Disclaimer: I don't own them.

A/N: A dark little writing exercise/piece I dedicate to Noordledoordle, aka Froot, whose conversation and artistic ability I do so enjoy and admire. It was started for her birthday - which was *cough* months ago. Just 'cause, really.


Heat


The air of Voyager crystallizes with the heavy essences of sex and frozen fear. Electric anticipation radiates from deep beneath her gleaming deck plates, running rampant through stalwart bulkheads, and no one aboard is immune to the dark energy frosting over her inhabitants.

The helm is a solid block of ice beneath Tom Paris's stiff fingers as sleek warships assume position around Voyager's shining curves, and his spine tingles with unflattering envy. Fists curling tightly behind his back, he tenses in line when the guttural Devore soldiers snicker that Voyager is as attractively-crafted as an upside down spoon. How dare they? Blind, totalitarian pigs. And why is it so cold in here?

But he admits their ships are beautiful. They're swift, powerful, built to intimidate, and they make him want to redesign Voyager's noble hull just the tiniest bit. He hates them all the more for that. He glances again at the twin closed doors, his imagination kicking into overdrive and doing nothing for the fleeting fits of sleeplessness he cold-sweats through late at night. Even when the inspector isn't stopping them, ransacking the ship and interrogating Janeway for hours in her ready room, the dual tensions linger, and they seem to originate from deep within that room. Not knowing what goes on in there makes the mysterious energy all the more haunting.

Inside the ready room, the two generals in this building clash of Titans dance carefully around one another to the hollow tune of selectively-chosen classical music. Earth music. From a place they both know he will attempt to prevent her from reaching. The point isn't lost on her. They both know how this play ends; in question is only which middle steps each of them will take to lead them there.

And, of course, the victor.

Her reception to his enforced presence is acidly polite, but it doesn't seem to faze him. He's as comfortable with being hated as he is with waiting for something he wants, she finds.

It takes him weeks to so much as approach her personal space. Black leather gloves become steel silk as they skim her desk, the railing behind it. He shows her how he would touch her, like a new possession or a prized thoroughbred: some animal he would take great pleasure in breaking and riding, for of course this is all she could ever be to him. When his smiles stretch wide across his hawk-like features, the images he conjures coiling icy warmth between them, he sneaks hooded glances at her face, gauging her level of reception. Once or twice, her lashes sweep down a fraction too late, letting him know that she is watching. Even without catching her, he is aware of her eyes stroking along his movements, outlining his proportions and cataloging his raw ability. Her interest is felt under his clothing; her imagination warms his clean skin.

Under direct observation, casual disdain is all she offers. Contradiction delights him.

He parries, skirts at the boundaries of wordplay, couching threats in false promises of benign curiosity, and when she bites, responding in kind, he pushes further, intrigued.

Her resistance is bold fallacy, not entirely uncommon but for the fact that she would do the very unwise things she threatens if he backed her into a corner without proper preparation. The day he realizes it is a turning point in their association. It changes the plane of the battlefield to something altogether more interesting. He redoubles his efforts, clarifying his intent to conquer. Words work in tandem with wandering leather fingers, and soon, he casually penetrates her with skillful thrusts of phrase, stabbing deeper until he is rewarded with the occasional squirm that draws his predatory interest all the more.

The first time he steps into her personal space, blocking her line of escape with his body, sparks ignite the well-laid plasma streams between them, and not only from her piercing blue eyes.

She hates him. Which means she wants him. He believes she knows this, but he can't be sure.

She makes him ache with agonizing consideration. Will she give, or will she make him take? For that matter, does she have anything worth pursuing, or is this all some colossal game they've begun to take too seriously? As the play progresses, neither of them is quite certain in any given moment.

He defects. It's absolutely ludicrous, but he defects. Whether or not she's expected to fall for it should probably matter but it doesn't. What matters is the information he must give her to help her swallow the lie, the tactical truths he must let slip through the veil of lies.

He has cold hands. His body is ultra warm, a leather-ball of perpetual energy that seeps into her chilled flesh, and yet, beneath those gloves lie long fingers of ice that dance across her skin.

She smiles at the thought. Cold hands, warm heart. Except that he has no heart, which is fortunate – for him. If he had one of those, she would tear into it with white teeth and blazing eyes would fuse to his, holding him helpless while she chewed it up and spit it back out onto his heaving, finely muscled chest.

She settles for the idea of a heart, for the notion that his destruction is her seduction and it works beautifully for both of them.

Chakotay pretends he doesn't approve, that the danger to her person can't be overcome by the benefits of toying with the assumed emotions of their would-be oppressor. His steps fall heavily onto the charged deck plates, the vibrations of his movement drawing furtive glances of nervousness from the rest of the crew. His frowns cut furrows across his dark inked brow and inside his office, he paces, pretending not to be glued to the imagers only he is permitted to monitor while she is alone with their enemy. He pretends he's not intrigued, that he doesn't wake sweaty from dreams where he entered the guest suite, shoved one of them aside and reached for the other.

He pretends her chagrin at using herself as a bargaining chip at best, a paltry distraction at worst, isn't as false as her control over Kashyk, and that he supports her horrifying plans. In exchange, she lets him have his illusions, though she could shatter them with four well-chosen words.

Kathryn Janeway is nothing if not kind, when she can afford to be. She'd better not be as kind to Kashyk as she is secretly inclined to be. That would be…unwise. Chakotay wonders if she will make him be the one to show her this, or if she will work it out on her own.

They're running out of time. A burgeoning war can always be diffused with care, no matter how sharply drawn the battle lines have become, but no play can run indefinitely, no matter how compelling.

He heads to the shuttle bay late at night to find her leaving it. Her hair is tousled, the flush of sex creeping along her normally white neck to disappear into the remaining propriety of her rumpled uniform top. He knows how and why it got that way; those images are burned into his psyche. They dominate his red and jet-black dreams, but the sharp scent of sex clinging to her aura is absent in those. He breathes higher, using his nostrils to find the details of the encounter, for an instant wishing he was Klingon, or Vulcan, any species with keener olfactory senses.

Her jacket slung half-heartedly over her shoulder, she stops abruptly to find him standing there, and he stuffs back the flare of wrath her pitying smirk inspires.

"Captain."

"Commander." She checks the chronometer located so conveniently outside of the shuttle bay doors and he doesn't know if he wishes her surprise was less feigned or that she cared enough to try and hide it as she deflects, "What are you doing here at this hour?"

"Looking for you," he throws right back in her lap.

"I'm fine. In fact, I had some energy to spare. I came by to see if Kashyk's shuttle logs would tell us anything more about the refractive shielding of theirs."

"I see." He sees too much on those internal imagers and far less than he needs to in order to truly satisfy the raging curiosity inside of him. He props a casual arm against the bulkhead beside her, as if they have nothing but time and friendship stretching out before them. "Find anything?"

"I'm afraid not."

Wrong answer. But it is an answer. It tells him what he needs to know.

He pretends to buy the lie while she looks closely for the anger in his silence. If she finds it, she gives no indication. Her gaze slides over the tense lines of his shoulders, shining eyes soften, and her cool fingers slide so familiarly around his half-flexed bicep. "Get some rest, Chakotay."

Rest. Right. She's leaching all the furious heat out of his body through his uniform and into her icy hands. His eyes devour her rosy cheeks and red-streaked neck and he smiles, showing every last one of his teeth and several rippling dimples. "I'll see what I can do with those sensor logs first."

She nods what she pretends is absently, already halfway down the corridor, on the way to a steaming shower to replace lost warmth and chased away by the heat his smile had offered her.

He doesn't need to check the transporter logs to know that he'll find the shuttle bay empty except for a ship shrouded in dark energy created from a frantic joining of deceptive wills. He slips inside, and the long night passes in cold quiet.

The inspector has to leave. For them, of course. He wants to take the heat off their tails, and the way of doing that is to go back and pretend to resume his post. Chakotay watches from his office as they say their award-winning goodbyes, and by the time she takes her place beside him on the bridge to watch the inspector's progress, any heat that had formed on the ship from their parting has dissipated into frigid air. It's almost surprising that there's no frost forming on their bodies as they watch the ship move away from them in collective silence, preparing for what's to come when he returns on his shiny warship, flanked with reinforcement on both sides.

Alarms sound from Tuvok's console, and time stands still for one icy nanosecond in which there's nothing anyone on the bridge can do to avoid what is already happening. The tiny Devore shuttle explodes into a million shards of metal, jagged prisms reflecting a massive explosion quickly snuffed out by the vacuum of space. When Paris looks behind him, seeking guidance, he sees the catlike smile on the lips of his commanding officer, but on the wrong one. Janeway's expression registers open surprise. Shock, even. Chakotay, on the other hand, is the picture of cool. Tom lays even odds that ice wouldn't melt on that tribal mark as the captain's wide-eyed stare locks on his profile.

"I'm detecting no life signs," a terse Tuvokian voice reports from above them all. "The inspector did not survive."

"Commander." Danger drips from all three succinct syllables as the captain finds her voice. "Do you have any idea what just happened to the inspector's shuttle?"

"Going from these readings, it looks like there was a faulty plasma coil somewhere on his ship." Chakotay's fingers stroke the console between their chairs, and the helmsman is oddly reminded of silk and steel by the subtle movements. "I don't know how we missed it."

Missed it indeed. Everyone on the bridge knows that shuttle had had less privacy than the average inmate in a Cardassian prison, and fewer secrets by the time it had left. Everyone including Tom knows not to look at the center of the bridge until she responds. He swivels his chair around to face front, examining the glittering remains of a sentient life form's ship, but he can't help hearing her stand with excruciating deliberation.

"My ready room. Now."

Paris swallows the low whistle that climbs into his cold throat. What he wouldn't give to be a fly on the bulkhead for that little meeting. Whatever happens on the other side of those doors, no sound is heard save for a single thump that must be so much louder inside to have made any noise at all out here. It doesn't take long, and it can't afford to, considering the wave of warships that are going to descend on them from all corners of Devore Space very soon. The doors open with a crisp hiss of depressurization and they come trailing out in single file, Chakotay walking first and much less at ease than he'd been when he'd followed her in there. The captain gives nothing away, except for the amount of time her eyes spend following his movements as he takes his seat beside her.

"Mister Paris. Set a course out of Devore Space. Maximum warp. Apparently," the caustic arc of her voice angling toward Chakotay's position is audible to those not staring dead at her, "we're going to have to do this much sooner than I'd anticipated."

"Ma'am?" This time, it's Tom's blue eyes that widen in absolute shock as he continues to stare at her.

Her gaze locks on him. "The helm, Lieutenant."

"Yes, Ma'am." He faces front with physical effort, laboring to input the proper sequence through a brain swirling with blackened speculation. He pauses, letting his head rise a stiff fraction. "What about the telepaths?"

"They should be able to make it now, considering we'll be drawing half the Devore fleet behind us on our way out."

"Indeed. I am reading eight warships heading for our position."

"Mister Paris," she warns with added bite in her tone.

"Course laid in," he reports, the hitch in his voice entirely excusable to his way of thinking, considering the circumstances.

"Engage."

The sticky charge of sex and fear remain, will do so until they are safely out of Devore Space. But Tom finds that, somehow, the console under his fingers is scalding hot to the touch.