DISCLAIMER: Characters belong to Paramount - not me.
SUMMARY: Response to a challenge issued several millennia ago. I think the only rule was that snow had to be involved but not generated by the holodeck! If there are more rules, let me know quickly and I'll see what I can do about incorporating them!
Dedicated to the originator of the challenge - sorry I can't remember who it was, and of course, to Caro, who mentioned it again - I blame you for getting me started on yet another story!

By Rebelgirl

Chapter Three

When B'Elanna opened her eyes, her initial reaction was to pull away from her embrace with Seven. Not only was she conscious of the intimacy of the position she found herself in, she did not want to cause any unnecessary discomfort to the ex-drone. However, as she became more awake, she realised that Seven was sleeping soundly and she was reluctant to disturb her.

B'Elanna studied the Borg's face carefully, happy to do so in the knowledge that the close inspection would go undetected. Seven's features were softer now she was relaxed and B'Elanna wondered at how young the woman looked when she wasn't hiding behind a veneer of efficiency and aloofness. As her pulse increased slightly, the Klingon realised that not only did she think Seven attractive; she was indeed attracted to her. And it wasn't just a physical attraction, of that, B'Elanna was certain. In fact, she had spent her life determined never to judge someone by appearance alone, having been on the receiving end of that sort of treatment. She could discuss things with Seven on an equal footing, and their disagreements were usually down to what to do with the results of their work or how the results were obtained, not the results themselves.

If she was honest, B'Elanna had been jealous of Seven's intelligence and of her composure. The engineer still had difficulty reining in her temper and not reacting rashly. She had felt usurped by Seven's self-promoted superiority and her own self-doubts had returned to haunt her. Working closely with Seven during the mining operation had revealed the ex-drone's own insecurities. B'Elanna discovered that the younger woman was sometimes embarrassed by her lack of knowledge regarding basic manners and interaction, having relied on the Collective for so long. She hid behind an attitude of indifference that gave the appearance of arrogance when, in fact, she was probably more unsure of her position and status than B'Elanna was.

Having realised that she had misread the woman, B'Elanna was determined to rectify the way she treated her on board Voyager. By the end of the mining operation, she had begun to understand Seven's almost arid sense of humour and felt comfortable enough to not only tease the blonde, but allowed the Borg to tease back.

Had the mission ended and they returned to Voyager safely, B'Elanna was certain that she would have continued to treat the Astrometrics officer with respect and trust and perhaps the friendship that had tentatively begun during the operation could develop into something more. Now, they were stranded in a harsh environment with no communications and limited rations, and B'Elanna wasn't prepared to put any pressure on that friendship when they had to work so closely together in order to survive. It would be unfair to Seven and could have potentially disastrous consequences. B'Elanna just hoped that their enforced confinement together wouldn't put too great a strain on a relationship she already valued highly.

So lost was the Klingon hybrid in her own contemplation that she didn't notice Seven wake up. The tall blonde looked at the older woman and studied the frank emotion displayed on her face. There was a look of determined protectiveness emblazoned on her features and Seven found herself hoping that it was intended for her and not directed against her. The younger woman was captivated by B'Elanna's unique beauty. Seven had first admired the engineer for her incredible technical ability. Her innovation and lateral thinking was a totally new concept to the ex-drone and it took her some time to appreciate its value. The Klingon had not bowed down to Seven's superior knowledge but instead, argued with Seven, often reaching a better solution to problems by combining their efforts without even realising it. It was during those explosive confrontations that Seven realised that she was developing romantic feelings for the Chief Engineer. To see such passionate emotion displayed so openly entranced the tall Borg and the fact that B'Elanna treated her as an equal, allowing no quarter as far as procedures or even good manners went, meant that time spent with the woman was always a huge learning curve. A sometimes extremely frustrating learning curve, but an enjoyable one nevertheless. What she couldn't understand however, was B'Elanna's choice in partners. Lieutenant Paris was unreliable, fickle and, as far as Seven was concerned, totally unsuitable for the raven-haired woman. The Doctor had told her that love was the most illogical of emotions and followed no rules. Seven couldn't help but be relieved at the termination of B'Elanna's relationship with the helmsman but, recalling the words of the EMH, had no idea how to deal with her own emotions, much less admit them to B'Elanna. She sighed in frustration, a habit she had picked up from the dark Klingon.

B'Elanna was drawn from her thoughts instantly. She focused on the cerulean blue eyes of her companion. "Sleep okay?" she enquired softly.

"I am unpractised at sleeping, and yet I have succeeded in the task for the second time since we landed on this planet," the blonde replied.

The engineer raised her eyebrows. "I thought the Doctor and the Captain were trying to wean you off the alcove?"

"Their attempts were not successful. I suspect that it had much to do with my desire not to leave the alcove," Seven admitted.

"You would still rather use the alcove?"

"I believe it is more efficient," Seven began. She hesitated when she saw B'Elanna raise her eyebrows perceptively. "I am *used* to regenerating. I am familiar with the procedure and I do not have to work at it. Sleeping is unreliable and," she hesitated again, "difficult."

"Well you haven't had any problems so far," B'Elanna responded. She rolled her shoulder experimentally, and found that it was stiff but no longer painful.

Seven decided not to voice her opinion that the Klingon engineer's proximity was the only reason she had been able to sleep successfully, and instead concentrated on B'Elanna's injury. "May I look at your shoulder?"

"It's just stiff," B'Elanna demurred, but found herself shuffling round awkwardly in her survival bag so that Seven could examine her back.

Seven ran her hands over the healed skin carefully, noting that the area was still slightly inflamed. She couldn't tell whether the skin temperature was raised, as the whole of B'Elanna's back felt warm and the ex-drone had to force herself to concentrate on the task at hand and not savour the sensations she was experiencing from touching the other woman's back.

B'Elanna's eyes closed spontaneously and she had to bite down on a low growl that was threatening from deep inside her chest. Seven's hands danced over her shoulder and the engineer was willing them to continue their exploration. Recalling her earlier vow not to put their friendship in jeopardy, the older woman reluctantly pulled her back away from the gentle hands, but frowned as she thought she heard the ex-drone make a quiet sigh of protest as they separated. Dismissing it as wishful thinking, B'Elanna wriggled back round to face Seven, noting how flushed the normally pallid woman's face was. "Well?"

Seven frowned, flustered for a second at the enquiry after being so lost in the sensation of B'Elanna's skin. Hurriedly, she pulled her thoughts in order, remembering the original reason for the inspection. "It is not as inflamed as before, but I am concerned. The hypospray should have eliminated any infection from the wound, yet whatever is causing the problem appears tenacious."

"Yeah, well, I'm feeling better, so we'll take it that I'm on the mend," B'Elanna replied, sitting up slightly as a prompt for Seven to get up and off the sleeping ledge. The younger woman complied and they both jumped down on to the protective ground sheet, hurriedly putting on the environmental suits as they noticed the marked difference in temperature from the sleeping area and the gangway.

Seven looked at the other woman discretely as they dressed. She was confused by what had just happened. The tall Astrometrics officer was certain that B'Elanna was almost responding to her touch and not just reacting to any pain or discomfort her shoulder might have given her. And yet, just when she had made up her mind to investigate her theory a bit more thoroughly, B'Elanna had withdrawn and forced them both to get up. Now she wasn't sure if B'Elanna was distancing herself because she didn't want the attention, or if she was retreating because she did. The blonde found the emotional pull exhausting, but intriguing. No wonder humans spent so much time hypothesising on love and its variants.

Once suitably attired to combat the extreme cold again, the two women trudged back to the shuttle, taking rations with them.

"Is it me, or has the weather got worse?" B'Elanna yelled over the roar of the wind.

Seven could barely hear her, even with her enhanced auditory function and she wondered if the Klingon would hear her shouted response. "The temperature has dropped and the winds are at least twice as severe. I am not sure that it is wise to continue with repairs if the weather is closing in as it appears to be."

"We don't have any choice, Seven," the shorter woman shouted back, hunched against the force of the wind. "If we don't get sensors and comms back on line, we're dead."

Seven nodded despite knowing that B'Elanna wouldn't see the gesture. The brunette was right. If they couldn't find an alternative source of food, they would be starving within four days and they would only be halfway through the repairs needed to get comms back online.

B'Elanna squinted across the white expanse, watching the thick white flakes from the blizzard dance with the wind gusts. "Kahless, the shuttle will get buried in snow soon. We'll have to dig our way to the access hatch as it is." She shook her head. Time was precious enough without having to waste it on getting through yet more snow.

There was no point in using the phasors to cut the snow. None of it was compacted hard enough to be lifted out in blocks. Instead, the two women used their emergency spades to clear a path to the shuttle entrance. Both were breathing heavily by the time they dropped through the hatch and inside the broken craft.

"Well there's one good thing about all this snow," B'Elanna commented dryly as she brushed herself down. "At least it will help insulate the shuttle. It might even get a bit warmer in here," she finished hopefully.

"You mean -25 as opposed to -30 degrees?" Seven asked with a small grin.

B'Elanna rolled her eyes and then tried to remove some of the snow that had found its way inside the shuttle. As soon as she tried to deposit her gathered pile out of the shuttle, the fierce winds blew it, and more snow generated by the storm, back into the cockpit. Realising that the task was futile, the dark Klingon adjusted the plan and piled up the snow and ice from inside in a corner that neither of the women would need access to. With Seven's help, the task was completed swiftly and once B'Elanna was satisfied with her working area, she sat down at the console. "Seven, can you keep an eye on the time? I don't want to leave it quite so late before we stop next time, but once I get into something I just have no idea what's going on around me." The Klingon had no idea why she was justifying her request, particularly as Seven had already nodded at the query before she continued.

"It is logical B'Elanna. If we over-exert ourselves, we need to eat more rations to compensate for the excess use of muscles in keeping warm."

"It probably explains why I'm so damned tired too," the brunette muttered as she began work. "I can't remember ever sleeping so much."

"Nor can I," replied Seven, equally as softly as she continued her work on the auxiliary power conduits. B'Elanna raised her eyes and stared at the younger woman for a few seconds, wondering at the wistful tone of Seven's voice. She sent a silent prayer of thanks to Kahless that she had so much work to do. Otherwise she knew that she would be continually distracted by the other woman's presence and B'Elanna knew that she would worry continually about the distraction. There was no point wishing that they were back on Voyager where she could deal with the situation in a more controlled environment and at least could determine if Seven would be receptive to a more intimate relationship with her. All the time they were stranded here however, the Klingon would not exhort any pressure on Seven. It would not be honourable to use the situation to pursue intimacy, particularly as the ex-drone had extremely limited experience with romantic liaisons.

Within moments, the engineer had found a particularly complex problem with the communications relays and all thoughts of Seven were relegated to the back of her mind as she focused on finding a solution.

Seven glanced briefly at her colleague before starting her own work. She noticed the thoughtful look on B'Elanna's face and wondered what was occupying her thoughts. Her own centred on the last comment she had made. Seven had indeed never slept as long or as soundly as she had since their crash. At first she had put the reason down to sheer exhaustion and recovery from her injuries. Now she was not so sure. Having B'Elanna so close had relaxed and strangely comforted her. She had felt safe and protected, and yet if she had been asked if that had been a necessary requisite for sleep, she would have dismissed the notion, knowing that she was one of the strongest people on Voyager.

As she tried to analyse her feelings she came to the inevitable conclusion that it was who was sleeping next to her that made the difference. Seven's attraction to the Klingon hybrid was escalating. She had caught herself revelling in the feel of the woman's skin when she examined her shoulder earlier. Seven chastised herself. Now was hardly the best time to initiate a romantic relationship with the older woman, even if she thought that B'Elanna might return her feelings.

With a determined sigh, the tall blonde forced her mind back to the task at hand, working methodically with the power routings.

Two hours later, neither woman had moved position and had said nothing as they continued with their tasks but the silence was not oppressive. Seven looked up and decided that it was time to take a break. She stood and flexed her leg muscles, and then went to one of the holdalls to retrieve supplies. She noted with a small grimace that their emergency water rations had frozen, but she used a phasor on its lowest setting in order to return the ice back to its liquid state.

Once she had everything prepared, Seven made her way over to where B'Elanna was working and put the supplies on to a nearby console. "B'Elanna, you need a break," she called over softly.

The engineer didn't even look up, so engrossed in her work that she did not hear the other woman. Rather than call again needlessly, Seven laid a hand on the Klingon's shoulder in order to gain her attention. Her lips twitched into the tiniest of smiles as B'Elanna leapt at the touch, startled from her work. "I am sorry to disturb you, but you need to take a break," Seven explained gently.

B'Elanna looked up into the concerned eyes of her colleague and was about to embark on a long string of Klingon and human epithets when her brain registered that the ex-drone was right. "Thanks," she commented as she took an insulated cup and greedily drank the contents. She smiled ruefully as Seven sat down next to her. "I did tell you I get engrossed," she continued before taking a good-sized bite from a ration bar.

"I was well aware of that fact before we undertook this mission," Seven rejoined, also eating.

B'Elanna wiped a hand over her brow as she leant back in her seat. "Are you sure that the snow isn't insulating the shuttle. It feels damned hot in here," she complained, drawing another long draft of water.

Seven narrowed her eyes as she looked at the older woman. She noticed that B'Elanna was looking flushed and could see tiny beads of sweat forming on her forehead. "The current temperature in the shuttle is -26 degrees. It is 4 degrees warmer than the temperature outside but that is not a sufficient rise for you to feel hot," she remarked, snatching a tricorder from one of the workstations and running it in front of B'Elanna.

The Klingon frowned as she studied Seven's face, trying to read her emotions. "What's wrong?"

"I am not certain. Remove the upper part of your suit."

B'Elanna snorted. "Jeez Seven, I usually get a date out of someone before I follow that sort of order," she commented dryly and was quietly delighted to see the younger woman flush furiously at her implication.

"I need to examine your shoulder again," the blonde explained, stammering slightly and inwardly cursing herself for her lack of control.

B'Elanna smirked but refrained from commenting as she shrugged the suit from her shoulders. The movement invoked a jolt of pain across her back and the raven-haired woman sobered immediately as she realised that something was wrong. A sharp hiss of surprise from Seven alarmed her even more. "What?"

Seven did not answer immediately but methodically scanned B'Elanna's back, trying to make sense of the readings.

"What?" The Klingon repeated more aggressively, her concern rising. She tried to twist her head round to try and read Seven's expression but found that the action produced another wave of pain. She spun her whole body round instead.

"The infection has spread," Seven intoned, trying to keep her voice neutral. She tried her hardest, but her eyes betrayed her and they drifted downward to view the swell of B'Elanna's breasts, covered by her grey tank top.

The Klingon didn't appear to notice Seven's distraction. "Spread? I thought you gave me something to get rid of the infection. What the hell is going on?" B'Elanna's voice continued to rise as her concern grew.

"I am uncertain. It is difficult to extrapolate results from an ordinary tricorder," Seven hedged, focusing on the readout in an effort to keep control on her wayward optical senses.

"So the infection is why I feel so hot?" B'Elanna persisted. She rolled her shoulders again, wincing as the movement provoked more discomfort.

"I believe so. We need to ascertain the cause of the infection before a more appropriate treatment can be concocted."

B'Elanna could see that Seven was worried and noticed that the ex- drone fell back on more formal speech patterns in order to hide her emotions.

"All the medical kit is back at the shelter," B'Elanna commented, trying to work things through logically while she was physically capable. "If you can complete the power coupling repairs, I think I can have the sensors back on line in the next hour. Let's at least achieve one thing before we return to the shelter and then you can play nurse to your heart's content," she suggested.

"I believe that we should return now, Lieutenant. Your well-being should not be placed below the repair of equipment," Seven demurred.

"My well-being won't count for anything if we can't find food and get comms back up and running," the engineer objected. "And let's be honest. You're not a doctor. There's no guarantee that we'll be able to counter the infection anyway. I might as well work now while I can still function within normal parameters," B'Elanna continued, a small grin on her face as she finished her statement.

Seven nodded as she recognised the logic in B'Elanna's argument. "One more hour," she conceded. "But regardless of the state of repair, we will return to the shelter after that."

The Klingon raised her eyebrows at the forcefulness of Seven's statement but knew that fighting Seven would only distract them from continuing the repairs. She sat back down and was about to start work again when she felt the blonde's cool hand on her shoulder. "What now?"

"I know you are feeling hot, but you need to keep your environmental suit on. Your body will not tolerate such cold temperatures," Seven pointed out reasonably.

B'Elanna grumbled but tugged the suit back over her shoulders and zipped the garment up. Wiping her face again, the brunette studied the console for a few seconds before re-commencing repairs. Seven watched her with concern. B'Elanna's body temperature had risen significantly. For her not to notice her state of partial undress was worrying. Seven continued her work on the power coupling assembly, ensuring that she checked on the engineer frequently.

Forty-five minutes later Seven saw B'Elanna lift her head up in triumph. She arched an eyebrow expectantly and waited for the Klingon to make her announcement.

"Sensors are back on line, Seven. It's only short-range but we'd never be able to go exploring any further than that anyway," she explained enthusiastically.

The tall blonde nodded appreciatively. "I concur. It would be wise to initiate scans now. I am uncertain how long my repairs to the power supplies will last," she admitted.

B'Elanna shook her head in disbelief, caught up in the excitement of having accomplished what she had set out to do. "If you've made the repairs, they'll hold," she retorted confidently, grinning as her slender fingers drove the console to begin scanning. "But I'm not sure how long the rest of the circuitry will remain functional. It all took a battering when we landed." She made a few final adjustments before looking up. "Seven I need your help," she called out and waited for the ex-drone to join her at the workstation. "If I do a rapid initial sweep of the area, can you monitor the results and record anything that might need a lengthier scan? That way we can keep the scan to a minimum and focus on areas that might provide the results we need."

Seven nodded. "Proceed," she instructed once she was settled just behind B'Elanna's body. The blonde looked over the seated woman's shoulder at the screens in front of them. Sharing the same console meant that there was less strain on the already limited power supplies and it also gave each woman the excuse of secretly savouring the other's closeness.

B'Elanna commenced the rapid scan and paused the operation once a 360- degree sweep had been performed. She looked up expectantly at the woman standing behind her.

Seven quickly pointed out two potential areas that needed probing further and the engineer made the necessary adjustments before starting the sweep again, this time setting the scanner to retrieve more detailed information about the local area surrounding them.

"It would appear that there is limited vegetation and fauna present in the mountain ranges to the north of our location," Seven surmised once the scans completed their work.

B'Elanna nodded. "Yeah, but it's pretty steep terrain. I'm not sure that we've gained anything other than a tantalising glimpse into what is unobtainable around us." Her earlier enthusiasm for the project had dissipated as she studied the route needed to get into the mountains. "There's no way we'd be able to scale those mountains while the weather is so severe," she demurred.

Seven stared at the view screen as she contemplated the older woman's words. "I should be able to retrieve supplies, Lieutenant," she stated confidently.

B'Elanna was having none of it. "I don't think so. You're not going up there alone. It's too dangerous." She held up a hand to quell the protest that Seven was about to form. "And don't deny that you think it's dangerous. You addressed me by my rank. If that doesn't tell me you're concerned about the trip, nothing does." She wiped her brow again as sweat began to trickle down her face.

"It would be difficult," Seven conceded. "But not impossible. However, with your shoulder injury, it would not be viable for you to accompany me." The blonde tried again. She knew that B'Elanna would not be well enough to negotiate the mountainous terrain, but Seven knew unequivocally that supplies had to be procured somehow.

"Then we'll have to wait until the storm blows itself out," B'Elanna replied. "You have to admit that we stand a better chance of survival if we stick together," she pressed.

"In ordinary circumstances yes," Seven replied cautiously. B'Elanna emitted an exclamation of triumph but the ex-drone continued, ignoring the interruption. "But these are hardly `normal' circumstances. Even if the weather abates, your injury is debilitating you. The expedition would take an unacceptable amount of time."

B'Elanna could feel anger rising deep from within her but somehow managed to keep it in check. Exhaling deeply, her voice shook slightly as she continued to hold back her temper. "And if you don't return because you couldn't negotiate the terrain single-handed, my situation wouldn't change. It's better if we go together after we wait for the storm to die down." She stood up suddenly and retrieved the water canteen, once again having to defrost it with a blast from a phasor. She used the time to control her emotions. The older woman was furious that Seven would question her capability but in the recesses of her mind, she knew that Seven had a point, even if she had been rather blunt with it.

The raven-haired Klingon gulped the liquid voraciously before handing the receptacle to Seven and waited for the younger woman to take a drink before continuing. "How long would it take to get up the mountains?" she asked quietly.

Seven looked up sharply. She hadn't anticipated that question. After assessing the results from the scans and factoring in the weather Seven answered. "If the storm dies down, it would take nine hours to scale the terrain. It is impossible to estimate how long the foraging for supplies would take, as I have no idea of the nature of the local fauna. Getting back down would take approximately 2 hours longer due to the awkwardness of carrying extra supplies and the difficulty of the terrain."

"Twenty hours minimum if you go alone. That's one whole day of being separated." B'Elanna swallowed. "You can't tell me that it's safe for us to be apart for that long." She glanced at the ex-drone, daring her to interrupt but Seven remained silent. "We have at least two days worth of food left. I know it's risky to wait but there's still work to be done on the shuttle. None of it will be wasted time."

Seven studied the shorter woman for a few moments before replying. B'Elanna was uneasy about the situation. In fact, if Seven didn't know her better, she would have said that she was scared, though the willowy blonde was at a loss to determine why. She nodded curtly. "Very well, B'Elanna. We will wait one day and then reassess the situation tomorrow." Seven conceded. "But now it is time to return to the shelter." She began to gather their belongings but frowned as she saw the engineer still hunched over the console. "B'Elanna, we need to stop now," she emphasised.

The brunette looked up and nodded her agreement. "I know, but it makes sense to load the sensor results into our tricorders just in case there is some sort of corruption of the data storage units while we're away."

Seven nodded and took responsibility for collecting all their supplies while B'Elanna hurriedly completed her task.

Seven deliberately handed B'Elanna the lighter of the two holdalls, knowing that it would be painful for the Klingon to carry the bag. She had been tempted to carry both bags but decided that the engineer would be affronted by the inference that she was weak and in all probability over-react to her offer of assistance. As they headed back to the shelter, Seven took the lead, setting a steady pace as she hunched over in a futile attempt to get any protection from the still raging storm. Every so often, she would glance back to ensure that the brunette was following.

As she trudged along, Seven wondered how she could convince the half- Klingon that it would be more logical if she ascended the mountains alone. B'Elanna had already reacted in a typical knee-jerk fashion. However, the ex-drone was not convinced that B'Elanna would be any more susceptible to logic after they had rested and warmed up in the shelter. B'Elanna's stubbornness was a cause of great frustration to Seven. It wasn't as if she was questioning the engineer's physical prowess or her skills. She was acutely aware of the other woman's attributes. It was those attributes that kept distracting the Astrometrics officer while she was working in the shuttle. It had taken all her willpower to concentrate on the power couplings.

As she continued her inner monologue, Seven realised that she just wanted to protect the older woman, particularly as she was injured. It was by no means certain if the Borg could find a cure for the insidious infection that raged in B'Elanna's body so getting additional food supplies was essential.

Seven realised that it was ironic that she wanted to protect the tenacious Klingon. B'Elanna was one of the few people on Voyager who could come close to the ex-drone's strength. She also recalled the look B'Elanna had directed at her when she had awoken earlier. It would appear that they both wanted to look after each other. The tall blonde wondered whether the motives behind each other's intentions were similar.

She sighed to herself and bent deeper into the howling wind. She was over-analysing again. And her thoughts were going nowhere other than round in circles. She wondered how `human' it made her. Seven continued to trudge through the snow and picked up the pace as she identified the outline of the shelter and headed for it. She could see that the entrance had been partially blocked by the snow and ice blown around by the storm and frowned. They would have more digging to do before they could rest.

The tall blonde looked back to tell B'Elanna of the situation but the words stuck in her throat.

B'Elanna was some way behind her had sat down in a large drift of snow and had peeled off her environmental suit and was rubbing snow onto the back of her neck. Even as Seven began to hurry over to where the Klingon sat, B'Elanna keeled over, unconscious for the second time in as many days.

Part 4

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