PHD #422: Now What?
PHD #422: Now What?
Summary: Khloe and Vandenberg finally figure it out. What started out as very awkward has now tumbled downhill into a big ball of awesome. Of course, the lasting question: now what?
Date: 24 Apr 2042 AE
Related Logs: It began with Mouth-Shooting Range and ends with When It's Almost Gone. Everything in the middle.
Khloe Vandenberg 
Naval Offices, then Somewhere On Deck 4 - Battlestar Cerberus
You know, offices. Then hallways.
Post-Holocaust Day: #422

Note: This log contains light "relationship RP" that folks might find unappealing or inappropriate for work. Please enjoy at your own discretion.

Over a week since the showdown between the Areion and the rest of the fleet, and things are slowly settling back to normal. At least they are for Khloe. Dressed in a freshly washed and pressed set of uniform blues, brass and boots polished, split ends hacked off an inch or so and hair bound in her usual regulation braid, it's as if nothing ever disturbed her routine. There's even no sign of a limp as she crosses the naval offices with a stack of papers from the printer, and settles down in her cube for more fascinating paperwork. War is war; it's what she signed up to do as a profession, and Khloe is as close to a 'war machine' as there can be without being a toaster.

Naval Offices. Marines don't wander down here often and when they do its usually on official business. Trying to catch Khloe someplace private is a bitch, too. Thus, Van is incognito when she enters the offices. She's in her green duty pants and tanks, but her arms are covered by a zippered sweatshirt for workouts. The stitches on her face are gone but the lines are still healing. Her left hand, when it ever comes out of her pocket, is very beat up. Spotting the pilot just as she sits, Natalie wanders over and slowly approaches the cubical with a short smile. "Uhm. Hey, Khloe," she offers quietly.

Khloe stacks her papers up and begins filling in the blanks. Not looking up, "Hello, Lieutenant. You're looking fit for duty. It's a wonder what these doctors can do. I haven't seen Lieutenant Scaurus nor Lieutenant Aydin, so you'll have to come back." Apparently, the Knights SL keeps tabs on the comings and goings of pilots and whom they associate with.

Natalie's short smile fades slightly into the background of her pensive expression when Khloe says that. She looks around and clears her throat. In peacetime she would have been discharged due to the sheer number of injuries. 'Fit for duty' is not what she see's in a mirror. "Thanks." She swallows. "I actually wasn't here to see them. I, ah.. came to see you. Actually." Awkward. "I wanted to say that I- well- it meant a lot to me." She's non-specific as to what.

"I'm glad, Lieutenant. Keeping our Marines in tip-top shape will be integral if we're to continue operations as effectively as we have," Khloe opines, signing the first sheet, setting it aside, and beginning work on the second sheet. Repair authorizations and whatnot, including salvage requests for shattered birds that can't feasibly be repaired. Her own plane, 853, is marked as 'lost' - something she briefly frowns at, recalling the experience and the final air fight with the Spectres. It's clear that she's not going to be honest with herself as long as Vandenberg is content with keeping military protocols.

Natalie looks to Khloe, watching her work. She's quiet for a few seconds while the sheet is gone over, leaning against the entrance to the cube. "That's- I know, Khloe." She swallows. "That's why I push myself so hard. Why I think you do, too. We're, you know, not unalike." Very awkward. "I remember what you said. I know its hard for you. I- well, just try to remember what I told you in the hallway. I meant it." Its not quite halting and its not quite stumbling, but its obvious she's unsure of herself here. Not a common thing for the Marine.

Khloe pauses in her writing. A long pause. It's like she's debating something in her head. Finally, she clicks her pen closed, places it down on the page in front of her, and turns in her seat to regard the blonde. She peers up at her, resting her hands on her knees, her usual stoic scowl replaced with a look of concern. "Okay, Lieutenant," she says, softer, less edgy. "Natalie. Spit it out. You can lead fireteams into hell and back and order men and women in tactical excellence… and yet you lose your words when you come seek me out. Let's get this over and done with."

Nat wasn't prepared for her to turret around like that and ask her a direct question. Deer in the headlights and she just sort of blurts it out in a whisper. "You make me nervous." It hangs between them for a second and her left hand fidgets in her pocket, plucking at the fuzz in the interior. "I-" Quite nervous. "That's kinda why. The leading thing. Uhm, look, some Marines going on a mission soon that I'm leading. Really dangerous. We- I'm telling people to go to JAG to fill out Next of Kin forms and.." Her leg bounces on the ball of her foot. "I've got one filled out. But I just. I don't know. I felt like I should come see you. You've been on my mind. ..n stuff." By her tone she sounds a little frustrated to go with her nervousness. Like she doesn't know why in reality.

"Are you asking me if I'd be your next of kin? Is that it?" Of course Khloe completely misreads Natalie's pitch; if she can't be honest with herself about how she feels, how can she accurately understand how Van feels? "I'd be glad to handle things for you, in case you didn't come back, Lieutenant. That's fine."

Van's expression hardens into more insecurity. "No. I, I have this girl. She's not technically my daughter. But she feels like it. She was given to me to be charged with her care by an ailing aunt. When she died I guess she became mine. But she's my next of kin. Natalya Rassvet ….is her name." She looks down to the floor and her left hand finally leaves the pocket to show the heavy reconstruction that went into it. Its turned inside her right as if unconsciously trying to hide it. "I don't know what I'm saying, Khloe. I just-" She swallows again. "Just remember its cold out there alone. I know what its like. If things are too much or- or you feel sick again? People care. Some more than others." She stands there blinking, breathing, trying to look like she's okay with this but probably regreting the whole thing. "Sorry, I'll just." She tosses a thumb over her shoulder. "I'll be seeing you." She turns quickly from the cubical, looking around nervously to see if anyone overheard that before she steps off.

There's that pause again as seldom-used gears dealing with interpersonal relationships stutter into motion. Oh. "Lieutenant, wait," Khloe says suddenly, jumping out of her chair and circling around the cubicle wall to meet her half way. The taller woman comes to a quick stop, a bit closer to Van than would be appropriate in most circumstances. She considers reaching out for Natalie's healing hand, but she thinks better of it - or maybe just loses her nerve. "I…" She begins. She then drops her voice to a very discreet level. "Look, I can't talk about this, here. Coworkers. The last thing I need is… people… talking. Can we go somewhere?"

Vandenberg stops mid walk but doesn't turn around. She was probably hoping Khloe would forget it and just let her get away with her dignity intact - if that was even possible by the time she left. The Marine stands like a statue, only her eyes lifting to Khloe's when the woman comes around. Her hands continue to fidget. "I figured," she says quietly, even more unsure. "Just hard to find you anyplace else but work, Khloe." Hands move, looking like they are trying to rub a knot our of her left hand. "Yeah, we can go someplace. But- I- I know you're busy. Just whenever if you can't, you know, now." No details as to when her mission is, either.

"It's paperwork not due til tomorrow," Khloe explains, her voice still quiet. "It can wait. You apparently can't. Come on." She motions towards the exit, only stepping into motion once Vandenberg does. Rather than herd Van towards the exit or take the lead, she specifically takes the time to walk beside her.

Natalie's face flickers a little, a smile sort of poking out for an instant. "I, uh, okay." She glances toward the hatch out and steps off. Khloe walking beside her creates a nervous feeling of a different kind that just confuses her more. She pushes the hatch for Khloe to go first and looks to her in the corridor. "Where are we going? I'm not sure what's good for you."

"Anywhere. Nowhere. You know how a Battlestar is, there really isn't much of a private place," Khloe says, settling into a comfortable stride. After all, they are just walking at this point, with no destination in mind. She clears her throat when passing another airman, ceasing eye contact with Vandenberg; she waits for the airman to completely clear before she speaks up again. "I, uhm. I don't know. I'm guessing most folk wouldn't expect to find me on deck six." Up in Marine Country. "Do you… have any ideas?"

"I'm not good with stuff like this." Whatever 'this' is. "I can tell you a hundred secure places but I'm just a failure with talking privately with someone I.." She fades it away, walking beside the woman. "Let's just walk, I guess." It keeps her moving and from fidgeting her hands. Definitely more calming. "So, uhm. I. I-" A long sigh. "I think I have probably talked enough. You know me and never knowing when to shut up." There's a nervous laugh at the end. She doesn't quite seem to know where to go in her own mind. She's lost and confused.

Khloe smirks slightly. "You know, now would be a time where I don't think I'd admonish you for speaking your mind," she offers to the woman beside her. Khloe, too, begins to fidget with her hands a bit, and she shoves them both into her uniform trouser pockets to cease that activity immediately. "I'm… not even sure where to begin." A beat. "Do you remember… when I visited you? When you were laid out. You could barely keep your eyes open."

Khloe is talking. This is a Good Thing. It brings a visible relief to Natalie to have the spotlight off her. Its not a lot, but its enough. And needed. "I've got a lot on my mind. I think we'd be a pair of old crones before I finally shut up." She smiles over and up to Khloe. Its in her eyes: She's still pensive and confused. But hopeful. "It took me a day or two, but yeah, I do. I remember what you said I think. I remember what you did." Less the words and more the actions that Khloe performed.

"In the interest of avoiding the rumor mill, let's not repeat what that… action… was. All right?" Khloe's request isn't edgy, but her words are halted. It's as if she specifically has to keep a grip on her mind lest she bark as if giving orders. "I… it seemed like you needed it." A beat. "Gods, maybe I needed it. To know that… you were still there. You were seriously frakked, Natalie. The first thought that came through my mind when I saw you was," Khloe swallows, then finds her words again. "I thought you were going to die. And I don't think I've felt that realization so… strongly… with anyone else that we've lost in the fleet. Tisiphone was hard, but she was gone before we knew it. Lucky just… died. In space. Mouse and Launiere were dead by the time they hit the deck, but… it was still very sad. Honors to their service." She murmurs that last bit. "But seeing you, clinging to life like that. It was… surreal." And on she rambles.

Natalie shakes her head. "I won't say a word. Promise. But yeah, I needed it. Kinda bad." She looks down. "They put me into a coma over that weekend so I wouldn't feel the pain. Doc Adair said that strain on my body would have killed me, no doubt. Corpsman said my heart stopped on the medevac and they got it jumpstarted again." Its admitted quietly. Allowing something like that is, to someone like Natalie, like admitting weakness. She didn't just come close, Van actually died. "Ya'll have lost a lot, too. But it really hit you with me?" She smiles a little more, swallowing. "I know you say you thought I needed it. Khloe, that.. Seein' your face was really the first thing I remember after passin out before the fight was over on Areion. Havin' you there like that meant everything." Van loks like she's trying to search her mind for more but comes up short. "Everything."

This causes Khloe to lose her words again; still in step with the Marine beside her, her mouth opens and closes with a barely uttered syllable, but she stops short each time. Finally, when there's a cross-walkway off the hallway, Khloe just shakes her head and ducks inside. She's not quite fleeing, but she's definitely beginning to have second thoughts about all of this. "What am I doing," she finally breathes, resting her back against a wall in the narrow causeway.

Natalie walks along in silence. There's no pleasure taken in bringing that reaction from Khloe. Not a bit. "Sorry," is whispered. The Marine doesn't even look to the Viper pilot. Its a geniune apology for it. But as Khloe steps off into the narrow hallway, Nat slowly stops and turns back to face her. She clasps her hands, fidgeting again as she looks down the hallways. They're alone for now. She steps closer. "I'm scared, Khloe. I don't know what I'm doing, either. I just know that I think about everything that's happened and I'm worried about you. More than I probably should be. I-" Her voice fades out again as her expression turns towards the ground.

Khloe rests her head back against the wall she's leaning on, staring up at the ceiling. Her hands are out of her pockets, arms stretched out to the opposite wall, knuckles pressed against it. "Lieutenant. Natalie. Vandenberg. What am I supposed to call you?" She asks, still looking upward. "What's appropriate for me to call you? How far do we go with this? Frak, we haven't even done anything and I feel like… like… I'm doing everything wrong." Letting her gaze finally drop to look at the ground-gazing Vandenberg, Khloe offers, "You know I haven't even considered anyone since my time at Tau Garrison. And that was… a horrible error on my part."

Vandenberg stands in silence, once again massing her left hand. Other than that she hasn't moved. "Call me whatever you like, Khloe. I won't make a stink in public. I know you're a very private person. Perhaps the most private." The hair that wasn't burned away starts to drift around her face with her look down and she uses a hand to loop it around her ear on her right side. Not the left. There's more scars there. The rest, though, she doesn't comment on until her last remark. "I've had two people I loved with all my heart since I joined the Marines. I lost my near-husband on Warday. I lost another when my resistance effort failed on Aerilon. Losing the first one was hard enough. Losing the second was hell. I never thought I'd be able to handle another. But I can't consider them mistakes. Everyone means something." Its all said quietly.

Khloe laughs dryly. "Natalie, your life has been far different than mine. I'm going to figure that your experiences in… interpersonal relationships…" Is how she describes 'sex' - "…has been far more enjoyable than mine. I don't trust men. And I've, well," She clears her throat, voice cracking a little. "I've never really considered women. I mean, never really considered a, uh, relationship." She shakes her head. "Just tell me what to do, Natalie, and I'll do it."

Natalie's mind stays on the two people she mentioned, causing her breathing to slow and tremble a bit. The unshakable Marine might be a little less stoic than her other two Canceran counterparts, but her heart is no less locked away than theirs. Carefully guarded memories, she never brings those men up. Its a little glimpse of the woman that she once was before the bombs fell - someone far different. She gives a nervous laugh and lifts her eyes to look at Khloe after a few seconds while Natalie tries to deal with her thoughts. "Probably. But it doesn't have to be about that, Khloe." She clears her throat and takes another step forward pensively to close more of the distance. "Just, I guess, go with what feels right. Like you might with a guy?" She has no idea what she's doing. At all. Her right hand reaches out to take the pilot's. "Start simple, I guess? If it doesn't work, well.." There's that nervous smile again.

Giving a nervous glance up and down both lengths of the narrow causeway, Khloe lets her hand be taken, and slowly she draws that hand back to her side, bringing the Marine - no, bringing Natalie - closer. Rank and responsibility seem to be pushed aside. Khloe gently leaves Natalie's hand on her own hip, and reaches down to draw the blonde even closer. The height differential is a little challenging, and when Khloe realizes this, she lets a small chuckle escape her lips as she carefully leans down to close the distance even more. But she's still hesitant. Trembling, even, despite how sure of herself she is in every other aspect of her life.

Taking the hand, Natalie smiles and gives a gentle squeeze. Though the pull closer is surprising, she doesn't fight it. She's too wound up to really think otherwise except go with whatever Khloe wants to do. He hand finds the pilot's hip and settles, then tension melting away with the touch. She's obviously nervous but the chuckle from Khloe brings her a smile. Its a familiar sound she's heard before from the men she's kissed. "Hush," she whispers, faux-pouting just a little. The shorter woman see's the hesitation, though and looks up to Khloe's eyes. "We're okay." Her other hand reaches out to rest on the taller woman's other hip. "Go with it?" She lifts her chin to Khloe's face to brush her lips to the other woman's. Just something gentle. Test the waters.

Possibly the most gentle, feminine sound to come out of Khloe in years, there's a quiet sigh as the kiss happens. There's a small pause as the taller woman swallows audibly, choking down her anxiety and her fears. It's done; it's happened. There's no reason to fear any longer. "That… wasn't so bad," she whispers, a lazy smile appearing. But to be sure, she leans in again, for another one. You know, to make sure the test was accurate.

Natalie smiles at the sound and her own nervous energy just seems to bleed away. Her eyes fix on Khloe's with that spreading expression. No fear. The moment has come and gone. "Nope," she whispers in quaint reply. "Liked it, too." This time, though, Natalie meets her up a little higher and stands on her toes and return for another test, sighing happily in her own way into this one.

Letting this kiss linger longer than the first, with a calloused hand gently cupping underneath the Marine's ear and jaw, Khloe is evidently a woman who restrains her passion with a very tight chain. When the two finally part, her hand remains cupping the smaller woman's face, looking into her eyes with her own gray-blues. "Now what?" She murmurs, giving a small, breathy chuckle again, and a small smile - still reserved, but her resolve is softening.

Natalie rests her head into the cupped palm, bringing her body closer to Khloe's to rest against. Sometimes it just feels right. When the kiss ends, the shorter woman's eyes stay closed as she takes a deep breath. That same happy little smile remains on her face, even after her eyes up after Khloe asks. Nat shrugs, giving her own little laugh. "Dunno. Well, I certainly like you. I guess I wasn't misreading my thoughts. Glad I came to talk to you. I just.. Just know this isn't something I will blab about. I care a lot about you. I don't want to see you hurt."

"This is not something I'm about to talk about, either," Khloe confirms, shifting slightly to allow Natalie to rest up against her. Her eyes briefly close again. "This feels right, but, I've thought that before. Let's… just take this, day by day, all right?" She dips her head lower again to sneak a quick kiss, mainly so she can get eye contact with her again. "And you'll tell me… when you're leaving? For your mission, I mean."

As Khloe shifts, Natalie's hands slide around behind Khloe into an embrace, resting her head to the other's shoulder. The shorter woman takes a deep breath, settling through the happy sigh that follows. "I'm okay with all that. There's no reason to jump to anything. Day to day." Feeling Khloe dip her head, Natalie grins once more and lifts her chin once more to meet the kiss. Natalie chaces it up through the retreat for a quick second and then looks back up. The happy expression fades slowly, holding Khloe's eyes for another few moments before she looks down. "I will, you have my word. When I know, you will." The silence lingers. "I'm leading a covert team and doing an airborne drop on Gemenon. Hand-selected. So far its looking like seventy-two hours from jump to pick-up. No idea what Command wants, though." Its an intimate secret shared not for business. She wants Khloe to know as who she is and what she means to Natalie.

Khloe's frown returns at the mention of Gemenon. "It's a trick. A trap. A gods-damned trap," she says, edge returning to her words. This causes her to tighten her embrace around Natalie. "You know I won't tell you not to go. That's not how I work. Brass says jump, we jump. Just… don't trust anything you see down there." Her lips draw tight in a concerned grimace. "Please."

Natalie shrugs in the embrace, looking up to Khloe. She's worried herself, but only a little. "Yeah, no choice. I'm.. not entirely convinced its a trap. In fact, there's a lot to say its not. I'm goin' with my head and hopes high. But I'm leaving the blinders at home. Promise. I don't want to leave this life any sooner than necessary but.. this is just the hand we've been dealt. If its a trap.." Well she doesn't want to go there. Khloe can probably feel all the burns and scars across her back, though the thin fabric, by now. It almost feels like someone took a cheese grater to her. Her head leans forward again to rest to Khloe's shoulder. "I hope, for our sake, you're wrong, Khloe. I pray for it."

Khloe runs a hand gently along Natalie's hair, careful not to jostle any stitches or fresh scars. She's almost cradling the woman against her. "It was you who got to the bottom of the Bull of Zeus matter. I'm sure your eyes will be clear on this matter as well. I'm just…" There's a short, dry chuckle. "The main reason why I never wanted to get close to anyone is so that neither of our duties would be compromised. And now, all I can think of is finding a way to keep you here, safe." As if a battlestar is safe, but, it's home for the indefinite future.

Natalie sighs happily, a short femenine sound right along the edges as Khloe runs a hand in her hair. The asskicking Marine really is just another human with needs and loves under it all. She smiles at the praise, though. "I'll do my best," she whispers with closed eyes. The last gets a small, thoughtful moment initially. When she replies, its again whispered but has more of a concern of her own. "Same. I don't like the idea of you going off in your Viper but.. When I was on Aerilon something similar happened. He just had to let me go, though. Trust that I'd come home. I always did. When I don't, well.. We can live life worried and closed, or we can live as full as we can. That's what he told me. I guess I had forgotten it. Thanks for making me remember, Khloe."

"You're the only person I've truly opened up to, Natalie," Khloe murmurs in response, continuing in gently stroking her hair. "People have tried, but, they've mostly just gotten static. I don't trust easily. Frak, I don't even know why I let myself open up to you. I think… it was that day. On the firing range? When you pretty much described that the walls I put up were not as tight as I had thought. And since then, you've just been… on my mind. Not distractingly." Her embrace shifts slightly, letting her other arm drape differently, and rest her hand on a different part of Natalie's back. "Well, maybe a little distractingly," she murmurs. "Frak, I've still no idea what I'm doing. But we shouldn't stay here any longer. Someone's eventually going to, well, notice."

The continued stroking has Natalie nuzzling in, her head relaxing. "I let my trust go, but I keep this side of myself guarded. I've taken too many hits in the last year." She's not talking about her physical ones, either. She smirks with the mention of 'little distractingly'. "I'm sorry I was such an entitled bitch. I'd been away from organized military for so long. Thought I was hot stuff. I've been trying… to change. To listen more. I can't thank you enough for taking a firm hand with me. I guess I've always needed you. Never really realized it." But at the mention of needing to move, Van reluctantly pulls away. She brushes a kiss to Khloe's cheek and looks up. "Thank you. For being you. And being here."

"We're going to have to come up with new and exciting ways to meet 'coincidentally' in this causeway, you know," Khloe says as the two pull apart slowly, reluctantly. "Either that or we need to start hanging around in Marine Country where I doubt anyone's going to give a frak. Although I don't want to make things difficult for you, either." She lightly traces the side of Natalie's face with stick-calloused fingertips, and then finally, they're apart again. Two officers. A Captain and a Lieutenant. Reaching up to make sure her hair is still trapped properly in its braid, she then pulls her uniform jacket flat. Clearing her throat, then nodding, she says in her more authoritative, usual voice, "As you were, Lieutenant. Thank you for that, ah, debriefing." She can't help but smile a little.

Natalie grins. "I'm all for it. 'Fancy meeting you here!' and all that." She winks, but nods to the mention of Marine country. "Officer Berths are the smallest berthings on the ship. There's only five of us living in there and we work odd schedules. Very private. You'll be welcome to come up any time. Stay as long as you want. Lockers are oversized too so if you needed to keep a flightsuit handy.." Natalie actually blushes a little and she knows it, the touch of Khloe's finger only making it worse and she toes the deck beneth her feet. Pearly whites bite at her lower lip and the she see's Khloe straighten. She forces herself to do the same, fight and failing to hide a smile. A salute comes up and her eyes are alight under it. "Pleasure, sir. Anytime."

Khloe gives another curt nod. "I'll keep that in mind, Lieutenant. Dismissed." And she turns to leave, heading back up towards the naval offices. But when she pauses to throw the wheel of the entry hatch, she does cast one last look down the hallway back towards Vandenberg. She gives that small, private smile, that's just for her. And then, she's gone.

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