A shaft of sunlight stabbed into the tent through a small hole where the wall joined the ceiling. Though the rest of the tent was dim, the spot of light hit the pillow close enough to Xenaís eyes to awaken her. Blue eyes slitted tiredly; her mouth was dry, and her eyes blinked at the brightness of the beam. She murmured drowsily and rolled over, the furs rustling as she moved, turning her back to her companion.
He woke, sliding an arm around her waist; she grabbed his hand as he slid it over her stomach and up her ribs, cupping a breast. He moved his body closer and parted her hair, pressing his lips to the back of her neck.
Xena smiled. "Petricles," she mumbled, "Iím trying to get some sleep."
"Youíve had enough beauty sleep," he whispered as his lips worked around her neck toward her ear. "Youíre already the most gorgeous woman in the world." She smiled again as his breath tickled her ear.
"Flattery will get you nowhere," she told him, rolling over on her back and opening her eyes to look at him.
He smiled, his handsome features regarding her. "But itís gotten me so far already..." She pulled him to her, parting her lips as they met his; they shared a long, deep kiss, and Xena slid an arm around him. "Who would have thought," she teased him as she slid a finger down his cheek, "a warrior poet?" She kissed him again, her hands moving to his broad shoulders, massaging them as their lips pressed. By Zeus, he knows what I like, she thought as he slid his hand down her neck and down the center of her chest, his fingers trailing lightly over her skin. They broke the kiss, and Xena inhaled, her body now fully awake. "I like to appreciate-- and praise-- beautiful things." His dark eyes stared into hers, and Xena saw the affection, the desire, the love that she felt for him reflected back to her. He moved his mouth to her ear, kissing it gently; he whispered, "And you are the most beautiful thing I have ever seen." Blue eyes shut; Xena was all too aware of Petriclesí silver tongue. She had seen him use it on more than one occasion to lull a village into a false sense of security, or convince a stubborn lieutenant to do things his way. And she knew that most of what he said was to direct others as he wished, for his gain. But when he says those things to me... she shook her head as he worked his way down her neck, biting her flesh tenderly, they sound so much like he means them. Maybe he does... Her whole body stiffened as his mouth moved to her breast, still gently nibbling on her; she grabbed his long hair in one hand and made a fist, her fingers clenching in desire. A stab of pleasure shot through her as he took her nipple in his mouth, and Xena took a deep breath. She turned her body to face him and drew him closer, her long arms pressing his body to hers. So warm...he is always so warm, she thought as his mouth moved back up her chest and met hers again.
Outside the tent there was a crash; metal met metal, and there were cries from the men.
"Dammit," Petricles said, anger filling his dark eyes.
Xena propped herself up on her elbows and raised an eyebrow. Figures...
"Iíll go see what it is," Petricles said, bounding to his feet as more voices were raised.
"Iíll come with you," Xena told him, sitting up.
He knelt quickly, one hand holding her upraised chin. "No," he said. "Donít disturb yourself on their account. Your lieutenant can handle this for you, my warrior princess."
She smiled despite herself. "One of these days that pretty tongue of yours is going to get you into trouble."
He raised his eyebrows. "It already has." He kissed her on the forehead. "Go back to sleep. Iíll take care of whoeverís out there."
"Are you sure?" Xena asked.
"Dear one," he said, tugging on his tunic, "the sooner I leave, the sooner I can return to you..."
Xena shook her head. "Get going, you smoothie..."
Petricles gave her a broad smile and finished dressing quickly, not bothering to don his armor. He grabbed his sword and moved to the tent flap; he turned to give her another smile and then headed out into the morning.
Xena sank back onto the furs. He is so easy to love, she thought as she snuggled back under the covers. Thank the gods I met him...
* * *
"Looting Andreas was profitable," Xena argued. "Very profitable. Weíll be able to afford more horses, maybe enough to have a decent cavalry."
Petricles hook his head. "I donít think weíll have that much. That little town wasnít that wealthy." He moved next to Xena and ran a hand down her arm. "Maybe we ought to move south. There are more cities there than in Thrace. More wealth." He leaned over and kissed her shoulder. "More opportunities."
"There are more soldiers and more armies in the south, too," Xena replied as she reached for a flagon of wine. "We canít stay mobile as easily there-- thereís less open ground. Weíd have to change a few things."
Petriclesí lips froze where they were, and he withdrew them from her. "Not the Ďfortressí speech," he said.
"Why not?" Xena asked, turning around to face him. "We could house our own army-- train them too. Weíd have a stable and a treasury and all of the things we need, all in one place, safeguarded. No one would come after us-- theyíd be too scared."
"Itís a target, love," Petricles argued. "Any king with a decent army could attack it. And unlike being mobile, we couldnít just move away from them. Weíd have to sit there and fight." He shook his head. "It wasnít a good idea the first time you suggested it, and it isnít a good idea now."
Xena scowled at him. "Donít forget who leads this army," she hissed.
He smiled. "As if that were possible. Xena, Iím not defying your authority, Iím just disagreeing with what I think is a bad idea." He slid his arms to her shoulders. "Everything is working fine just the way it is. Why change it?"
Xenaís blue eyes lit up. "Because I want more. I donít just want to be a bandit queen roaming around the wilderness with a gang of warriors. I want to be the most powerful woman in Greece."
Petricles laughed softly. "You already are the most powerful woman in Greece. And Thrace."
Xena cocked an eyebrow. "Alright then. I want to be the most powerful ruler in Greece. I want to control the entire country. I want to sit on the throne and command all the armies of the whole peninsula." She stared up into his dark eyes. "And I canít do any of that from horseback."
Petricles shook his head. "Itís too risky right now. Maybe in a few years, when weíve gotten bigger, when we have more--"
Xena pressed a finger to his lips. "And I want you at my side. I want your brain, your skill, working for me-- with me-- helping me." She pulled him to her and kissed him deeply, closing her eyes and letting her passion for him flare for a moment before she pulled away. "What will it take to convince you?"
He stared down at her, gazing into her blue eyes, taking in her parted lips, her long mane of black hair, her fine features. I will never know another woman like this, he realized as he pulled her face to his and kissed her again. I may live to be a hundred, but there will never be another woman like Xena. Not in my life.
"A simple thing," he whispered, kissing her along her jawline, moving toward her ear.
"Name it," she gasped, her eyes closing as he bit her earlobe softly.
"Marry me," he said, his voice the faintest of whispers.
Her eyes shot open. "What?"
"Marry me," he repeated softly in her ear. "Take me as your husband."
Xena took a step back. "Thatís what I thought you said."
Petricles raised an eyebrow. "Is that such a bad thing?"
"No," Xena said, hastily. "No."
She put her hands up on his chest. "I have to think about this, Petricles. This is sort of sudden."
He bowed his head slightly. "I understand." He turned away from her.
"Iím not saying no," Xena told him, coming around in front of him. "Iím just not saying yes right away."
He nodded. "I know what you arenít saying. So what you are saying is..."
"Iím saying I need some time to think about this."
He smiled at her. "Iíll take that over Ďnoí."
Xena leaned forward and touched her lips to his. "I thought you might."
He scooped her up in his arms and kissed her deeply.