He Who Fights With Monsters

By Thalia Drogna

Disclaimer: I don't own these characters, I'm just borrowing them.

Author's Note: This is a sequel to What Does Not Kill Us, it will help a lot to read that first. The title is another quote from Nietzsche.

Archive: yes to EntSTcommunity, everyone else please email me for permission.

*********************************************

The officers who had their quarters on B deck had become used to interruptions to their sleep and learnt to ignore them. The Captain had requested Engineering discreetly put in extra sound proofing in the surrounding quarters and no one said anything more about it. Captain Archer knew, that despite what Trip might say, he wasn't okay, he wasn't over it and he certainly wasn't fine.

Trip had been back on duty in Engineering for over a week the first time it happened. He hadn't reported for his shift that morning and wasn't answering his com. Archer had arrived at Trip's quarters to find the Engineer huddled in a blanket on his bed, shaking violently and staring across the room, eyes wide in terror. He'd managed to get out of him something incoherent about the Xindi, it was obvious he'd had a nightmare and it had spilled over into wakefulness. Archer had tried to comfort him but in the end had had to call Phlox. It had taken several hours of patient reassurance and some of Phlox's drugs to get him to calm down. Trip missed his shift in Engineering while he wrestled with shadows of the Xindi. Until that point Archer had really believed that Trip was fine, it appeared that he'd just been doing a very good job of hiding how ill he really was.

Three months ago he'd been rescued from a Xindi ship. He'd been found beaten beyond recognition, drugged and infected with technology destroying nanoprobes. The injuries had faded and the nanoprobes had been rendered harmless, but the mental scars were deeper than anyone had realised. Trip was still seeing Phlox for regular counselling sessions, and then of course there were the nightmares.

Trip hated missing shifts, he felt he wasn't doing his duty, which made him even more upset and the aftermath of the nightmares worse. The drugs that Phlox had to use weren't good for him either if their use was prolonged. T'Pol stepped up the neuropressure treatments and it seemed to help a bit. The dreams were less vivid and Trip was more easily wrested from their grasp, but they didn't go away.

Phlox had explained to Archer that Trip was reminded everyday when he went to work exactly what he'd been through, most of the Xindi's questions had been about his Engineering knowledge. Trip loved his job and that dealt with the majority of the bad feeling but eventually it built up and poisoned his dreams. Most of the time he was doing well, back to almost being the Trip Tucker that everyone remembered before his kidnapping by the Xindi, and then it was as if he couldn't keep up the act any longer.

Phlox had asked Archer to check in on Trip and so he tracked him down in Engineering, where he could be found most of the time since his return to duty. In fact, that was what Phlox had asked Archer to talk to Trip about.

"Hey, Captain," said Trip when he saw his commanding officer approaching. He was working at a console tucked away down the side of the warp engine.

"Trip," said Archer in reply. "Your shift finished three hours ago, what are you still doing here?"

"You know, stuff to do. I was away for a long time and I need to get back up to speed," said Trip.

"Lieutenant Hess tells me that you've been back up to speed for the past two weeks. She also mentioned that she hasn't seen you pull anything less than a double shift for a few days now," said Archer. Lieutenant Hess was Trip's deputy and had been in charge while he'd been away.

"She was just being polite about me being up to speed. I've got a way to go yet, and it's going to mean putting in some long hours," said Trip. He was praying that Archer would take his reply at face value but, to be honest, he knew his friend too well not to realise he wasn't going to give in that easily.

"You need to rest," said Archer.

"I'm fine," said Trip, deliberately continuing with what he was doing, hoping that Archer would get the hint that he was busy.

"We both know that you're not fine," said Archer, gently.

Trip stopped what he was doing and looked at Archer. "So what?" said Trip, crossly. "None of us have been the same since the Xindi attacked Earth. I can deal with a few nightmares and bad days." Archer noted Trip's use of the phrase "bad days", it had become code for when he had to spend time under Phlox's care. Archer had had to fight with Phlox not to take Trip off the duty roster completely after his most recent attack. Archer knew Trip needed to work, but if he kept up his current behaviour he'd have to let Phlox have his way and he didn't want that.

"Trip, you're working too hard, you're making yourself worse," said Archer.

"I'm not ill," said Trip, turning back to the console he was working on. It sounded as if he was trying to convince himself almost as much as Archer.

"Phlox says different," said Archer. "When did you last go to the mess hall?" He still hadn't put back all the weight that he'd lost during his time with the Xindi although his ongoing physiotherapy was at least putting the muscle back.

"The nanites remind me to eat. They need the energy as much as I do and I get kind of light headed if they start drawing power I don't have," said Trip.

"I didn't say you weren't eating, but Chef noticed that you haven't been eating in the mess hall and Malcolm tells me that he brings you lunch most days. I get the impression you wouldn't stop at all if it weren't for the nanites," said Archer.

"Captain, I really don't have time to debate my eating habits with you. I've got to finish this diagnostic on the warp coils," said Trip.

"Look, I wanted to do this the easy way but you won't let me. Commander, I'm ordering you to take a break and I don't want to see you in here tomorrow either. You're coming with me and we're going to go to the mess hall and sit down and have a proper meal. After that we're going to watch a movie, drink some beer and you're going to forget about Engineering."

"You're ordering me to watch a movie?" said Trip in disbelief.

"If that's what it's going to take to get you out of here, yes. When was the last time you went to movie night?" asked Archer.

"Erm, must be..." said Trip trying to think. He didn't actually remember going to movie night since he'd been back on duty.

"Come on," said Archer, "you can leave that until tomorrow."

"Okay," said Trip, resigned, and put down the padd he'd been working on. He followed Archer through the hatch and out of Engineering. Internally he told the nanites "work's over for today, you can recharge your batteries." They didn't really need to recharge their batteries literally, but it was his way of telling them to change modes and quieten down. When he was in Engineering they would constantly feed him information from diagnostics and telemetry on the various systems. He liked their constant chatter, it made him feel as if he was part of the ship, but he also occasionally liked his head to himself. Today they didn't get the message and continued their constant feed of information.

"Shut up!" he said.

"Trip?" asked Archer, slightly bewildered. He hadn't said anything to his friend.

"Sorry, the nanites were being a bit loud. They don't always get the message when I'm tired," said Trip, running a hand through his dishevelled hair. "Phlox said something about my thinking being less directed when I need some rest." The nanites had gone completely silent at his shouted command, so Trip told them more gently that they could start their usual low level of chatter again. He'd learnt to tune out most of their status updates but when he was awake he liked to hear them at the back of his mind. The nanites quietly apologised for misunderstanding his command before.

"I think that goes for more than just your communication with the nanites," said Archer, relaxing slightly. There had been quite a few changes to Trip over the past few months which Archer had had to get used to. The far away look that he sometimes got when he was communicating internally with the nanites that now inhabited his body was one of them. Archer couldn't even begin to imagine what it must be like to have machines constantly talking to you or to be able to do some of the things that Trip was now capable of.

Archer was worried though, he'd never yet heard Trip talk out loud to the nanites, and he'd certainly never seen him get angry with them. Trip had really taken the continued presence of the nanites in his body in his stride. He'd actually been far more interested in understanding their make- up than thinking about their intrusion into his head. Which made Archer wonder if he'd ever addressed how the nanites might change him and his feelings about the Xindi putting them there. Perhaps after everything he'd been through, it was one thing too many for him to be able to deal with at the moment.

"Come on, let's go and get some food," said Archer and led Trip to the mess hall.

Archer sat Trip down at a table, he looked so tired that Archer thought he could do with a bit of looking after so went to collect some food for both of them. It was later than most of the crew usually ate and the mess hall was almost empty. Archer selected a couple of dishes that he knew would meet with Trip's approval and returned to the table to find him staring off into the distance again.

"Trip?" said Archer.

Trip's eyes took a moment to refocus. "Sorry, Captain, did you say something?"

"No, but I got the impression that you wouldn't have heard me if I had," said Archer.

"I guess I'm more tired than I thought," said Trip. Archer handed him a plate and some cutlery which Trip gratefully accepted. He didn't seem to even take notice of what Archer had brought them to eat, he just ate.

"Trip, slow down," said Archer.

"Sorry, I'm starved. Seem to be more hungry now I'm eating for two billion," said Trip with a grin.

"You can always go back for seconds," said Archer. Trip's uniform was still hanging off him and Phlox had told Trip he was under strict orders to eat at least three square meals a day until he'd put back all the weight he'd lost. With that and the physiotherapy the doctor hoped to have Trip back to his previous levels of muscle strength in a month or so.

Archer was desperately trying to think of small talk to distract Trip from thinking about Engineering, but everything he thought up either was related to the ship or related to Trip's recovery after his ordeal with the Xindi. He gave up and settled for asking Trip what movie he wanted to watch. Luckily that seemed to be a topic of conversation that Trip was happy to engage in so they spent the remainder of the meal talking happily about the merits of various films before heading back to Archer's quarters to find beer and the promised film.

Archer had vetoed Trip's suggestion of a "good" horror flick, but his friend's love of sci-fi won through in the end and Archer found himself watching Bladerunner. As they watched the outdated version of what their ancestors thought the future of Earth would be like, Archer wondered what had prompted Trip to pick it. It was a little more serious than he had intended for that night's viewing but it was, after all, an evening for Trip to relax and kick back in a safe environment. The main reason he had vetoed the horror film suggestion was because he didn't want to trigger any of Trip's bad memories of his Xindi torturers which would no doubt have led to another sleepless night for his Engineer. Perhaps his choice of film was yet another indication of the more serious, quiet nature that Trip had developed since his rescue from the Xindi. Archer hadn't failed to notice that Trip had begun to prefer his own company a lot more recently and he worried that this was a permanent change in his friend.

Phlox had said that what Trip most needed was time. Time to reconcile his memories, time to get over what had happened and time to adjust to his new situation. Archer was determined that Trip would have that time and he would eventually be fully recovered. Phlox had already told him that this might be as recovered as Trip was ever going to get but Archer refused to accept that. Trip didn't deserve to have nightmares and panic attacks for the rest of his life, he deserved to be able to put his ordeal behind him. It didn't help that Enterprise was still in the Expanse, a place where they could meet Xindi at any time and they couldn't turn around and go home until the mission was complete, no matter how badly that effected a member of his crew. Not that Trip would have wanted to be taken home, but it was another aspect of their situation that couldn't be helping in Trip's recovery.

They had just reached the scene where Deckard was being told that Rachael was actually an android, when Archer looked over at Trip and found he'd fallen asleep in his chair. He'd been pretty sure that Trip had been over working himself ever since his return to full duty, and this was just confirmation. At first Archer had believed what Trip had told him, he needed to put in the long hours to get back up to speed but as the days went on he knew it couldn't just be that. When he'd found Trip huddled in a ball in his quarters unable to move, he'd finally realised that Trip wasn't as recovered from his ordeal as he had pretended. It was what Phlox had been telling him all along, it was just that Trip was putting on such a good act that he'd fooled his best friend into thinking what he had wanted to believe, everything was back to how it had been before.

Archer reached over and nudged Trip to wake him. He would have liked to let him sleep but he'd only wake up with a sore back so Archer decided moving him back to his own bed would definitely be preferable.

"Come on, Commander," said Archer, "time for you to go to bed."

"I don't know anything," said Trip, half asleep, pushing Archer's hand off.

"Trip?" said Archer, shaking his friend a little harder.

Trip sat bolt upright suddenly. He rubbed a hand over his face. "I hate waking up," said Trip. "In fact I hate sleeping."

"Is this why you've been working such long hours?" asked Archer, "because you don't want to sleep?"

"Kinda, I mean I do have to sleep sometimes, it's just easier when I'm so tired that I can't stand up any longer," said Trip. "T'Pol's doing her best with the neuropressure but, well..." Trip trailed off.

"When you've been through what you went through, Trip, even T'Pol's neuropressure sessions aren't going to be able to deal with it. At least not on their own. You know I'm always here if you want to talk," said Archer.

"Thanks Captain, but I've talked it to death. There's nothing else to say," said Trip. "Phlox keeps saying that humans can't deal with traumatic events easily, well I think I'm the living proof of that. I'm sure the Doc is probably writing scientific papers about me for his medical exchange colleagues."

"He's doing his best," said Archer. "He's in constant communication with the psychiatrists back at Starfleet about how to help you deal with this."

"Yeah, I bet they're having a field day with it," said Trip, obviously embarrassed by the idea of so many people discussing him. He hated the thought of them picking over the remnants of his life as if he was some sort of experiment.

"Phlox didn't really have any choice. His human psychiatric experience is limited and you know what kind of state you were in when we brought you back. You hardly said anything for four weeks, I was afraid we'd never get you back."

"If you guys hadn't been there for me, Jon, I might never have made it to where I am now," said Trip. "It's just these damn nightmares keep pulling me back down there. And, you know, it's pretty dark at the bottom of the abyss."

"Yeah, I'm sure it is," said Archer. "Come on, let's get you back to your own bed." Archer gave Trip a hand out of his chair. Trip swayed slightly on his feet, so Archer took him by the arm and guided him back to his own quarters even though Trip protested that he didn't need an escort. "You've got the day off tomorrow," said Archer, "I'll let Hess know not to expect you. You need the rest and the last thing I need is my Chief Engineer dropping dead from exhaustion."

Trip would have protested but he was too tired. "Okay, Captain," he said, keying in his door code. Archer waved him a quick goodnight and Trip closed his door, taking care to double lock it.

****

T'Pol saw it first on the long range scanners, which of course was a great source of chagrin to Lieutenant Reed who prided himself on his vigilance. Archer decided to investigate, out here they had no idea what might be useful to their mission and what wouldn't. Anything unusual was definitely worth a look. Certainly, this was unusual. T'Pol's sensors picked up unknown materials and bizarre fluctuations in energy. Then there was its size, T'Pol estimated that Enterprise would have fitted inside the alien spaceship one hundred and twenty times.

The ship was beautiful, a cross between a gothic cathedral and an ice crystal, it shone like a Christmas decoration against the blackness of space. White, delicate, filigree towers rose from the main structure, giving the design an almost organic look. It was also completely dead in space, their warp core was offline. There were signs of life though, hundreds of them.

"Hoshi, open a channel," said Archer.

"The channel is open, sir," replied Hoshi.

"This is Captain Jonathan Archer of the Starship Enterprise," said Archer. "Do you require assistance?"

"We would welcome your assistance and invite you aboard our craft the Rel Sevann," said a disembodied voice.

"Who am I talking to?" asked Archer.

"I am Ten En Ath Jeriad of the Tien. You may call me Ten En," said the voice.

"What is the nature of your problem, Ten En," asked Archer.

"Our warp engines are malfunctioning but we have also had computer problems. Our engineers are working on it but any assistance that you can offer us would be gratefully accepted."

"I'll send over an Engineering team with my Tactical officer, they should be able to help you," said Archer.

"Thank you, Captain Archer. I look forward to meeting your people," said Ten En.

Hoshi cut the channel.

"Think you can handle it, Lieutenant?" asked Archer.

"Yes, sir," said Reed, getting up from his station. "Might I have a word in private first, sir."

"Of course Lieutenant, T'Pol you have the bridge, I'll be in my ready room if I'm needed."

The two officers entered Archer's ready room, Archer taking his usual place behind his desk. Reed stood to attention.

"At ease, Malcolm. What's on your mind?" asked Archer.

"Sir," said Reed, "don't you think Commander Tucker should lead the away team."

"I'm not sure that he's ready for that," said Archer.

"Maybe we should let him decide that, sir," said Reed.

"Malcolm, in the last month we've had two away missions to wrecked ships and Trip hasn't expressed any desire to go on those. I don't want to push him into this. I'm willing to bet that if I asked him to go over to the Rel Sevann he'd take it as an order, he'd go and he'd pretend that he was okay and we'd be picking up the pieces afterwards," said Archer.

"I think he's stronger than that," said Reed.

"I'm not saying he isn't strong, Malcolm. I don't know anyone else who could have gone through what he did and survived. But he still isn't well. He's been working himself so hard that I had to order him to take a day off and he's still having what Phlox refers to as "episodes". It's just not fair to expect him to go over there as if nothing happened," said Archer, and added to himself, as if the last time he went to repair a seemingly harmless ship, he wasn't captured by the Xindi and tortured for information.

"I'm not saying that we should expect him to be back to normal after three months, I'm just saying that he should be given the choice about whether he wants to go or not. As Chief Engineer he is the best qualified to go on this mission and he'll be more hurt if he's kept out of the loop on things like this," said Reed.

Archer looked at Reed, he did have a point, Trip liked to be involved. "Okay, Malcolm. I want you to talk to Phlox, if he says it's okay to take Trip with you then go and ask him if he wants to come. It's got to come from you, because if it comes from me he'll think it's an order. I don't want him put under any pressure. Hess and a team of engineers should be able to handle it fine without him if he's not up for it."

"I understand, sir," said Reed.

"Dismissed Lieutenant," said Archer. "Oh, one more thing," he said as Reed was turning to go, "look after him, Malcolm."

"Of course, sir," said Reed and went to find Phlox.

****

Gaining Phlox's sanction to invite Trip to join them on the away mission had not been nearly as difficult as Reed had expected it to be. The doctor had been quite enthusiastic about allowing the Engineer to leave the ship, explaining that he thought facing another of his fears might be good for Mr Tucker and muttering something about cognitive therapy which Reed didn't pretend to understand. Phlox so far hadn't managed to coax Trip to enter sick bay and Reed suspected that was next on the doctor's list of fears for Trip to conquer. Reed doubted that one would be easy for Trip to get over, sick bay apparently reminded his friend of the Xindi lab in which he'd been tortured and the one time Trip had been in sick bay since his return he'd worked himself into such a state that he'd had to be sedated. After hearing what Trip had been through at the hands of his captors he wasn't at all surprised when Trip had broken down at the sight of sick bay.

Reed remembered how worried Trip had been that Phlox would be upset because of the scene he'd made. In actuality, the only person who'd been upset about it had been Trip who had set high standards for himself when it came to dealing with his experiences and his inability to cope was making him furious at his own perceived weakness. Reed could only imagine the emotions that were tearing at Trip, he knew some of it, the little Trip had been prepared to confide in him. He'd offered to listen whenever it was required but, for someone who didn't always edit what he said before it came out of his mouth, the Engineer was surprisingly good at keeping his feelings to himself.

Reed now stood outside the door to Trip's quarters trying to work out how he was going to handle asking if Trip wanted to come with them. Come on Malcolm, he said to himself, just ask him, he's been fine the last few days. Reed pressed the door bell and waited. He heard a muffled cry of enter and opened the door. Trip was resting on the bed with a padd in his hand. Reed noted that he still looked quite tired but basically fairly relaxed. One of Phlox's biomonitors was still in place on the wall beside the bed, keeping track of Trip's vitals. Trip's fear of sick bay had caused a few problems in his treatment and Phlox had insisted on the biomonitor so that he could check on Trip's condition regularly. Originally this was to monitor the effect of the nanoprobes on Trip's body but it turned out that it was also useful to alert Phlox when the regular nightmares turned into panic attacks. Trip had protested at the invasion of privacy but had eventually given in to the doctor's wishes.

Reed had also installed a panic button in Trip's quarters, he'd told Trip it was linked directly to the security alarm but actually he'd linked it to his own communicator and the com in his quarters. He hoped that it would help Trip sleep more easily knowing that help was easily at hand if required. Trip had appreciated the gesture, but Reed knew that he still double locked his door at night.

"Hey, Malcolm," said Trip, looking up from the padd. He sent a silent command to the nanites to quieten down while he talked to Reed. He'd been working on an improvement to the warp engine and the nanites were running some simulations for him. He was tweaking the parameters as they fed him information, so far it wasn't quite there yet but he thought he could see the things he'd need to correct in order for it to work.

Reed noticed the far away look and waited until Trip returned to the room. "So you'll have noticed our guests," said Reed indicating the view from Trip's window of the Rel Sevanne.

"Yeah, I figured someone might be down to tell me what was going on," said Trip. He had in fact got the nanites to listen in to the com traffic so he knew exactly what was going on, but he wasn't quite sure the he wanted Reed to know that the nanites could do that.

"They're having trouble with their engines and their computer. I was going to take Hess and a team of Engineers over but wondered if you'd like to come. I know it's meant to be your day off but I thought you might like to join me, I cleared it with the Captain," said Reed, hoping it didn't sound as obviously fabricated to Trip as it did to himself. "Of course I'll understand if you don't want to work on your day off."

Trip knew exactly what Reed was trying to do; give him an out that he could take gracefully without having to admit that he was scared stiff of going over to an alien ship. Hell, he'd done it dozens of times, gone to help stricken ships with their engine trouble in exchange for good will or information. That was before, of course. Now Malcolm Reed stood in his quarters tactfully asking him if he'd like to go and poke at some alien engines, something which was part of his duties as Chief Engineer and he would normally have jumped at. Instead he was torn between letting Malcolm know he was still Chief Engineer and didn't need to be treated with kid gloves when it came to his duty, or crawling under a blanket and hiding. He didn't like either option, so he settled for a compromise.

"You're going to stick with me, right? If I go over there, I mean," said Trip.

"Of course," said the Armoury officer as if it was the most natural question in the world.

"Well, when you put it like that, how can I refuse?" said Trip with a grin.

****