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 Six

Seven stared at B'Elanna's prone form, willing her to show any sign of improvement after injecting her with the modified nanoprobes and yet knowing that the action was futile. She carefully monitored the brunette's vital signs, using a tricorder to note respiration rate, pulse and temperature. The Astrometrics officer recorded all signs at periodic intervals, looking for any sort of trend, positive or otherwise. She also ensured that she was aware of how much time had elapsed since the introduction of her solution to B'Elanna's infection. She had no idea how promptly the borg nanoprobes would work on the engineer's systems, and was uncertain as to how their success would be reflected in B'Elanna's vital signs. The ex-drone had deliberately injected a minimal amount of nanoprobes into the Klingon hybrid's body, so that they would only spend a short time in her system. The blonde hoped that she had judged the amount correctly.

The only thing Seven tried to discount was the effect of the cold. Her feet had already numbed as the bitter chill of the environment was steadily taking its toll on her. Seven resolutely ignored the painful cold creeping up her legs and towards her torso, resolving to get warm once she knew that B'Elanna was safe. She was already having difficulty driving the tricorder as her hands felt clumsy and stiff. It wouldn't be long before she lost the sensation in her fingers altogether and she would be unable to continue monitoring her patient. She shook her head slightly, trying once again to disregard the cold and the effect it was having on her.

Seven wondered if she should leave the engineer and return to the shuttle to continue repairs. The communications system still had massive repairs to be undertaken before a distress signal could be transmitted from the planet. Then there was the question of supplies. Should B'Elanna regain consciousness, no, *when* B'Elanna regained consciousness Seven corrected herself, she would need to eat as soon as possible. Between them, they would deplete the food supplies within a few hours and would then have nothing to consume unless a foraging trip was successful. From what Seven recalled of the data they had accumulated regarding the location of possible food supplies, it would take two days just to locate and retrieve the food. And that was an optimistic estimate. Seven had no idea how well B'Elanna would recover from the infection. If she were weak, it would take a lot longer. Though Seven knew that it was more logical for her to undertake the food hunt by herself, she had already promised B'Elanna that she would not go alone. The ex-drone was determined not to break that promise unless absolutely necessary.

Despite the massive undertakings still needed if they were to survive any length of time on the planet, Seven remained rooted to the spot. Her primary concern was B'Elanna's health. She wanted to be present when the Klingon regained consciousness so that she could explain what had happened, and reassure the older woman that she was not alone.

Seven tucked her hands into her armpits, trying to delay the steady onslaught of the cold. Her environmental suit was still wet, and would only accelerate the onset of hypothermia. However, retreating to her own sleeping bag was not an option. Seven knew that the minute she lay down, she would fall asleep. She was physically and mentally exhausted, drained from the furious work she had put into finding a cure for the brunette and her emotional turmoil at both the Klingon's condition and the thought that she might end up alone on the planet.

Seven had suffered terribly when she had piloted Voyager alone through a dangerous part of space. The feelings of isolation and irrational vulnerability had taken a long time to dissipate, even after the rest of the crew had rejoined her. She tugged her lips into a tiny smile when she recalled that it had been B'Elanna that had invited her to join Tom, Harry and herself in the mess hall once they had been revived. The brunette had looked at her, and instinctively knew that she was suffering from the enforced isolation and had tried to alleviate her discomfort. It had been another act of consideration scattered amongst their legendary disputes. But it was those acts that made Seven realise that B'Elanna wasn't simply arguing to be difficult. Their conflicts were because they both believed that they were right, not because they were being deliberately provocative.

Seven's smile widened slightly as she admitted to herself that on occasion she had deliberately set out to instigate an argument just to revel in the closeness of the other woman, who insisted that their shouting matches take place when they were standing just inches apart. Seven also loved to see the wide variety of emotions B'Elanna went through displayed so openly.

Seven controlled her feelings rigidly, but had recently started to reveal more of them. She had been amazed and flattered that B'Elanna had begun to read her emotions, particularly so during the mining operation. B'Elanna had told her to 'come out of her shell' more and display more of her humour instead of trying to maintain her impression of cold perfection. B'Elanna had also pointed out that humanity was littered with mistakes, weaknesses, frailties and inefficiencies. It was what made humans human. The Klingon hybrid also pointed out the old adage that the person who never made a mistake, never learnt anything. Seven realised that her goal to achieve perfection was Borg driven, and although the desire was admirable, it should not consume her to the detriment of her development.

The tall blonde smiled slightly again. She might now begin to admit her imperfections and apologise for not interacting with the crew seamlessly, but she would not give up her arguments with the Chief Engineer. She enjoyed them too much to relinquish them.

Her internal musings had kept Seven diverted from the painful feelings of cold ravaging her body. But they had also distracted her from paying attention to what was happening to her patient, so the small moan that escaped from B'Elanna's lips startled her.

Quickly, Seven looked at the engineer's face, noticing that her eyelids were fluttering as the Klingon began to move her lips again. "B'Elanna, can you hear me?" She leaned forward eagerly, hoping that B'Elanna would answer before realising that the brunette's throat would probably be parched and it would be painful for her to speak. Acting swiftly, Seven snatched a water canteen and dribbled the contents over the older woman's dry lips gently, her smile widening in relief as she watched B'Elanna greedily lick her lips, chasing every errant drop. Seven's heart began to hammer furiously as the Klingon opened her eyes and looked directly at her.

"Thank God. I'm alive." B'Elanna whispered the words, unconsciously repeating the same phrase she had used when she returned from the Barge of the Dead after restoring her mother's honour. The dark woman tried to sit up in order to hug Seven but found herself unable to move. Looking down, she saw a rope pinning her down to the sleeping area. Recalling the events from the barge, she let out a short blast of laughter. "You tied me down?" B'Elanna asked incredulously.

Seven looked down at the Klingon's bonds in mortification. "I'm sorry. Sorry," she apologised, fumbling with the knots from the rope as she struggled to free B'Elanna.

Despite still feeling decidedly hazy and confused, B'Elanna was alert enough to see the open display of emotion blazoned across the younger woman's face. It was obvious that whatever had happened while she had been on the Barge of the Dead, it had alarmed and scared the blonde. As Seven leaned across to free her, B'Elanna noticed how pale she looked and how blue her lips appeared. It was apparent that the ex-drone was freezing cold, and the shaking of her hands as she picked at the bonds underlined B'Elanna's suspicions. Not wanting Seven to berate herself for her actions, the Klingon tried to make light of the situation. "I didn't realise you were into kink Seven."

The younger woman stiffened instantly and stood back, leaving the bonds only partially loosened. A combination of extreme fatigue, painful concern for the woman she believed she loved, and the oppressive thought that she might be left alone on the planet had made Seven's composure very brittle. B'Elanna's glib comment tipped her over the edge. "I tied you down to stop you from wandering off and freezing to death. I had to leave you here while I tried to find a way to stop you from dying. I had no choice. I did not incarcerate you on a whim." Seven's voice shook with barely restrained emotion and she could feel a burning sensation behind her eyes. She realised with horror that she was about to cry and tried to back away further from B'Elanna.

The brunette fought to get free from her bindings. She realised immediately that she had said the wrong thing and wanted nothing more than to comfort the taller woman but was unable to get to Seven. Unfortunately, the fever had left her weak and her struggles were useless. "Seven I'm sorry. I was just joking. Can you untie me please?" She looked imploringly at Seven, astonished to see the stricken look on the blonde's face.

For a few seconds, Seven merely stared back, trying to regain her composure so that she could function efficiently. Swallowing repeatedly, she blinked back her tears and stepped back to where B'Elanna lay. Her hands trembled as she attacked the rope again and she worked in silence, knowing that B'Elanna was staring at her and probably wondering why she had suddenly lost control.

Once the rope had been loosened, the Klingon rolled her shoulders and sat up cautiously, fighting off a wave of nausea as she wiped her face. B'Elanna still felt as if she was boiling hot and she tugged the covers off her. Looking carefully at Seven she spoke gently. "Are you alright?"

"I should be asking you that. You are the one who is recovering from a deadly infection."

"Seven, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you. I can't even imagine what it's been like here." B'Elanna could feel her own voice begin to shake. It was the third time Seven had described her condition as life threatening. The brunette wasn't sure if her visit to Grethor had been a fever induced hallucination or had actually occurred, but either way, she had cheated death yet again. And that sobering thought was putting a lot of things into perspective, not least her feelings about the ex-drone. "Did I die?" she asked in a whisper.

"No. But it was a close thing," Seven replied in an equally quiet voice. Seconds later, she found herself being hugged tightly as B'Elanna wrapped her arms round her. Without a second thought, she returned the embrace, relishing the heat that the older woman was radiating. She felt the burning sensation behind her eyes again and buried her face into B'Elanna's neck, willing herself not to cry in front of the engineer, while rejoicing that B'Elanna was alive and safe.

B'Elanna was also elated to be alive and to be sharing a hug with Seven. She resolved in her mind to be honest with the ex-drone and admit how she felt about her. However, her most pressing concern was how cold Seven was. B'Elanna knew that the contrast between them would be more marked as she was still combating a fever, but Seven felt icy cold, and the engineer was worried.

After a few long moments relishing the intimacy of their contact, B'Elanna pulled back slightly and released the other woman. She then began to pull the covers off her body so that she could get up.

"No, get back in. If you cool too quickly, you'll suffer from hypothermia." Seven fussed round the brunette and tried to tug the emergency blanket back up and around B'Elanna.

B'Elanna stilled the other woman by gently taking her hands in her own. Seven's hands were like blocks of ice and it was then that she noticed the Borg's lack of survival suit. "Seven, I'm roasting. And I'm conscious. You've already told me that you found a cure, and it's sort of obvious that it worked." She smiled slightly. "I'd like to hear about what you did. But not while you're turning yourself into an icicle. Why the hell aren't you wearing your survival suit?"

"It is still wet. It would not have been of any benefit to me. I elected to work without it." Seven felt her voice waver as her teeth began to chatter again.

"Well, here's what we're going to do. I'm boiling hot; you're freezing cold. We both need to find a happy medium. So get in here and warm up. As you clearly aren't going to let me get cold by getting out of this sleeping bag, I'll just have to leech the cold from you so I can feel better." B'Elanna lifted the covers up and gestured for Seven to get into the survival bag.

Seven hesitated. "I am not sure B'Elanna. You still need water and monitoring…"

"Get in," the smaller woman ordered, her tone brooking no refusal. "You're exhausted and probably hypothermic, judging by that delightful 'cyanosis blue' your lips have turned. Take some time to warm up. Besides, while you're lying down, you can tell me what you did."

Seven paused for a few more seconds before kicking off her shoes and boosting herself up onto the sleeping edge. She looked at the other woman dubiously again.

"Look Seven. Don't make me get out of here to make you get in." Despite B'Elanna's threatening words, her tone was soft and weary.

The ex-drone realised that despite the fact that B'Elanna appeared to have begun her recovery, it would take some time for her to regain full strength. She also knew that the Klingon had a point about her own condition. Seven was suffering initial stage hypothermia as well as exhaustion. Logically, they would achieve nothing while still in this state. It made sense to take time to rest. She wiggled into B'Elanna's sleeping bag, instantly relaxing into the heat. Conscious of how cold she must feel to a feverish Klingon, Seven tried to keep herself from touching the other woman, and turned away from her.

B'Elanna was instantly drawn to the cooler touch of the younger woman. She closed the gap between them without a second thought, and spooned her, wrapping her arms round Seven and grasping icy hands in her own. "I know you're worried and want me to cool down naturally, but it's more important that you warm up now."

Seven's heart rate surged at B'Elanna's proximity but she was too tired to object. For an instant, she stiffened, but then relaxed into B'Elanna's arms and sighed, luxuriating in the heat B'Elanna radiated.

B'Elanna felt her pulse quicken as she pressed herself behind the taller woman, sighing as the cold touch of Seven's biosuit cooled her fevered skin. She felt Seven go rigid for a second and prepared herself for rejection of the closeness, but smiled when she felt Seven settle. Her smile widened as she felt Seven's fingers interlace her own and squeeze them gently. In response, she pulled the blonde in closer and hugged her more tightly. Seven's body was beginning to warm slowly, and her own temperature was starting to fall. B'Elanna felt her eyelids droop and a wave of fatigue wash over her. Belatedly, she realised that she had invited Seven to tell her what had happened. Without a second thought, she buried her face into Seven's neck. "Are you feeling better?"

"Mmmm." Seven's response was barely an acknowledgement. She had settled into B'Elanna's arms and was content to let the heat from her warm her up. Exhaustion had claimed her finally and she wanted to do nothing more than sleep. To be held in B'Elanna's arms was a bonus she would not give up. She barely had the strength to concentrate on what B'Elanna was saying but decided that if it was urgent, the Klingon would repeat herself.

B'Elanna smiled at the languid response, and realised that Seven was fighting a losing battle against sleep. Deciding that it was better for them both to rest, B'Elanna let her eyes shut and let her fatigue consume her. The dark hybrid knew that she still had to speak with Seven to find out what had occurred. She wanted to tell the taller woman about her own experiences too. But it could all wait until they could concentrate.

Hearing no further words from the woman holding her, Seven steadied her breathing and stopped trying to focus her thoughts. In seconds, she was asleep.

Seven woke up feeling warm and rested. She did not feel disoriented this time, but relaxed and content. Waking up in B'Elanna's arms was an infinitely more pleasurable experience than being startled by the alarm from the tricorder. She felt the engineer's steady breathing tickle her neck rhythmically and realised that B'Elanna was still asleep. Looking down, the blonde saw that their hands were still interlocked and that the feeling had returned to her fingers. Seven smiled as she squeezed the other woman's hands softly, noting how B'Elanna's temperature appeared to have returned to normal parameters. She would have to conduct a series of tests with a tricorder to prove her suspicions, but Seven was certain that B'Elanna was well on the way to recovering from the infection.

There was an almost imperceptible deepening of B'Elanna's breathing and the ex-drone knew that she had woken up. "Have you finished 'leeching' the cold from me?" she asked quasi-imperiously.

"Well now that you're all nice and warm, I'd say that was a yes," the brunette muttered, her voice thick with sleep.

"Does that mean you wish to relinquish your hold on me?" Seven felt a dread fear as the question slipped out. She did not want B'Elanna to release her, but neither did she want her to feel uncomfortable at the intimacy they were sharing. Seven wanted so much to reveal her feelings for the shorter woman but was petrified of rejection. However, she did not want B'Elanna to feel obliged to do something she might not want to do. The Astrometrics officer frowned in confusion. She was bewildered by the situation she was in and had no idea how to order her thoughts and deal with it.

B'Elanna's head cleared as soon as she heard the question. She detected the catch in Seven's voice and interpreted the insecurity the younger woman was feeling. She wondered if Seven realised that she felt equally caught in turmoil over what was happening between them. She recalled what she had gone through on the Barge of the Dead and took courage from her actions, whether they had been as a result of an illness induced hallucination or not. She would reveal her feelings for Seven, but she did not want the ex-drone to be ill at ease. "Are you uncomfortable with me this close?"

"Not at all." Seven's words shot from her mouth to hastily reassure the brunette. "I just don't want you to feel obliged to continue to act as a portable heating system."

B'Elanna smiled, realising that they were both trying to ensure that they were doing nothing out of obligation. Her smile widened as she recognised that she wanted to stay wrapped round Seven and appeared that Seven was comfortable with the arrangement. The engineer switched topics immediately. "Tell me what happened. The last thing I remember was following you back to the shuttle."

Seven sighed with relief. She didn't know how she would have reacted if B'Elanna had tried to put any distance between them. As it was, it appeared that the Klingon was quite happy to continue holding her. She just hoped that the embrace would continue while she recalled the events leading up to them lying here.

"I turned round to check on your progress back to the shuttle and saw you collapsed in the snow…" she began.

B'Elanna listened intently as Seven described what happened, her heart pounding as she begun to understand how isolated the blonde must have felt. She admitted to herself that she would have been petrified at the thought of existing alone, waiting for rescue or death.

Seven tensed when she told how she had come to the decision to bind B'Elanna so that she could continue her research. She omitted how she heard the hybrid cry out as she left the shelter and continued with the story, relaxing again as she described the more neutral subject of isolating the pathogen. Her voice then became more hesitant as she explained her solution.

B'Elanna listened spellbound to the narrative. She was going to interrupt Seven and tell her about her own experience of being tied up, but wanted the blue-eyed woman to recount the whole story. Her sharp insight kicked in as Seven hesitated to describe the cure.

"You injected me with nanoprobes didn't you?" she asked gently.

"I'm sorry B'Elanna, I could think of no other solution." Seven tensed immediately, anticipating rejection, anger, indignation or a combination of emotions to come spurting from the chief engineer. Her eyes widened slightly when she felt B'Elanna hug her tightly.

"Thank you," B'Elanna whispered softly. "Thank you for not giving up on me and letting me die." Her voice was harsh with barely constrained emotion.

The words slowly filtered through Seven's consciousness. "It was for purely selfish motives," she mumbled honestly.

B'Elanna perked up slightly. "Selfish motives?" she probed, her voice slightly surer.

Seven registered the enquiry and stared blankly at the other sleeping area, trying to comprehend the older woman's reaction. The empty survival bag was twisted in an untidy heap and pieces of equipment were still lying on the floor below after being disturbed when she fell from the ledge. Sighing, she shifted round so that she could face B'Elanna.

The Klingon released Seven's hands when she realised that the blonde was turning round. She relaxed the grip she had on her but did not relinquish it completely and once Seven had turned, she traced small circles on the ex-drone's back. B'Elanna raised an inquisitive eyebrow as she waited for Seven to respond.

The tall Borg felt the skin on her back tingle as B'Elanna randomly caressed her. She was almost distracted from answering B'Elanna completely as she revelled in the intimacy of their embrace, but when the engineer narrowed her eyes to elicit a response, she focused on the reason she turned round. "I didn't want to be alone," she confessed. When B'Elanna nodded in understanding, she was prompted to elaborate. "I did not want you to leave me alone." Her voice was barely audible and yet raw with emotion.

B'Elanna studied the younger woman's face and the honest emotion that was displayed on it. There was no mask of cold aloofness or smug superiority. Seven had lain open her true feelings on what had happened to her. The least she could do was return the gesture.

"I was on the Barge of the Dead, headed for Grethor again," she told the blonde. "I objected to being there, but was told that I had to look again at my honour, and then you turned up."

"B'Elanna, you are the most honourable person I know," Seven interrupted.

B'Elanna shook her head slightly, disputing the claim but made no vocal protestation. "I had to explain my behaviour towards you, apologise for my treatment of you." She swallowed nervously. "I told you that I loved you," she continued, now focusing on some distant object over Seven's shoulder so that she didn't have to look the blonde in the eye.

Seven inhaled sharply but forced herself not to comment, not wanting to interrupt the woman again and distract B'Elanna from her story.

B'Elanna waited for a negative reaction from Seven but continued when the Astrometrics officer made no comment. She licked her lips nervously. "It wasn't enough. Telling you that I loved you wasn't enough."

This time, Seven opened her mouth to protest, but the brunette switched her gaze back to Seven's face and stopped her. "No, please let me finish." She sighed in relief as she noted that Seven's face did not display any sign of anger or disgust, just confusion and compassion.

"You knocked me off the barge and I found myself back on Voyager. Neelix took me to cargo bay 2 where I found a hive of Borg drones building a central nexus. Every single drone looked like you. And then I met the Borg Queen." B'Elanna tugged her lips into a tiny smile. "And she looked like you too. It was then that I realised that as far as I was concerned, you represented every facet of the Borg. I blamed you individually for every Collective act of assimilation and war. I had not given you any opportunity to be yourself, or given you any credit for your own incredible talent. And that was at the heart of my dishonour."

B'Elanna smiled wanly. "Then you assimilated me," she finished quietly.

Seven studied the woman lying next to her intently. B'Elanna had just revealed some very raw emotions. Seven knew that the Klingon was a very private person and yet she had managed to leave herself open and exposed, and she had done that in response to Seven's own emotional retelling of events. The Borg was going through a gamut of emotions now and she was unsure how to respond.

B'Elanna sensed the turmoil Seven was experiencing and decided that it was now or never.

"Seven, it might just have been a hallucination, but what I said was true."

The tall blonde frowned, confused at what B'Elanna was referring to.

The engineer took a deep breath before speaking again. "Seven, I love you."

Part 7

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