AUTHORS' NOTE: We can't apologize enough for the lateness of this chapter, and all of the other stories. It was mostly my (Esqi) fault. My partner in crime, jma, was standing by, ready to write, the whole time. Please be assured that the other three updates (the other three stories) are in the works right now and will be ready as soon as possible.

Thank you for your patience and your continuing support for our Zercan (and other) characters/stories.

Chapter 14

Cade whistled softly to the gramba as he led it to a drinking trough. The animal gave a low, appreciative sound and nuzzled his hand briefly before dipping its head to drink. Cade smiled as he watched and pat the mount's sleek silver coat. He'd spent the better part of his morning exercising a few of the well-trained grambas under the supervision of Genzhis, Xabi'a's cousin and the one who had been caring for the business while Xabi'a was away.

Genzhis was a quiet but sturdy-looking Zercan. When Cade first met him, he was wary that the man would resent his appearance as Xabi'a's mate and the one who would take over the business. But Genzhis had told him he was relieved someone else would be running things soon. He had his own family to care for and he was looking forward to going back to his previous position of temporary help for the grambas business when needed and spending more time working on his carpentry. Evidently he had a lucrative deal with the merchant planet and had some backorders he wanted to fill. His own mate was also a crafter, though his talents ran more towards textiles and clothing, so he wasn't able to fill the carpentry orders while Genzhis handled Xabi'a's grambas training business.

Cade took in a deep breath of the clean, fresh Zercan air and sighed contentedly. If life on this planet was always this peaceful, he wondered why Xabi'a ever longed to leave it. Though, in truth, he felt lucky that his mate did make that fateful trip. It had saved both their lives, in terms of finding love and happiness.

"H-how d-d-do y-you li-like wo-working w-w-with the gr-gra-grambas?" a soft voice asked. (How do you like working with the grambas?)

Cade smiled as he turned to his mate. "They're amazing."

"I w-was ho-ho-hop-p-ping y-you wo-would-d ta-tak-ke t-t-to th-them li-like th-the … hor-horses y-you u-used t-to tr-train ba-ba-back-ck ho-ho-home." (I was hoping you would take to them like the … horses you used to train back home.)

"Back on Earth," Cade corrected before leaning down to kiss his mate's lips. "This is home now."

Xabi'a smiled and leaned against the fence post. Cade cocked his head as he watched him, giving the gramba one last scratch behind its ear before going to his mate, who was looking slightly winded. Xabi'a's belly was rounding fairly quickly, compared to human women, though Cade suspected Zercan's had a much shorter gestation period. Yet he was concerned about Xabi'a's very slight frame. He'd used the home computer to find out about birthing and knew that the box used on this world would aid Xabi'a greatly, but it didn't mean Cade would be completely worry-free. Xabi'a was his life now, and until the baby was born he would worry.

"You should go lay down, babe."

"I w-wi-will," Xabi's smiled. (I will.) Then he gave Cade another kiss and slowly made his way back to the house.

Xabi'a gazed at his lover through the bedroom window, a soft smile lighting his face as he watched the man work with an ease and comfort that he himself had never once found doing such work. He allowed his hand to run over his belly as he watched his mate run with the horse-like animal, his sleek but muscular body flexing and shifting with perfect symmetry. He so hoped his son grew to be like his giver ... strong and agile, independent and beautiful. Not weak as he thought himself, but a good provider that would never be forced to ask anyone for help ... as he had been forced to do.

It filled him with pride that he would birth the son of such a man and that Cade would be around to help raise him and see to it that his strength and will was firm and equal to that of his giver. In fact, it made his heart want to burst when he went anywhere with his mate, hands gripped firmly in one another's. Just with the knowledge that he knew that this earthling, as strong and handsome as he was, despite his very obviously not being Zercan, was his alone ... Xabi'a's. And that he wanted no one else save him.

With his cheeks literally hurting from the constant smile he had kept upon his face these past few weeks, he lay down to rest as his mate had bade him. For once, everything would be okay.

Cade hefted himself atop one of the more spirited grambas, his thigh muscles tightening around the creature's back as he held fast the reins. He had to admit, he had always enjoyed this, the show of dominance and the prideful knowledge that once this animal was tame, it would no doubt be as good a steed as any – because he had taught it to be so. He loved getting his hands dirty, loved the freedom such animals represented. And he loved, of course, the freedom he now felt.

He couldn't believe there was actually a beautiful planet full of nothing but men, where homosexuality was the norm and men actually produced children naturally. What was more, he just couldn't believe he was here and that he actually had a 'mate', a lover for all time to settle down with and love as opposed to the many one night stands he'd had while trying to hide himself from his family. Something, as he looked back on, he never should have done. He had been living a miserable existence in a tightly sealed closet. But now he just so happened to be blessed with a beautiful man to love and a veritable mansion in which he had made a home with his beloved Xabi ... and soon with their son.

He paused at the thought of his son, knowing without a doubt that the child would be like himself and Xabi'a. He, too, would be gay, Cade realized, and would no doubt have a mate of his own later on in life. He wasn't exactly sure how he was certain about that. He was sure every new parent thought of their child's future with a mix of curiosity and dread, fearing the moment when boy grew to man and son became father ... or mother, he thought offhandedly. Cade couldn't help but wonder what his child would look like, if the boy would have his "mother's" odd eyes or his own human ones.

Again he paused, his brows furrowing. His mind went rapidly over every native of this planet he had met this far and how they looked. All were beautiful, some more than others. But all that were not human held the same cat-like eyes. Oh, they varied in shape and color, but were cat-like nonetheless. He had to admit that while the thought didn't disturb him per se it was rather disconcerting. Not because he found anything unattractive to hold such a feature. But merely because he wondered what other feline-like traits they held ... that his son would have.

Hopping off the gramba he was presently mounted upon, he quickly led the lively creature to his stable and brushed him down properly before seeing to his and the rest of the grambas' watering and feeding. He did so thoroughly and in record time, the need to clear out all time-taking chores between him and his mate was consuming. He never wanted any secrets between them and while he was sure Xabi never meant for anything to be such a secret, he felt it was time he came to know all about these peoples that he had come to know as Zercans.

"Xabi?" Cade called softly as he entered the bedroom. "You awake?"

"Mmm?" Xabi'a murmured, opening one eye to a slit to look up at his mate. The last thing he remembered thinking was how happy he was with Cade. He must have drifted off to sleep at some point. He yawned and stretched before sitting up a bit to look at his big, strong mate. "Is-s-s-s ev-ev-everyth-th-thing a-a-all ri-right-t-t?" (Mmm? Is everything all right?)

"Far as the grambas go, fine," Cade shrugged, grinning sheepishly. "They really are beautiful animals."

"Th-then wh-why d-d-do yo-yo-you l-l-look a-a bi-bi-bit tr-tr-troub-b-b-bled-d-d, lo-love?" the Zercan asked, patting the bed beside him for Cade to sit upon. (Then why do you look a bit troubled, love?)

Cade took the hint and dropped down onto the mattress beside his reclining lover. The boy still looked a bit tired to him, but he held that glowing air of contentment he'd been showing ever since they'd settled into their new home. And for that, Cade was tremendously grateful. It sure beat the sadness he'd witnessed in Xabi'a's beautiful feline eyes back on Earth. No, he would never be able to think of his birth planet as home again. And that wasn't a bad thing at all. But he didn't want Xabi'a worried about him now, so he schooled his features into a neutral expression and leaned over the boy.

"Just wanted to talk to you, is all," he smiled. "How you feeling?"

"I'm fine." Xabi'a smiled as he spoke, a soft pink blush coloring his face. "Bu-but-t I se-sens-s-se yo-you hav-v-ve … c-c-concer-cerns-s-s." (I'm fine. But I sense you have … concerns.)

Cade shook his head and chuckled. He always did forget about their bond. It was just like Xabi'a to call him on it, too. He liked it though, preferring the boy's spirit to that of a shrinking violet, as his mama always called women she thought were weak.

"I was just thinking about how different Zercans are from earthlings, and I wondered how different my babe will be from … well his father."

"O-oh," Xabi'a laughed nervously. "I-is th-th-that a-a-all?" (Oh. Is that all?)

Cade's brow furrowed again. He could now sense his partner's unease and it troubled him even more than the questions he'd come to the bedroom with. He'd thought the boy knew by now that nothing could come between them. He was just curious, is all.

"You know you can tell me anything," he drawled slowly in the voice he'd learned Xabi'a couldn't resist and leaned in to nuzzle the boy's neck. "That ain't never, ever going to change."

Xabi'a moaned, his body immediately reacting to Cade's touch, and melted into his lover's embrace.