I don't own Mass Effect. Please don't use my OCs without permission.

I started this on a whim, after listening to the conversation between the asari/turian couple at the souvenir shop in ME2. This is a human/turian story, but I might try asari/turian once I get comfortable. ME is damn addictive, and I am and forever will be a sucker for inter-species relationships.

This chapter begins ten years after the First Contact War, and the main body of the story will be about a year before the events of ME. Forgive my weird page breaks, I'm in a mood.

She was barely five when they met, bullied for her stutter. The other humans had made a target of her every day, but it usually consisted of the same tired insults: "N-n-naama c-c-can't t-t-talk! P-poor N-naama gonna cry t-t-to teacher!" They were mostly under ten as well, and not exactly what Toren would call creative. But it hurt the young human, her tears proof enough.

Toren was ten, and taller than most of the humans that bothered Naama. He'd been minding his own business, walking home from school when their bullying morphed from (relatively) harmless cruelty to real violence.

His father, Syphus Alaeron, had made it clear to Toren that he was not to retaliate if humans bullied him. They were the only turian family on the entire colony, placed there by the military to watch the human colonists and act as a sort of diplomat. The colony supplied copious amounts of a rare-earth metal that was crucial in the manufacture of a new kind of shield the turian military was desperate to outfit their fleet with.

He and his family were there to remind the colonists who paid their wages, and as a show of goodwill to imply that their shields were not to prepare for another war. The passing of ten years had done little to relieve the tension between the species, and the Alaeron family was admittedly in a dangerous position. But it was necessary.

If Toren were to get into a fight with humans, racist and bigoted as they were, they would blame the lone turian child. They might turn on the turian family, even Laisa Alaeron, Toren's remarkably open-minded mother.

Despite the warnings and the danger, Toren couldn't help crossing the street when the Leah, the tallest of the group of bullies, pushed the little brown haired girl down. He wasn't allowed to start fights or even to defend himself, but this wasn't that. He was defending a human. Surely this, this was permissible where that wasn't. He already knew his logic was going the wrong direction, but he really didn't care. One of the boys, a scrawny pale fellow, tried to take Naama's backpack.

"Leave her alone," the young turian growled, grabbing every child's attention.

Naama didn't know why she stuttered. She'd done it forever, but her father told her she would grow out of it some day. Her teacher made her come to class a half an hour early every day to see the special kids' teacher, and she made the five year old recite poems and songs. When Naama sang, she didn't stutter.

But the other kids didn't care that she was going to get better some day. Leah, the fifth grade girl, would sneer at her and make fun of her when they all queued for lunch. She got the other kids to follow her halfway home, making fun of her. Her father told her not to say anything back, to pretend they didn't exist so they would get bored and go away, but it never worked. They always followed her. And then one day, when Naama was trying her hardest to pretend Leah and the others didn't exist, the fifth grade girl pushed her onto the sidewalk.

Naama lost her breath, shocked by the pain of her bottom striking the concrete. For a moment the world went black, and all Naama could think about was running home. Then someone started pulling her backpack off.

"W-w-w…" Naama tried to say. "L-leave m-m-m…" It was barely a whisper, and the tears she'd been fighting began to slide down her cheeks.

"Leave her alone."

Naama's neck hurt, she looked up so fast. The flanging voice, so unlike any human, was confident and strong. When she found the source of her defender she almost started crying harder. The turian from the fifth grade. He never talked to anybody unless he had to, and he never played with anybody. Her father said turians were mean and bad.

His green eyes flashed, bright against his brown skin. His face was painted with white marks.

The children around her were silent for a long moment, but Leah was the first to recover. "Go away, cockroach."

"Get up," the turian said, looking straight at Naama. She gulped, for a moment more afraid of him than of her bullies.

"I said," Leah growled, "Go. Away. Or else."

"Or else what?" the turian snapped. "You'll push me down? Try it!" His mandibles flared, making him look like a monster.

Leah stepped back, clearly surprised by the bold display. "I'll tell on you," the fifth grader threatened.

"What will you say?" the turian jeered. "I wouldn't let you beat up a first grader? You know, turians don't lie. Not like you." Leah started to bristle at the insult, but the turian just walked right past her like the meanest girl in school didn't exist. He offered Naama his hand. "Let's go," he said quietly.

She stared at his hand, feeling like she had to choose between the frying pan and the fire. But his green eyes, though small, were pretty. And he sounded friendly when he talked to her. Gingerly, she took his strange three-fingered hand and let him help her up.

"What are you doing?" Edgar, a third grader, yelped. "He's a turian."

Naama swallowed nervously, letting the turian lead her past Leah.

"If you go with that turian, we'll make sure you regret it," Leah warned, nearly shrieking.

The five year old opened her mouth to respond, but the turian beat her to it.

"You won't be bothering her anymore." He turned, blocking Naama from their view. "If I ever see you bullying her again, I'll make sure you all regret it. Remember, turians don't lie."

With that, he turned sharply, tugging her hand along as he took off at a quick clip. Naama struggled to keep up with his enormous stride.

He was obviously angry, his mandibles flaring and clamping down over and over as he stared ahead. They charged nearly two blocks before Naama stumbled, and the turian ground to a halt under a tall shade tree.

"Sorry," his muttered, his strange voice conspicuous in the quiet. "I just got so mad."

"It's ok," she whispered.

He scanned her, sizing her up. "You shouldn't let them bully you like that. Tell your teacher, ask your mom or dad to meet you after school."

"Dad, h-he c-can't. He h-has to w-work."

"So, your mom."

She looked down, flushing with embarrassment. "She l-left."

"Huh?" The turian was obviously confused. "When's she coming back?"

"N-never," Naama's voice barely managed to make it to the turian. "She h-has an-nuh-nother f-f-fam-mily…"

The turian watched her struggle, the sighed. "Don't get upset, I'm sorry. I didn't mean bring it up… You stutter more when you're upset, huh," he observed.

"Y-yeah," she whispered.

"My name's Toren Alaeron," he offered abruptly.

"I'm N-naama M-Miller."

"Come on," Toren suggested, tugging the hand he still held. "I'll take you home."

She followed along meekly, sneaking glances at the tall turian. He was almost the color of chocolate milk. The white marks on his face reminded her of marshmallows melted into a cup of hot cocoa. He was so strangely shaped, with hard skin and sharp points. Kind of like a bug.

"I thought t-turians w-were m-mean," she dared, regretting it instantly.

"We're not mean," Toren grumbled.

"D-daddy said t-turians killed a l-lot of p-people."

"That was a long time ago. We're on the same side now." Toren's father didn't hate humans, it was why he'd been sent to this colony, but that didn't mean he actually liked them. Toren didn't really care, so long as they didn't bother him.

"And you h-helped m-me."

"It was the right thing to do," Toren mumbled, rubbing his neck with his free hand.

"Th-this is m-my house," Naama mumbled back, tugging on the taller turian to pull him to a stop. He let her hand go. "Th-thanks… Toren." She hoped effort she put into his name wasn't too obvious. She covered up her nervousness by going to lift the latch to the little white fence that surrounded her family's module. The grass, green and lush, needed cutting.

"Naama. How about I walk you home from now on? You only live three modules down from me."

"Really?" She stood barely taller than the fence, but Toren could see the smile in her pale blue eyes, though they were red and puffy from crying.

"Yeah," he said, trying hard not to smile back. It usually made humans nervous when he smiled.

Toren walked Naama home every day. At first Naama was afraid that the kids would bully her even harder when Toren wasn't around, but somehow he always managed to be in the right place. He was in the same class as Leah, so whenever she was around Naama he was too. He had to sit with his class at lunch, but his sharp stare was enough to deter Leah when she got that mean look in her eyes.

When Toren found out she was home alone for two hours every evening waiting for her dad to come home, he started to stay with her. They played behind her module, in the woods behind the colony. They pretended to be explorers, braving uncharted worlds and facing off whole hoards of thresher maw and varren. For an entire week they even fended off an army of krogan.

About six months after Toren first started walking Naama home, the two of them were off for the summer. They met every day in the woods behind the modules, escaping into the shade to avoid the heat of the day.

"Toren!" Naama cried as soon as she heard his familiar steps crunching over the broken twigs and dead leaves of the woods. "I found something!"

"What is it?" he asked curiously, speeding up a bit.

"Look!" she shrieked joyfully, appearing out of nowhere and thrusting a fuzzy blue insect under his nose. "It's so pretty!"

"Ah!" he yelped, his foot sliding on a twig that refused to break. He fell on his behind on the cushioned ground, Naama laughing at his undignified position.

"Sorry, Toren," she giggled, reaching down to help him up.

"It's ok," the turian sighed, smiling. She'd learned quickly what his smile meant, and it didn't startle her anymore. What really pleased him, though, was that she was starting to get better with her stutter when they were in the woods together. Once they were out in the open the stutter came back in force, but in here it was like she didn't have any problems at all.

His mother said it was probably best not to say anything, since drawing attention to it might make her self-conscious.

"Just let her build her confidence on her own," his mother had said, pouring him a cup of spiced tea. He and his mother would always sit and talk when his father was at work. He hadn't really talked to Syphus about the human, though the older turian new he walked the girl home. His mother thought he was being very noble, however, and he didn't mind telling her about the human girl.

He took the hand she offered him, but instead of trying to stand he just dragged her down to the ground with him. She landed in a giggling heap next to him and he was laughing too, until he realized the bug had landed on his chest.

Toren taught Naama to climb trees on her sixth birthday. They'd often discussed turning one tree in particular into a fort, its sprawling nature and plentiful low branches making it perfect for a secret clubhouse or base of operations. Naama could make it into the lowest part of the tree on her own, but Toren had to help her get higher.

So he found himself reaching down to pull her up many times, both of them completely unafraid of the distance growing between them and the ground. Once they made it high enough into the leaves, they couldn't even see the ground.

"Toren," Naama nudged the Turian, who sat in the fork of a branch just a few feet from her. "Today in class, our teacher had us write a story about our best friend. I wrote mine about you. We're best friends, right?"

The eleven year old stared at her, sort of surprised, but then to the young girl's relief he smiled. "Yeah. We'll always be best friends."

She grinned, completely unaware of the fact that she hadn't stuttered once.

Four years passed peacefully. Toren grew rapidly, starting to show signs of being at least as tall as his father. Naama remained somewhat small, which only served to make the adolescent turian look even larger. The colony had long since come to accept that the turian youth walked Naama home. He never did anything wrong, he did well in school, and he was polite to every adult he spoke to. The only people who didn't like him were his fellow students.

He really didn't care, though. He was getting busy these days, preparing for his future. His father wanted him to enlist on his fifteenth birthday, and he had every intention of doing so.

Except, he hadn't told Naama yet.

Two weeks before he was supposed to ship out, Toren and Naama met in their tree. It'd evolved over the years, gaining decorations and some seating made out of nailed on boards. They'd even created flooring in the easier spots. They climbed together into the highest place they dared, completely surrounded by leaves. They were mostly orange and yellow now, preparing for the mild fall. Toren's green eyes stood out like emeralds in the summer, but in the fall his brown coloring made him look like a part of the tree itself.

She stretched out, precariously balanced across three different branches. Toren chose something sturdier, his own weight much less forgiving. Neither of them had ever fallen from the tree, and he didn't ever plan to.

"I hate my class," Naama mumbled, looking sideways into the leaves. "We were talking about the first contact war today, and they couldn't shut up about your dad. They said he killed a lot of humans."

"He probably did," Toren said distractedly, fingering the little box he'd hidden in his tunic pocket. "He was stationed on Shanxi. It's where he got hurt. A human is the reason he had to retire, though, so it's not like he got off easy." His father had a distinct limp, an old wound that hadn't healed properly in the POW camp the humans had maintained for a little over two weeks while the very first negotiations were being made. They'd tried to be fair to the prisoners, giving the turians full access to their safe rations and trying to administer first aid. They just didn't know anything about dextro medical care.

"That's what I said, but they didn't care. They just want to hate turians so bad."

"You would too, probably."

She shook her head hard, but didn't try to deny it out loud. They both knew that if he hadn't made a point of her protecting her when she was so young and impressionable, they probably never would've even spoken.

"Naama, I wanted to talk to you about something," Toren dared, nearly half an hour after they'd come to the tree house.

The nine-going-on-ten year old propped herself up on her elbows, looking at Toren expectantly.

"I'm leaving in two weeks. I enlisted."

Her heart nearly stopped. She felt the color drain from her face, heard him apologizing for not saying anything sooner, but the words just broke over her. He was leaving in two weeks.

"You're m-my best friend," she muttered, picking furiously at the bark nearest her sudden anxious hands. "I thought w-we'd…"

Her stuttering was proof enough that she was upset. She never stuttered in the woods or when she was with him, and her stuttering in public had improved in all but the most stressful situations.

"I wish we could just be like this forever, too," Toren sighed, pulling the little box from his pocket, "but we can't. I have to go, it's not an option."

"Will I ever s-see you again?" she whispered. Her voice always dropped to barely audible ranges when she was about to cry, and he wasn't sure a human would've heard her.

"Sure you will. We'll keep in touch, and when I'm high enough ranked or have shore leave I'll be sure to visit you. But until then, I have something for you."

She stared at him, dead-eyed. Her stomach was tight and painful, and she felt dizzy. He wasn't just her best friend, she wanted to say, but her only friend. She didn't play with anyone else after school. Didn't tell anyone else her secrets. She didn't want to. The others gave her a hard time about it, but… it hadn't mattered, as long as he'd been there to keep her safe.

He opened the little box, lifting a delicate golden chain with a plain round pendant.

"It's a locket," he said as if it needed explaining, prying the little thing open and looking at it. She leaned closer to see, and he shifted so that she could look as well.

The left side of the locket was engraved simply: For my dearest friend. On the right, a tiny copy of a picture they'd taken at the fifteenth birthday party she'd insisted on for Toren just a month ago. Her father had taken this picture, and Naama had given it to Toren afterwards.

The brown turian had leaned over her shoulder, surprising the younger human at his proximity. He rarely touched her, and usually only to take her hand for some reason or other. But he'd hugged her, and she'd nearly blushed until she realized her father was waving a camera. They were just posing. She'd leaned towards the turian and smiled for the camera, her blush managing to stay under control.

She sniffled, rubbing at her eyes with one hand. "I can't b-believe this," she muttered helplessly. "Why do you have to g-go, Toren?"

"It's custom," he sighed, snapping the locket closed and taking the hand she'd been so viciously rubbing her eyes with. The cold metal pressed into her palm, and she closed her hand around it and his fingers.

"Forget the custom," she begged, staring up into his pained eyes. "Don't go."

"I'm sorry, Naama. I really am."

The tears she'd been fighting escaped then, and she hunched over, trying to hide it from him. Awkwardly, Toren braced himself against the tree's branches and leaned over enough to put his arm around her shoulders.

"Don't cry, Naama. I'll send you messages every day, and when I'm allowed we can talk on the vid. It's not forever, when I turn twenty-five I'll be allowed to settle down somewhere. And I'll pick here, ok?"

"That would be dumb," she whispered. "There aren't any other turians but your mom and dad.

He was silent for so long she was afraid she'd angered him, but then he rubbed her arm. "You're here. That's what matters."

She cried again. It wasn't the last time they sat in the tree together before he left, but it was the first and last time she cried on his shoulder.

Naama blinked furiously, trying to clear the tears that had inexplicably welled up at the abused old memory. Ten years had passed since she'd seen Toren, though she'd been corresponding with him on and off most of that time. They'd never used the vids like he'd promised, but she didn't really care.

When he told her in his latest message that he was going to get a job on the Citadel, her heart had dropped to her feet. He'd said he'd come back.

But then…

I know this isn't really traditional, but… if you want to come here too, I'll help find you a job. We can share an apartment until we're both on our feet.

She put the datapad on her bed, determined to ignore the invitation, but somehow she found herself telling her father that she wanted to move to the Citadel just two days later.

Being the raunchy lady I am, I will probably change the rating to M eventually. *laughs maniacally*

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