch a ride to Earth and see you for your next birthday."
"Really?" she asked hopefully. "But it'll take at least six months to get here."
"Maybe they'll have more Relays fixed before then. They got the ones around Illium and Palaven operational pretty quickly."
The message was on its last leg, his omni-tool's light even fading with the signal's dispersion. He could barely make out what she was saying at that point, her image dimming as well. With a smile he kept his wrist steady, sighing quietly.
"Goodbye, Mary. Happy birthday. I'll write again soon."
He could tell that she hesitated, her teeth exposed in a grin. "G...night, Tert...Love you."
With that the transmission terminated, leaving him to the dimly lit path and the dull commotion of the party he had almost forgotten about. Reading her last regards was much different than hearing it; she had started to end her messages with those words awhile ago, particularly when his previous text seemed disheartened. While he still wasn't sure what context it held for humans in their situation, it didn't really matter. He had been waiting to hear from her for what felt like ages, worried about the girl he had saved, who had saved him, in a time where very few people had anything left. If that's what one form of love meant, then he could honestly admit it to be true. Seeing her again flooded his senses with both happiness and relief, and it must have been written all over his face.
"There you are," he heard his brother say from behind, Tertius quickly disconnecting his omni-tool. He had sworn not to turn it on out of concern the Hierarchy might interrupt the joyous occasion with a new assignment for the next day. Tertius had grown accustomed to always checking, though, just in case. "We were about to make a toast. What are you doing out here?"
"I was, uh..." he rubbed the back of his neck, shaking his head. "Sorry, just had to check my messages."
"And?" he asked, crossing his arms. He wanted a straight answer, be it good or bad news, and Tertius knew he would keep pestering him until he said something.
"Mary sends her regards," he muttered, waving a hand, "and her congratulations."
Caien's arms dropped to his sides again, stepping up to him almost excitedly. "That's great! She's okay then, yeah? I know you haven't heard from her in a while. What else did she write?"
"She...didn't write anything," he replied slowly, attempting to contain everything she had said. "It was a vid message. A live one, probably from an Alliance network."
"No kidding," he said, putting a hand on his brother's shoulder as they began to walk back. Noticing Tertius's silence, his voice grew softer, hovering below what anyone off in the distance would hear. "Everything okay?"
"Yeah," he nodded, gazing up to the stars above. "Everything will be."
Author's Notes: Well, ladies and gentlemen, this brings an end to my interpretation of these two. Thank you all for reading and writing the wonderful reviews that made my day to see. After not writing fan fiction for about six years, it's nice to see my storytelling skills are still enjoyable. :) Kudos to anyone who figured out what was going on with the chapter titles, (though, to be fair, you had to view them from the actual chapters and not the scroll bar FF gives). Special kudos, though, to Archer83, who not only figured it out, but sent me a PM with a longer version that I had no idea existed! If you still haven't noticed it yet, just go though each chapter title and read the word in the bracket aloud consecutively. It should be pretty apparent after about five words. ;D As for future projects, I've actually considered writing a sequel to this one, as well as perhaps writing stories about the other side characters, (due to some reviewer suggestions! I blame you guys for wanting to write more! lol) Though, I'm not entirely sure if anyone would be interested, considering I've gone so far off the usual route of Mass Effect fiction as it is. XD; But we'll see; if anybody has any other interests they'd like to see written, leave a comment!
Now onto the long, perhaps boring part where I explain the themes/symbolism going on in the story! Woo~
Main theme: In short, love. (Aww...) In more detail, the story was portraying the different types of love found in life. This could be a love between friends, between family, and, yes, even love of the romantic sort, both requited and unrequited. Many of these relationships are pretty easy to spot, though I'd imagine the most complicated one for most people is actually that between Tertius and Mary. And...I did that on purpose. :P At this point I'd figure it was a love between best friends, but really the reader could skew it in any direction their head cannon desires in the aftermath. Many of you wondered why I brought in the OCs often and one of their roles, not just to weave the story a little better, was to act as a foil, (or possible representation), of what love can be. In the end, the gist was that love, regardless of its form, can help carry us through life, strive for things we never thought possible and get through our darkest hour.
...On a side note, the song 'After the Storm' by Mumford and Sons has pretty much become the theme song of this story. This is not only because I heard it from a Mass Effect video while I was writing, and I'm a bit biased because it became my favorite song, and I listened to it quite a bit while writing, but because it's actually rather fitting. Come to think of it, it's fitting for a lot of aspects of this universe...Hm. Anyway!
Hidden goodness: If you haven't gone back and figured it out by now, the chapter titles were words to 'Mary Had a Little Lamb'. Why? For symbolism, of course! Not too complicated, though; Mary is Mary and Tertius ended up being the lamb. I put a hint of this in chapter 16 when Dee Dee was speaking Portuguese, calling him 'The grumpy sheep' and getting a kick out of it.
If you have any more questions/comments, feel free to PM me or leave a review! Again, thank you all so much for reading!