A/N: Nat belongs to reagans-ramblings on tumblr, as does the wonderful ME3-verse that this takes place in.
Thinking back, Joker wasn't sure exactly whose idea it had been.
Setting up an elaborate double date between three of the galaxy's busiest people and a woman whose job required her to be virtually impossible to track down was, strictly speaking, a terrible idea. Maybe Cal had suggested it, because she loved social shit like that. Or maybe he had, because social shit like that was a surefire way to convince Cal to take some shore leave on the Citadel. There was a pretty decent chance it had been Kaidan, for no other reason than Joker was more than willing to put some good-natured blame on the major. Hell, it might've even been EDI who'd brought it up, and in that case he was just glad he wasn't on his way to meet her and Sam.
Although, awkward as EDI could be, a double date with her and the comm specialist could potentially be less awkward than a double date with Major Alenko and Commander Shepard — the now very pregnant Commander Shepard, who he'd once dated, and who his current girlfriend was definitely a little bit into.
Yeah, he'd rather take his chances with EDI and Sam.
But then his omni-tool chimed with a message from Kaidan saying they were running a few minutes late, and Joker typed up a reply that Cal was still MIA, and it was officially too late to back out. He fidgeted with his suit — again; it was only at the insistence of both Cal and Kaidan that he'd even agreed to wear it in the first place — and opened a vid call to Cal. "Any chance you're still in another system? Running tragically late and we'll have to miss dinner?"
She laughed. "Just landed, unfortunately. I'm on my way over."
"Alright. See you then." Not leaving the crew quarters just yet, Joker glanced reflexively over to where EDI's display had once been. "EDI, let me know when Cal gets here."
"Of course, Jeff. I can also alert the Commander with an updated estimation of your arrival, if you'd like."
He groaned in response.
Fortunately for Joker, the Normandy was blissfully empty given that they were finally getting a rare bit of shore leave. Adams was still down in engineering, and he was pretty sure Tali and Traynor were both around somewhere, but with EDI's help it had been easy enough to avoid them all evening. This whole ordeal — dressing up and looking presentable and going out to a fancy restaurant — was certainly not high on his list of ways he typically preferred to spend his time on the Citadel, and the last thing he wanted was to have to deal with comments from the rest of the crew.
But by the time he'd met Cal down in the CIC, he'd almost changed his mind about dressing up and going out; her short hair was combed back into its usual style, and she wore simple heels and a fitted suit with a black jacket and a crisp white shirt left partially unbuttoned, and she was quite possibly the best damned thing he'd seen since the start of the war. Or ever.
Joker pointed to her shirt. "You missed one," he said, clearing his throat as he tried to find his voice.
"I prefer to think of it as giving you a head start, you know, for later, but I can always—" Cal moved to fasten another of the buttons, and he quickly retracted his statement.
"Actually, on second thought, it looks great." He paused, not bothering to hide how his eyes roamed across her figure. "You look great," he added, voice filled with sincerity, and emphasized the statement with a kiss, just a light brush of his lips against Cal's.
"I look fucking fantastic," she shot back, stealing a quick kiss of her own, "and you're not so bad yourself. But I was promised dinner, and company that I haven't spent the last four months with."
He took her hand as she led him out through the main airlock and towards the skycar she'd brought. "Is it that bad?" Joker frowned; Alliance special ops weren't easy during the best of times, but with the war, Cal's N7 training had been pushed to the limits. He knew it had been draining her, but the level of exhaustion in her voice was still unexpected.
She gave little more than a shrug in answer, climbing into the skycar and not surrendering Joker's hand even as she keyed in the location of the restaurant. "War sucks and everything's classified." Despite her words, Cal launched into a vague explanation of her most recent mission, detailing the soldiers she'd lost and the relative lack of success they'd had against the reapers. Joker chimed in where he could, adding sarcasm or supportive comments as needed., and Cal's mood had nearly lifted by the time they reached the restaurant.
They were the first ones there, and a quick message to Kaidan confirmed that it wouldn't be a long wait. The reservation was under Natalie's name, and apparently being Commander Shepard meant no waiting in lines, because Joker and Cal were almost immediately led to a relatively secluded table near the back. The second couple joined them before they'd even ordered drinks, and Joker wasn't sure whether he or Cal was being more obvious about their staring; he'd long since accepted that Kaidan would always manage to look unfairly handsome — and it didn't hurt that his suit actually looked like it fit — but it had been a long time since he'd seen Nat out of uniform and she was practically glowing, with her hair pulled up into an elegant bun and the contrast of the deep green of her dress against her warm brown skin.
"Calliope Olson." Cal stood, just a bit too quickly, and held out a hand first to Kaidan, then to Nat. "Joker talks about you all the time."
Nat raised one perfectly arched eyebrow as she sat across from Cal. "Does he?"
It had been years since they were together — they were just kids on Arcturus, back then — but damn if it wasn't suddenly very, very awkward. Repressing the sudden urge to get up and head straight for the bar, Joker shrugged. "What can I say? Cal's a longtime fan of yours, and I aim to please." Cal snorted at that, and Nat gave her a pointed, knowing stare; the urge to leave grew, and was accompanied by a rush of heat to his face.
"No, he's right," Cal admitted as she recovered from her laughter. "I've been following your career since Elysium. You caught my eye after Eden Prime," she continued, turning towards Kaidan. "The only biotic originally on board, and with the woman who would become the first human Spectre? Of course I was interested."
The two shared a sidelong glance; Kaidan looked a bit overwhelmed, but Nat seemed to be thoroughly unimpressed. She got recognized far too often for Cal to even phase her. Joker, who was fairly certain that his attempt to disappear into his chair was not working, was nearly prepared to intervene — as much as he loved how excitable Cal could be about everything from Nat to sniper rifles to wheat fields, this was not a good time — but was saved by a waiter bringing their drinks. The conversation lulled, and after a moment Kaidan set down his whiskey and cleared his throat. "So, Calliope, how'd the two of you meet?"
"He doesn't shut up about you," Nat interjected, sipping at her water, "but none of us ever really paid attention. 'I've got a girlfriend, she's just involved with top secret Alliance missions and she's really hard to get a hold of' isn't exactly the most credible story."
"Just Cal. And well, it was… actually…" She trailed off, giving Joker a look that clearly said help; it was never easy to bring up the two years Nat had been gone, especially for those who hadn't actually discussed it with her before.
"It was while I was grounded," he offered, knowing Nat would catch his meaning. "We were at a bar, she asked me to dance, I told her I didn't feel like breaking a femur." He shrugged. "Typical meet-cute. You know."
If Kaidan was shaken by the mention of Nat's death, he didn't show it. "Somehow, I don't have too hard of a time imagining that," he said dryly, not quite rolling his eyes.
"What about you?" Cal asked, pausing to take a drink of whatever bright pink concoction she'd ordered. "How'd the two of you meet?"
Nat gave a flat, "My father," at the same time that Kaidan said, "A tech issue." They both laughed, and Nat explained, "My dad handpicked the original Normandy crew. He chose Kaidan specifically for his biotics, and Joker specifically to piss me off," she added with a mock glare in his direction. "But actually met face to face? That… yeah, I guess that's what it was. I had an issue with my omni-tool and Kaidan helped me work it out."
"That's so much better than 'we saved the galaxy and they hooked up.'" Cal emphasized the words with air quotes, tossing a teasing grin in Joker's direction.
"In my defense, I did try my best to stay out of their way."
With dinner out of the way — which, if Kaidan were being honest, hadn't gone as badly as he'd feared it might — the four of them began walking back towards Nat's apartment. It wasn't far, and the streets were quiet enough that there wasn't a need to get a cab. They were in no particular hurry to get back, and Kaidan walked with an arm around Nat's waist as they made their way through the Strip.
The bright spot of the evening, he thought, had been getting to spend so much time talking and reminiscing about their time on the SR-1, before things had gotten so damn complicated. Out of the frying pan and into the fire, as it were.
He watched as Cal and Joker walked a ways in front of them, hand in hand, laughter occasionally ringing out into the night. Kaidan had known that Nat and Joker had been together, before, but their double date had piqued his curiosity — less about the two of them, and more about Natalie, and how she'd been when she was younger. He wondered if she'd laughed more, back on Arcturus, back before she'd fought her way to hell and back and returned triumphant. Before life had hardened her, before all the scars that he knew so well — the ones he'd once learned and re-learned, after Alchera, and the cybernetics from Cerberus that still sometimes flared up.
Kaidan wouldn't ever give up the woman Nat had become, but sometimes he still wondered.
"You're quiet tonight," Nat observed with a tilt of her head, eyes searching his face.
"Just thinking," he assured her.
"You." He leaned over to place a light kiss on her forehead, right above her eyebrow, where he knew the bright lights of the Strip hid the soft glow of her cybernetics.
Nat gave a quiet laugh. "You've already got me, Kaidan, you don't have to butter me up."
"Mm. Let me enjoy it." He fell silent for a moment, attempting to collect his thoughts; in front of them, Cal stripped off her jacket and tossed it at Joker, following it up with a less-than-subtle innuendo and laughter at his half-hearted protests. She wobbled a bit as she slid out of her heels, tucking them under one arm and falling back into stride with Joker. "It's just— Do you remember being that… carefree, I guess?"
"No." Her answer was automatic and unhesitant, but after a few moments she amended, "More than now, maybe, but never entirely. It's been a long time since I've gone without some sort of weight on my shoulders."
Kaidan's only response was a thoughtful hmm as he considered all the things that had weighed her down over the years — himself included. He was under no illusion that the state of the galaxy was in any way his fault, but things could've perhaps been different if he'd been the one to receive the vision from the beacon on Eden Prime, all those years ago, instead of Nat stepping in because she'd wanted to save him.
But maybe it didn't matter. Maybe it would always be complicated, and what mattered was being at Nat's side when those complications arose.