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 Eight

Seven squinted up at the wall of ice in front of her. There were very few clues to assist her in finding a way to scale the mountain. She was having difficulty in even deciding on a start point.

"Is this just an extremely difficult pitch or do we put it straight into the impossible category?" B'Elanna asked as she stood behind her lover.

"It is not impossible. But I have grave concerns over our chances of success," Seven conceded, not looking away from the face.

B'Elanna offered a drinking canteen to Seven, nudging her with it when she got no initial response. The ex-drone turned and gratefully took a deep draft of water before handing it back to the Klingon hybrid and returning to the problem at hand. "I can see two possible routes up B'Elanna. With care, we should be able to ascend."

B'Elanna assessed the ice for herself, screwing her eyes into narrow slits to reduce the amount of light dazzling her retinas, despite the anti-glare visor she was wearing. "The sun doesn't help much," she grumbled irritably. "I can hardly see a thing."

The two women had finally emerged from their shelter only when they could ignore bodily requirements no longer and had to visit the latrine. Once up, they had drunk greedily, knowing that now at least, there was no shortage of drinkable water, and had eaten the remainder of the rations, determined to use the energy boost to find supplies. B'Elanna was still not completely recovered but she was steady on her feet and determined to accompany Seven on the search for food.

Clad in their environmental suits, Seven and B'Elanna discovered that the weather had at last broken and the raging snowstorm was no more than a memory when they left the shelter. In its place, the planet's twin suns were burning fiercely, and the light they emitted was reflected painfully over the white vista.

Hurriedly donning anti-glare visors, the two women began the long trek to the mountains. At first, B'Elanna was quite happy to follow Seven's lead, but after noticing the tall blonde turn round almost continually to ensure that she was all right, B'Elanna changed position and they continued the journey side-by-side.

It was hard going. The heavy snowfall had made the ground very soft and the two women had to force their legs through knee-deep powder. By the time they reached the mountain face, Seven and B'Elanna were exhausted, but did not allow themselves to take a break. While Seven assessed the ice face, B'Elanna unpacked the rucksacks and prepared the harnesses, ropes, pitons, claws and karabiners they would need to scale the mountain.

Now, taking on more fluids, the ex-drone and engineer silently contemplated the objective before them. There was no guarantee when they finally scaled the face that they would find the food source that had been detected by the shuttle scans. B'Elanna buoyed herself with the thought that they had survived against great odds so far. She believed that their luck would continue.

"You want to get started?" she asked after a few more moments' contemplation.

"There is no reason why we should delay any longer. The weather is with us, we should capitalise on the situation," Seven replied.

Once secure in their harnesses, they began their ascent. Seven took the first stage, choosing the path carefully and testing each crevice and shear before entrusting it with her body weight. When she found an appropriate place to anchor down, she then belayed for B'Elanna as the Klingon copied her route up.

They continued scaling the precipice in this manner, making steady progress. As they got higher, the wind began to pick up and howl around them. It blasted thick flakes of snow into their faces, reducing visibility and their ability to hear one another. It made the going harder and more treacherous and Seven automatically reduced the distance between pitches to accommodate the change in environment.

The temperature dropped noticeably. The Astrometrics officer questioned the logic of continuing in the poor conditions but B'Elanna called up to her and insisted that they persevere on together before she got too cold to climb. Seven admired her lover's courage but could not help but worry about her condition. She did as she was directed and continued to pick her way up the precipice.

Some areas were easier going as there were several craggy outcrops to get a purchase on. Other parts of the climb meant ascending almost sheer walls, utilising the tiniest of cracks or their ice picks and brute strength to get past them.

Despite the roaring wind, all Seven could hear was her own breath rasping as she exerted herself. She had no doubt that B'Elanna too would be struggling. They still had a way to go, but Seven decided to pick up speed slightly. It made more sense to recover at the top in safety, than continue slowly as their energy drained away.

It was a good plan and they gained height rapidly until Seven forgot to take account of B'Elanna's slightly shorter frame and eventually took a route that extended past the engineer's reach. As she looked down the mountainside, she could just make out the Klingon struggling to find an alternative path, unable to safely traverse using Seven's course.

"Hang on. I will come back down and attempt a different path," she called down.

"Don't be ridiculous. That'll just waste more time. Give me a minute while I work out what to do," B'Elanna yelled back up.

Seven looked down anxiously and was about to repeat her earlier suggestion, knowing that the engineer would never make the traverse, but she didn't take B'Elanna's strength and determination into account. With a small back swing, the Klingon leapt across the gap and hung on to the outcrop she had aimed for with just one hand. Using an ice pick, she secured her grip on the ice face and took a few moments out to recover before searching for footholds. Satisfied that she was back on the right track, the brunette called up that she was safe.

Seven sighed with relief. "Come up just a bit further and then dig in. We're nearly there," she called down. Hearing B'Elanna's yell of understanding, Seven looked back up the mountain to evaluate her route. It was only then that she saw the huge block of snow descending silently, hugging the ice face as it continued its collision course with her.

The ex-drone didn't even have time to react. As soon as she registered the massive slab was going to hit her, it did just that and she found her body ripped away from the precipice and tumbling towards the ground hundreds of metres below. It was the last thing Seven was aware of before the inky black oblivion of unconsciousness enveloped her.

B'Elanna was about to begin her climb again when she felt her safety rope slacken. She looked up in confusion and opened her mouth to call out to Seven when she saw her limp body sail past her. The engineer's mind went into overdrive. Seven had been the one who was secure on the ice face. B'Elanna had just a fraction of a second to try and get something into the ice to stop her from being pulled off the mountain once the rope reached its limit, or they would both plummet to their deaths.

She took her ice pick and wrapped its holding loop securely round her wrist before taking a massive swing at the ice and burying it. She tugged at it slightly to test to see if it was secure but that small pull changed suddenly to a substantial yank as she felt Seven's weight pull at her harness.

Instantly she lost her footing and the engineer was wrenched away from her precarious perch. B'Elanna felt her shoulder dislocate and a scream of pain was forced from her lungs as her body protested at the treatment. She was no longer gripping the ice pick, but the loop handle held her securely by her wrist, even if she was in excruciating agony. Her weight, Seven's weight and the weight of the ropes that tethered them together were being supported totally by the ice pick and her left wrist. Her body swung with the pendulous weight as B'Elanna stared at the ice pick, hoping that it would stay embedded in the rock face. "We can't catch just one fucking break," she muttered angrily.

Satisfied that her anchoring was secure, the Klingon peered down through the swirling snow, trying to catch a glimpse of Seven, but she was unsuccessful. Judging from the weight on her arm, Seven was still hanging at the end of the rope. B'Elanna was deeply worried over her lover's condition, but there was little she could do about that for the time being.

Knowing that she could not pull at all on the limb that was keeping them alive, B'Elanna took deep, calming breaths as she forced herself to think logically about the situation and work out what she was going to do. The pain that tore through her arm was an unwelcome distraction, but B'Elanna found that if she stayed very still, the agony wasn't quite so extreme. Knowing that Seven's life depended on her also gave focus to her thoughts.

The Klingon's first priority was to set up a secure fixing. Gingerly, she felt around her harness for a piton, karabiner and safety loop. She sited the piton level with her own harness so that there would be minimal movement, and then secured herself to the new mooring. B'Elanna pulled on the loop as best she could to test its viability, and then dug her boots into the snow to get a better purchase.

The real test was to release her arm from the loop of the ice pick. Taking her weight on her boots, B'Elanna forced her body to rise slightly and freed her wrist, screaming again as her arm fell to hang uselessly by her side. She was panting with the effort that had taken, but the brunette continued to concentrate, knowing that much more needed to be done if she was to keep the two of them alive. The only consolation was that her mooring had held and now the karabiner and piton, and not B'Elanna's body were holding Seven's weight.

"Seven, can you hear me?" The Klingon yelled, cocking her head in an effort to hear anything other than the wind that howled around her. She waited for as long as she could stand before calling out again. After hearing nothing after three shouts, B'Elanna resigned herself to the knowledge that Seven was probably unconscious. She refused to consider that Seven had suffered any fate worse than that. She knew that she would get no help from the ex-drone so whatever happened next was up to her. As far as she could tell, B'Elanna was left with just two choices; whether to continue up, or to return to the base of the mountain.

B'Elanna was determined not to act rashly. She would not let Seven down after the woman had saved her life. More importantly, she did not want to lose Seven so abruptly after their dramatic change in relationship.

The dark woman squinted up the precipice, trying to judge how far they had to ascend. Despite trying to look at things logically, B'Elanna felt that to descend would be to admit defeat. She also knew that it would probably take just as long to get down safely as to continue climbing, now that she only had the use of one limb.

Her mind made up, B'Elanna set up two footholds for her to utilise. Then, agonisingly slowly, she continued to ascend, taking Seven's weight on her legs as she pushed on up. Every ten steps, she gave herself a break and set her harness to take Seven's weight. Her thighs burned and quivered with the exertion and her arm throbbed horribly, but the engineer continually repeated to herself that she had no choice but to conquer the ice face and get to the top.

The first sensation Seven experienced was the feeling that she was going up. Her head was pounding and she had difficulty opening her eyes but she persevered and forced them open, screwing them shut again as she realised that she had lost her visor. Even in that short time however, she had surmised that her initial presumption was correct and that somehow, she was still going up the mountain. The safety rope that was attached to her harness yanked her up a few centimetres at a time. Fortunately, she was still in a reasonably upright position. The ex-drone waited for her head to clear and then orientated herself. When there was a lull in the ascent, Seven took the opportunity to assess the ice face to see if she could grab it and take her own weight. On the first occasion, it was impossible, as she had halted in front of a sheer sheet of ice. The second time was more fortuitous and she took hold of a crag and grabbed onto the mountain.

The wind was roaring in her ears, but she heard B'Elanna's panicked voice shouting down at her. "I am here, B'Elanna," she shouted back up as loudly as she could. When she heard the engineer continue to shout, Seven realised that she could not hear her. In order to try and reassure the Klingon that she hadn't become detached from the rope, the Borg yanked it firmly twice. To her immense relief, she felt the rope being tugged in reply and the blonde smiled. Seven regretted the action as her lip split again and began to bleed. She felt the rope pull again and could only guess that it meant that B'Elanna was about to start climbing again. She took a deep breath and began to work her way up with the engineer.

By the time she could see the summit Seven was exhausted and breathless. She reached up and grabbed B'Elanna's outstretched hand to assist her over the edge and she fell into her lover's arms. Seven lay panting in the soft snow, trying to recover after the exertion, yet wanted to do nothing more than hold on to B'Elanna and never let go.

"Are you okay? What happened?" B'Elanna stroked her head gently before awkwardly reaching round to her backpack with the same hand to locate a drinking canteen.

Seven drank greedily before answering. "I was struck by a falling block of ice. I do not recall anything else until I regained consciousness and realised that you were pulling me up the mountain. My head hurts but I do not think I have sustained any serious injury."

"Well, your face looks a bit battered, but you're still beautiful," B'Elanna replied, tucking a loose strand of blonde hair behind Seven's ear gingerly before kissing her on the lips softly.

When Seven pulled the brunette closer in the embrace she felt her flinch and realised that B'Elanna had been injured. "You're hurt!" Instantly, the ex-drone sat up and attempted to examine the brunette.

B'Elanna hissed and pulled away from Seven's probing hands, unable to take the pain of the ex-drone's scrutiny. "It's my shoulder. I think it's dislocated," she admitted through gritted teeth.

Seven looked at the engineer steadily. "It will be less painful if I reset it," she informed her gently.

"I know. But it's going to hurt like hell to put it back. I'm not sure I want to go through that."

Seven stared at her lover affectionately. "B'Elanna, do you trust me?"

"Of course." The brunette's answer was automatic, and Seven's heart sang at B'Elanna's response.

Seven stood up and then helped B'Elanna to her feet. "Stand straight," she instructed softly. The engineer did as she was told, tense and nervous over Seven's next move.

The Borg cocked her head slightly. "You need to relax before I perform the manoeuvre," she commented, keeping her voice neutral. She rested her hands either side of B'Elanna's injured joint and continued to talk. "It is a simple and quick procedure, that needs to be carried out promptly so that your circulation is not impaired any longer than necessary," Seven explained, looking straight into B'Elanna's chocolate brown eyes. "The biggest complication is to trap nerves into the ball and socket joint. In order not to do this, the movement of the limb."

Seven moved rapidly, manipulating B'Elanna's shoulder suddenly and taking the engineer totally by surprise. There was an audible pop as the bones were returned to their correct location and B'Elanna bit down on a yelp of surprised pain. Her cry turned to a sigh of relief as the agony she had been experiencing subsided, and she looked at Seven gratefully. "Thank you."

"You are welcome. Do you have sensation in your fingers?" Seven wasn't quite done with the procedure.

B'Elanna touched each of her fingers experimentally. "Yes," she responded.

"And do you have mobility in your shoulder?"

Once again, B'Elanna answered affirmatively after tentatively rolling her shoulder. It was stiff and sore, but no longer agonisingly painful.

"Then we should continue with our mission and locate whatever food supplies are present here," Seven suggested.

B'Elanna turned round and squinted into the vista before them. There was no obvious vegetation or food source visible. However, they had made it to the top and the scans from the shuttle had told them that food was here. They just had to find it.

Once all the climbing equipment was stowed, Seven and B'Elanna used their tricorders to sweep the area. Initially, there was no indication of anything other than snow and both women looked at each other nervously, wondering if they had been wrong. They then set off steadily away from the precipice, doing sweeping scans as they moved. Both were determined to search the area thoroughly. Seven concentrated on the tricorder readings, as it was too painful to squint into the horizon without protective eyewear. Instead, she relied on B'Elanna to lead the way as they made slow progress.

After almost an hour of heavy trudging, the tricorder readings suddenly went off the scale, detecting a massive amount of potential food. Both women stopped and looked at each other, hope etched on their features for the first time since they ascended the ice face. Swiftly triangulating the readings, they located their source and forced their way through the snow towards their target. There was nothing to see on the surface, so they knew that they would have to dig for sustenance.

"I hope this is worth the effort," B'Elanna muttered as she threw her backpack down and dropped to her knees before assessing the area.

"So do I," Seven concurred fervently. She hunched down next to the brunette. "Although keeping warm is no longer a problem, I would like to have more energy to expend."

B'Elanna's head snapped round, her face openly displaying her shock at her lover's implication. Noticing the look on the blonde's face, B'Elanna grinned lasciviously. "Can't argue with that."

Together, the two women dug into the snow, working rapidly to uncover whatever it was that was lurking beneath. Moments later, there were flecks of dark green and red visible in the ice and they managed to expose the vegetation that was indigenous to the planet.

"How the hell does this stuff grow?" B'Elanna mused as she managed to extract a large clump of leaves and a long tuber.

Seven inspected the dark red vegetable she had managed to free from the snow. "The plant has a complicated and very deep root system, extending to the ground buried under the snow. The tuber has a thick protective skin that allows it to survive under the snow, but the pulp inside appears edible."

"For you maybe," B'Elanna commented glumly. When Seven looked at her quizzically, the engineer continued. "If the root system extends to the earth, then the vegetation contains the same pathogens that almost killed me." She sighed heavily. "I'm screwed."

"Not yet," Seven contradicted firmly. "We will collect as much as we can carry and take it back to the shuttle. The pathogen may not be present in the vegetable. If it is, there may be a way of killing the pathogen without destroying the vegetable so that you can still eat."

"That would involve a change in luck," the engineer replied darkly. However, she began to harvest the vegetation in earnest, filling up her rucksack and several other strong bags that they had bought specially. She might not be able to eat, but she was determined that Seven would get her fill.

"Do you really think that they'll survive the drop down the mountain?" B'Elanna questioned dubiously as she filled the last of the bags they had brought with them.

"I think it is worth the risk. If the vegetables are crushed, then we will make soup," Seven replied confidently. She hoisted her rucksack on her back and gathered several other bags. "How is your shoulder? Are you able to carry any of the bags?"

B'Elanna rolled her eyes in amusement at Seven's concern. "Would I admit it if I couldn't?" she retorted.

"Probably not," Seven conceded. She picked up two of B'Elanna's bags. "In which case, I will take these just to be sure."

The Klingon shook her head but smiled. There was no point arguing with the ex-drone, she would not hand over the bags now. B'Elanna had to admit that she would probably behave in exactly the same way if their positions had been reversed.

They headed back to the ice face, both hunched against the wind that swirled anti-cyclically around them. "So, assuming that I am going to be able to eat this stuff, how long do you reckon this little lot will keep us going?"

"I need to do more detailed tests on the nutrient values but there should be enough here to sustain existence for another week."

B'Elanna nodded approvingly. "That should be long enough to repair the communications systems on the shuttle. It'll then just be a question of how long it takes Voyager to come and retrieve us."

Seven looked at B'Elanna uncertainly. "What happens when we get back on board?"

"We book the holodeck and run a tropical island program," the Klingon replied decisively. She had obviously given the idea a lot of thought.

Seven hesitated, unsure if she should mention her fear that their fledgling relationship might disintegrate once they returned to the macrocosm of Voyager. The blonde worried that once the crew put them under the microscope and they were exposed to the gossip circuit, the close bond that had forged between them would be put under too much pressure to survive. Her apprehension was assuaged when B'Elanna spoke again.

"Don't worry Seven. You're stuck with me now. Nothing and nobody will come between us."

Seven sighed in relief. It was as if the Klingon had read her mind. She threw her cargo down near the mountain ledge with vigour. "In that case, I no longer fear Voyager's return," she admitted candidly.

B'Elanna dropped the bags she was carrying and stood behind her lover, pulling the straps of Seven's backpack off her shoulders before wrapping her arms round her and hugging her tightly. "I'm not in love with you because you're the only other person here. And I'm not going to stop loving you just because there are other people around. I don't want anyone else. And I certainly don't care what anyone else thinks unless it hurts you." She squeezed the woman more tightly for a few seconds. "I love you, Seven." She emphasised each word carefully, wanting to banish the younger woman's insecurities, and at the same time her own. Giving voice to her sentiments made them more concrete and immovable.

Seven moved her hands up to cover B'Elanna's. She applied a gentle pressure in answer to the engineer's heartfelt words. "I love you too. Forgive me for behaving illogically."

B'Elanna snorted a short bark of laughter. "Being in love is supposed to make you behave irrationally," she replied, enjoying their intimacy, despite her exhaustion.

Seven leaned back in the embrace, grateful for a respite in their harsh timetable. However, she noticed how cold it was, now that they were not working and she could feel B'Elanna begin to shiver despite being wrapped round her. Reluctantly, she broke free. "We must get back to the shelter Be'nal," she told her. "We have been exposed to the cold for too long."

The women worked quickly and threw their food sacks over the edge, propelling them as far away from the ice face as possible to reduce the number of impacts on the way down. The abseiling rig was then swiftly set up and Seven and B'Elanna followed the food down as rapidly but as safely as possible. Fortunately, there were no accidents on the way down but by the time their feet touched the ground, B'Elanna's teeth were chattering, despite the vigorous workout.

Seven looked at the brunette anxiously. "Are you alright?"

"I'll be fine as soon as we get back. Let's just get moving." B'Elanna couldn't help but be curt. She felt the cold seeping through her environmental suit and all she wanted to do was get warm.

Seven did not take offence at the brunette's demeanour, she knew that B'Elanna was suffering, and was right to press on. Only one of the sacks had split on the journey down, its contents scattered in tiny pieces over the snow. Seven gathered the majority of the bags and then gestured for B'Elanna to lead the way so that she could keep a careful watch on the suffering Klingon.

B'Elanna grunted and picked up the remaining sacks before trudging back towards the shelter.

By the time they reached the shelter, B'Elanna was stumbling, barely able to pick up her feet. Her fingers had frozen in position round the sacks she was carrying and could no longer feel her feet. Seven had grabbed her on a number of occasions to stop her pitching into the snow, and was practically pushing the Klingon on.

Once inside the shelter, B'Elanna stood helplessly as Seven threw her sacks to the back and then took B'Elanna's hands in her own and prised the woman's fingers apart so that she too could release the bags. Seven then removed the engineer's environmental suit and assisted her into the sleeping area before quickly shrugging off her own clothing. B'Elanna had stopped shivering and now looked lethargic and blue. Seven was also affected by the cold, shivering uncontrollably after such long exposure. Analysing the food would have to wait, despite her ravenous hunger. Seven would not eat anything until she knew that B'Elanna could eat it too. It would be cruel in the extreme if she ate when B'Elanna couldn't, and Seven did not want to watch B'Elanna starve while they waited for rescue.

The tall blonde wriggled quickly into the survival bag and wrapped her body round the brunette's. She knew that her own body temperature had begun to drop, despite her Borg circuitry trying to compensate and that it would take some time to warm up. B'Elanna was in a far worse state. She was breathing shallowly and had not spoken at all. Seven pulled the blankets up around them and over their heads in order to stop any more unnecessary body heat loss. Far more quickly than she thought possible, Seven felt her eyes close, exhaustion closing in on her after the incredible exertions of the day. Her last waking thought was one of concern for B'Elanna. She was determined not to expose the woman to the cold for so long again.

When Seven woke, she discovered that B'Elanna had somehow managed to turn round and curl into her embrace. The dark Klingon had tucked herself right into the ex-drone's body in order to glean the most heat from the contact, her hands folded into her body tightly. Her respiration had returned to normal and Seven could feel that the older woman's body temperature was much warmer than it had been when they fell asleep some hours ago. The blonde smiled as her lover fidgeted before burying herself deeper into Seven's arms. Languidly, she played with strands of B'Elanna's hair, pretending to herself that she was not trying to deliberately awaken the engineer, yet yearning to look into her chocolate-brown eyes and drown in the emotion they contained.

At first, she thought that it was B'Elanna's movement that had disturbed her own slumber. She felt rested but not enough to be convinced that she had woken naturally. She continued to twist strands of hair around her fingers even when she heard B'Elanna's breathing pattern change, indicating her return to consciousness. Despite that knowledge, she still jumped when B'Elanna spoke suddenly.

"Can't sleep?" Her voice was gravelly and thick.

"Who would want to sleep when they had you in their arms?" Seven replied guilelessly.

"Sweet talker," B'Elanna accused good-naturedly. "Though I must admit it's a pretty good feeling being here." She lifted her head and closed the distance between their lips, kissing Seven lazily but thoroughly. The ex-drone was more than happy to reciprocate and they spent long minutes intimately entwined before Seven broke off suddenly.

"What?" The half-Klingon frowned at her lover in confusion.

"I heard something," Seven replied, turning her head in an attempt to locate the interruption.

"Probably an avalanche," B'Elanna suggested, turning her attention to Seven's long, slim neck. She nibbled at the younger woman's pulse point gently, savouring her taste and aroma.

The Astrometrics officer was distracted by the caress and moved her neck slowly to allow B'Elanna greater access. Her eyelids flickered shut as she felt her body respond to the touch.

Seven sat up the instant she heard the noise again. "It is not an avalanche," she told B'Elanna, her eyes wide in comprehension. "Our communicators are operating."

Her declaration made B'Elanna sit bolt upright. "Voyager?"

"Until we locate our communicators and set up a link, I cannot be certain, but it seems the most likely source," Seven responded, her mouth turned slightly in amusement.

B'Elanna shook her head. "I seem to have lost the ability to think logically," she groaned as she swung her legs over the edge of the sleeping area and jumped down.

"I did not realise that I had that much of an effect on you," Seven teased as she too left the sleeping area. Her environmental suit was flung in her face as a reply. She dressed quickly, shuddering as the cold material passed over her fevered skin. B'Elanna had done little more than kiss her, yet she was feeling as aroused as when they had first made love. It was difficult to welcome the interruption when she felt so frustrated. The tall blonde turned quickly when she heard an exclamation of triumph from B'Elanna.

"Found one." She held the little gold emblem towards Seven exultantly.

"Then I suggest you return the hail," Seven prompted dryly.

B'Elanna grinned again, amused by her inability to function normally. She tapped the communicator. "Torres to Voyager. Please respond."

Both women waited, unconsciously holding their breaths while they listened for a response. There was a crackle and hiss of an open channel, but nothing more.

Unable to hold off any longer, B'Elanna tried again, seeing in her mind's eye Harry's hands flying over his Ops console on the Bridge as he attempted to set up a link. "Voyager, this is Torres. Respond."

There was a louder crackle this time and then, almost drowned out by the static of the transmission, a familiar smoky voice answered her hail.

~Good to hear your voice B'Elanna. Are you both okay?~ Janeway sounded both relieved and concerned but the contact made both Seven and B'Elanna smile.

"We are both functioning, though I could not say that we are within `normal parameters'," Seven interjected, leaning into B'Elanna's personal space so that the communicator would pick up her voice. She had yet to locate the other comm. badge. The brunette looked at her and grinned, rolling her eyes at Seven's use of language.

~Acknowledged. We're still ten hours out of transporter range. If it hadn't been for the distress buoy you left, you'd be stranded for a lot longer.~ The Captain sounded positively cheerful now that she had heard from both of the crew.

B'Elanna smirked. "I take it Harry was bored on the night shift and was scanning again?"

~You'd be freezing your butt off for a lot longer if I hadn't been, Maquis.~ The two women heard the Asian ensign comment. ~Well, be that as it may, you still have to last another ten hours before we're in range. Is that going to be a problem?~ Janeway took control of the transmission once again.

Seven moved to stand behind B'Elanna and wrapped her arms round her possessively. "I think we should be able to generate enough heat to keep us comfortable for the next ten hours," she replied blandly, earning an open-mouthed stare of astonishment from the woman she was holding.

~We'll contact you once we're in range. Do try and stay out of trouble in the mean time.~

"Don't worry, we're staying right where we are," B'Elanna reassured her, turning in Seven's arms and smiling rakishly.

~Understood. Janeway out.~

There was a brief pause as the two lovers looked at each other before B'Elanna frowned slightly. "Does this mean we got those damned vegetables for nothing?"

Seven laughed softly, before playing with the fastener of B'Elanna's environmental suit. "I know you have only just put this on," she commented, completely ignoring B'Elanna's previous statement. "But we have less than ten hours left of total isolation."

B'Elanna wrapped a hand round Seven's and then yanked the fastener down rapidly. "Clock's ticking," she replied before crushing her lips against Seven's.

The End

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