Chapter 27

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Chapter 27 

Where was Shehu? wondered Petrov. He had been expecting a visit from him for the last hour, or at the very least, a message asking to meet him somewhere. Although he was hurt and angry with the way he had jumped to conclusions, without even talking to him about what had happened, he had never doubted until now that he would seek him out to apologise, that he would still want him. Where on Earth was he? One thing was certain, this time he wasn't going to go and find him. This time it was up to Shehu to make the next move, and he better hurry up, he thought edgily, or he might give him a real reason to be jealous! 

XXX 

Shehu was searching for something he could do, apart from apologise profusely, to attempt to repair the damage he had done to his relationship with Petrov. And he could only think of one thing. He knew the Captain would be far from happy with his decision but they would both just have to deal with the consequences. Before he could change his mind, he called Eriksen and Nguyen and asked them to come to his quarters for a brief meeting as soon as they had a free moment. Then he sat back to wait. He would deal with this first and then he'd go and find Alexei. 

Fourth Lieutenant Nguyen was surprised at how relieved he felt to get the message from Shehu. He hadn't seen him since Petrov had asked him to leave the scene in the Captain's quarters, and he was glad to be able to see for himself that he was alright. He was outside his door in a matter of minutes, followed closely by Eriksen who looked questioningly at him. Nguyen shrugged his shoulders slightly, he didn't know what it was about either. 

"Come in," called Shehu, "Have a seat." He waited a moment until both men were seated in front of him, looking at him expectantly. At least he appeared to have all his arms and legs, thought Nguyen.  

"I have something of a personal nature to tell you. I'm not going to make a general announcement but I thought as officers, you should hear it from me." All these years, Shehu had thought how hard it was going to be to say these words, but in fact it wasn't, it felt simple and right. "I'm an om. I've always felt it was my own private business and I'm only telling you now because I'm ah, interested in Lieutenant Petrov. If we have a relationship, someone's bound to notice sooner or later," he added dryly, "and I'm telling you the truth before the gossip." 

Both men blinked in disbelief, it was certainly the last thing they had expected to hear. They stared at him. Lieutenant Shehu didn't fit his idea of what an om looked like thought Eriksen, he was too masculine. The few oms he had met had tended to be slight and feminine, except for Lieutenant Petrov of course, he reminded himself. He found it extremely unsettling, if the Lieutenant was an om for god's sake, then anyone could be! 

Shehu could see Eriksen was looking uncomfortable with the disclosure but Nguyen appeared to take it in his stride. He asked the question which had immediately occurred to both men. "Uh, sir? Does the Captain know?" 

"Yes, he does."

"What's he going to do about it?" Nguyen couldn't quite bring himself to ask the question aloud. Everyone knew the Captain hated oms. Shehu could see the rampant speculation in Nguyen's eyes but the young officer didn't say anything further. 

"If you hear any of the men talking, you have my permission to tell them, it's not a secret, not any more," Shehu continued. "That's all I wanted to say, unless you have any questions?" He stared repressively at Nguyen. 

"No, sir." Nguyen replied prudently, as Eriksen shook his head. 

"I bet the Captain's spitting over this," Eriksen said softly to Nguyen as they returned to duty. "His top two officers ..." 

Nguyen nodded. He couldn't help wondering if that had something to do with what the Captain and First Lieutenant had been fighting about. But what would have caused the two officers to engage in a physical fight? Surely Farrell was far more likely to have issued a verbal ultimatum, keep it to yourself or prepare to move ship? His mind kept busy tossing around alternatives. 

Shehu sat back, that had gone better than he had feared. Of course, he had a significant advantage being the senior officer, no-one was likely to insult him to his face or walk out on him. He supposed there would be more flak to come when the rest of the crew found out but there was no point in worrying about it until it happened. Now for the difficult part, he had to talk to Petrov. 

Then he thought hard for a moment and sent a message first to the Captain. "I've gone public. I've told Eriksen and Nguyen I'm an om. Do you still want to have that round in the gym?" 

XXX 

Farrell stared at the message for a long time. So, Shehu had thrown caution out into space had he? Told the crew that he was an om. He felt half angry with him, half envious. Did this mean his own hand was forced? Should he disclose his own sexuality? He could wait and see what the reaction was to Shehu's announcement first, he supposed, although of course their circumstances were not the same. It had not been his Lieutenant's policy to ban sexual relationships on the Diell.  

He realised the men would be looking for his response to Shehu's disclosure but he needed to think, he must be careful not to rush into any decision that couldn't be undone. Putting his personal feelings aside, he still thought his policy of banning sexual relationships on board was technically correct. Only look at what had just happened! It was true that this time those involved had managed to step back from the brink but it had been a very close thing.  

However, how could he possibly justify seeking a transfer for Shehu when he was personally implicated in the affair? Yes, the three of them had just agreed to keep their personal interactions private, but how long would that last if he tried to move Shehu, or Petrov for that matter? Everything would be bound to come out, causing the very situation he had wanted to avoid. 

Although he thought the crew might more readily accept his announcement about his sexuality if he stuck to his policy on fraternisation, perhaps now was the time to consider relaxing the rules, if he was ever going to do it. Take the opportunity that Shehu's self disclosure provided, to re-evaluate. One thing was certain, he would never keep the men's respect if he had an affair and changed the rules merely to accommodate himself. It was just as well he wasn't having an affair with Petrov, he considered dispassionately, he was going to be accused of duplicity as it was, without having the evidence of his double standards rubbed in everyone's face. He tried to massage away the tension at his temples. 

He still wanted that fight with Shehu. Perhaps he could hold off on any decision until afterwards.

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