Oh man. It's been way to long.

Let us start about by apologizing profusely. We are aware that's been about two or three months since we last updated, and we assure you that we have lamented the situation through the duration of that time. But we also have to admit that we MAY have hit a bit of a wall. Slightly. And when we say slightly, we mean that we ran into the wall head-first and suffered a severe concussion. But that's besides the point, because now we're back and ready to go! With that in mind, enjoy the chapter!

"Captain, I highly recommend that you do not board the cruiser." Spock, as irritable as ever, loomed over his best friend with dark eyes flashing. Even at warp speed, the Enterprise did not catch up to Harewood's smaller, more aerodynamic ship before touchdown. Of course, they were delayed by the fact that the entire Enterprise could not land on the planet surface; instead, a search party was to be decided upon and sent down in a more compact airship. They were wasting time arguing about who would be going down to the surface to capture Harewood, but the brain nestled between those pointy ears was concerned with the safety of his captain. Now that his mind was set upon keeping Kirk grounded - or rather, in the air - he was going to make his point no matter what.

"I highly recommend," Kirk mimicked, glaring up at his second in command, "that you back off, Mister Spock." Shrugging into a black jacket, the Captain stood back to zip it to his neck, his blue eyes piercing with resilience. He was as set upon going down to the planet surface as Spock was determined to keep him on the Enterprise.

"Sir, I am perplexed by your reasoning," Spock continued as though he hadn't heard Kirk's warnings. "You are the Captain. We need you on command and stationed at the bridge, where you belong. Excuse my wording, but it would seem as though you would wish for the more... expendable members of the crew to make the journey down."

"There are no expendable members on this ship, Spock," Kirk immediately shot back, suppressing the irritation at the Vulcan's remark. It was comments like these that reminded him just how different the two of them really were. How could Spock actually believe that there were people on the Enterprise whose lives had less value than others? Was it really the logical thing to do, to decide who was worth saving and who was worth sacrificing? He supposed that with a substantial lack of emotion like Spock had, it would be easier to make that kind of choice, but Kirk knew from personal experience that he did not have that same kind of indifference in himself. "Besides, I want to take this guy out myself. I need to personally make sure Harewood pays."

"Of course, Captain," Spock sighed, seeming to have grown tired of the argument much like Kirk had. There was no arguing with Kirk when his mind was set. They both knew he would be going down to the planet no matter what Spock had to say about it-or what anyone else did. No one on board would be able to convince him otherwise, especially since it was Pavel's life that was in jeopardy. Spock clearly had resigned himself to this fact as well. "I assume you are aware that my offer to accompany you on this mission still remains available?"

"I am aware indeed, Mr. Spock. Wouldn't have it any other way," Kirk grinned, his blue eyes sparkling. "Suit up." He commanded, tossing a matching jacket towards Spock. The hobgoblin didn't even ask why Kirk had pulled out a jacket of his size already, before he even offered to go the first time; Jim always just assumed that his best friend would be accompanying him in the face of danger.

They made their way back to the bridge, where the crew was working furiously to prepare for the next encounter with Harewood. Sulu, though not back in his respective chair, was overseeing a couple of ensigns with his wrist still in a brace. There was an unnerving kind of stillness lingering in the room, like the calm before the storm. Well, maybe not calm, but at least a little less eventful than usual. Sometimes a lack of activity was the only thing that was even remotely related to peace aboard the Enterprise, but no one had time to take advantage if it recently. Ever since Pavel had gone missing, he was the main priority.

"Everyone listen up," Kirk addressed the bridge, crewmembers turning to face him almost simultaneously at the sound of his voice. He gazed over the many faces looking back at him, trust and loyalty all but obvious on their features, his mind almost unwillingly recalling all the times he had put them in danger-first with Nero, then with Khan, and now with Harewood.

This was supposed to be a five-year exploration mission, not another showdown with one of the Starfleet's seemingly endless rivals. A peace-keeping armada, that was what they were supposed to be...why was it that they had made so many enemies in the process?

Not now. Think about Starfleet's less-than-perfect behavior later. Kirk forced himself to focus, fully aware that this was what the crew expected of him. A captain that knew and acted on his priorities-this was what he had shown time and time again that he was. This was the standard he knew he wanted and needed to hold himself to, especially now with so much weighing on his already worn-down shoulders. "I'm going to need one more officer with me down there. We know what Harewood's capable of, he's as ruthless as Khan. Spock and I alone might not make the cut."

Sulu's good arm shot straight into the air before Kirk had even finished speaking. The pilot's face was all but alight with determination, as though he was prepared to fight to the death if need be.

"I'll come with you, Captain," This was not an offer, Kirk knew, but a demand. He could clearly see just from the way Hikaru held himself, rage practically built into his stance, that he wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to aid in Pavel's rescue as much as his possibly could. And Kirk certainly wouldn't be the one to deny him that chance, even with his damaged arm. He was sure that anything he said to sway the man from accompanying them would fall on deaf ears, and he had no desire to anger Sulu more than he already had that day.

"Thank you, Mr. Sulu. We'll need your, ah, extensive combat training with us for sure," He grinned slightly, and the Asian man smirked in response. "The rest of you lay low and keep busy. We don't know if Harewood's got any reinforcements waiting, but we need to keep a constant watch in case he does. I, uh...I don't know what's going to happen down there, but the one thing I do know is that this ship is going nowhere until Chekov is back on it. I won't lose a good man today, not to Harewood. Is that understood?"

A chorus of "yes, sir" filled the bridge as the members of the landing party headed back out the door and down to the transporter room. They all piled onto the beaming pad, ready to be down on the planet already. There were about six of them going overall, with Kirk, Spock, and Sulu in charge and three other ensigns ready to take action. Their CMO was waiting for them to need him, but he wasn't going to beam down just yet. Captain's orders were to stay on the bridge, watch for trouble and be ready.

No one disliked beaming anywhere as much as Bones did, anyway. He hated the idea of being taken apart and rearranged somewhere else. It wasn't natural for your body to do that, and he preferred to avoid the strange sensation as much as possible. So aboard the ship he would happily stay, waiting until they needed him. And considering the state he had observed that Pavel was in, he knew they would need him eventually.

But he was a doctor, damnit, and he worked best in the medbay. If they wanted him to fix their young ensign, they would need to bring him aboard before he could do a good patch job. And as talented as he was at keeping up the grumpy and otherwise prepetually annoyed state of being he was known for, Bones felt a stab of undying worry that what Harewood had done may have left mental scars on Pavel that could never be taken away.

"Are you ready, sir?" Scotty asked from his place at the transporter controls. His face was solemn, as though he was dreading the moment he would hear the swirling noise of the transporter in action. They were running headfirst into what could very possibly be the most important of their lives. It wasn't like they hadn't saved the world before, but this time - it was personal. If that made any sense.

Of course it was undoubtedly personal before, but now they were dealing with a hostage situation and imminent death. If that didn't make you a little bit nervous, then you had to be the most brave person in the world. Or possibly the most idiotic. Scotty couldn't deicde; all he knew was that sending his crewmates down there made him feel like he might never get them back.

"Ready as ever, Mr. Scott." the Captain proclaimed, reminding Scotty once again of the bravery vs. idiocy idea. Was it idiotic to treat your crew like family, to give up your life for anyone you had the slightest hint of friendship with? No, it was valiant. All the same, diving into a situation where you might die, just to save one crew member, sounded careless on paper.

In the heart, however, and especially in Jim's mind, it was just what you had to do. No man would be left behind, even at the cost of something great. Jim would be a hero till the day he died - which would hopefully not be on this godforsaken planet at the hands of Thomas Harewood.

"Then transporters are available at your command," Scotty sighed, his features set firm as he met Kirk's eyes. The captain nodded once, glancing around at the other men stationed beside him before speaking. "Energize." There was a dazzling flash of lights, and then silence. And Scotty couldn't shake the feeling that it was the beginning of the end.

Dun dun duuuun! The suspense! Stay tuned for the big fight scene that we're gearing up for! Live long and wish for a tribble!