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Dirtside

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Disclaimer: Sadly I do not own any of these wonderful characters, or even the setting and world of Firefly. They all belong to Fox/Universal and Joss Whedon.
James Norrington and related belongs to Disney, Gore, Jerry and Ted and Terry.
Setting: Takes place after Skyplex Lady Washington.
Pairings: Mal/Inara, Kaylee/Simon
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Dirtside

Chapter 1: Family Reunion

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Living dirtside had never really appealed to Zoe Washburne. She never could embrace the concept of living on one planet for long, not much longer for a few weeks. She could stand being in space, living aboard a vessel for months. She was born and raised on a ship. Her mother had also hated the idea of being dirtside, too much of a free spirit with a strong sense of wanderlust. She vowed to raise a family aboard a ship and she managed. She was one of the strongest women Zoe had had ever known.
Her mother’s sister, Zoe’s Aunt Delilah, was different. Aunt Delilah was always happy with being in a routine, everything was familiar, everything was safe. The idea of spending a life in a ship, hopping from rock to another frightened her. She rarely ever traveled in a ship. Zoe’s mother had told her that Delilah was so nervous she got space sick and broke out in a case of hives.

Zoe stood in front of the familiar one story house. Staring at it, she couldn’t help to wonder what it was like to stay in one location for a while. The pathway was lined with brick like tiles, fit into place for a steady and hard surface for any land vehicle to drive up and stay stationed. There was a small rock garden with small cacti, prickly plants and small flowering bushes. It was a nice house, well maintained, a place that many people would have deemed to be comfortable, and in Zoe’s mind, dull. It was also a place Zoe felt was safe.

“Aunt Zoe,” a six-year-old boy tore through the house without any shoes on. He wore a strange baseball cap with a large green face and cloth arms dangling at the side.

“Drake,” Zoe kneeled in time for the child to collide into her. “You have gotten bigger since the last time I have seen you.” She stood up still with the child in her arms.

“I haven’t grown too much,” Drake said. “Dad got a promotion. He’s now a supervisor and he gets paid more and some more vacation time and we can buy fruit about once a week now and we are getting a new source box for the family room because we have the money. Monica got the best marks in her class and she is acting like she is smarter than everyone and Mom is trying to make that homemade jelly again but it keeps coming out as jam.” The words came out at a hundred miles a minute.

“Slow down,” Zoe chuckled and returned her focus to the house. Her smile faded a bit when she saw her cousin standing at the door with her youngest child by her side. “Alanna.”

“Zoe.” Alanna forced a smile. She had put on a few pounds since Zoe had seen her last, which brought some comfort to her. Alanna was nearing rail thin the last time she came for a visit. She wore the same kind of flower print dress ending at the knees and had her dark hair tied back with a faded scarf.

“Aunt Zoe,” the little girl pointed at her.

“Leelee,” Zoe smiled at the three year old. “I didn’t get to hear about you in the family update.” She set the boy down.

“Drake, get in the house and put on some shoes.” Alanna ordered. She did not lose her stern expression.

“I have heard you are making jam again,” Zoe said once Drake and ran inside.

Alanna turned back to the house and then at her cousin. “Jelly.”

“It’s jam,” Leelee said. “I help.”

“I bet you are a big help,” Zoe brushed her fingers through the dark and puffy pigtails on top of Leelee’s head.

“Hobby is asleep,” Alanna did not dance around the obvious. “I’m surprised you haven’t asked about him.”

“I had figured he was asleep,” Zoe said coldly as she rose to her feet. “You know why I am here.”

“Another visit before you fly off with your captain Reynolds.” Alanna entered. “Spend a few days with him and then he doesn’t see you for weeks. You know this isn’t good for him.”

“Not again.” Zoe felt her reserves being built around her. “I don’t know how many times we are going to go through this discussion.”

“It isn’t healthy. He is going to form an attachment to me.” She pointed to herself. “I love him dearly, but I am not his mother. He will think I am and see you as his aunt Zoe.”

“Should I take him aboard Serenity?” Zoe watched as the two children huddle together on the sofa, both their focus was on the toy in Drake’s hands. “I have explained to you hundreds of times about the lives we live. Were would we put his crib? It wouldn’t fit in my bunk, and when I’m on the job?”

“There are people who don’t go out on a job.”

“I can’t always expect Inara, or Simon, or Kaylee to watch over him.”

“Have you ever thought about leaving Serenity?”

“What?” Zoe pulled her hand back, ready to slap her, but froze at the last second. She could not allow herself to always give in to temper, and she was a guest, not to mention she did not want the children to see. “What did you say?”

“Not forever,” Alanna softened her tone. “You have said it yourself. Once he can walk and talk you will take him with you. Why can’t you stay with us instead?”

“I can’t." Zoe shook her head.

“The war has been over for years. You do not have to obey your sergeant, your captain. He is a capable man. He doesn’t need you.”

“It’s not just him,” Zoe inhaled. “It’s everyone. Now, where is my son?”

“In Drakes’ room, in his crib. What do you mean you mean it is everyone?”

“I can’t abandon them.” Zoe turned to stare her cousin in the eye. “Mal needs me to remind him about the importance of the assignments; Jayne needs me to make certain he doesn’t make any mistake.”

“I know you have had losses.” Alanna’s voice softened. “And your crew will be smaller without you.”

“There is also the new guy.”

“He can help Malcolm keep the ship in shape.”

“He is trying to adapt right now.” Zoe bit down on her lip. What was she going to say. That their newest crew member was born in a time that was long before space travel, even long before man could fly?

“He is having trouble adapting?” Alanna folded her arms.

“He spent his life dirt side, or should I say waterside? He was on a planet with a sea and knew more about sailing than traveling through space. You’ll meet him. You may even like him. He is very polite.”

“I’d ask why he was with your crew, but then I have already met your doctor.” It was a weak attempt at humor, but at least Alanna was no loner on the warpath.
“He can tell you himself.”

“Would your captain consider taking some time off himself?”

Zoe shook her head. “He is like me. He can’t stand being on the ground for long. He needs to find work. work buys food and fuel. We have to keep her flying.” She would continue the conversation after she had seen her son.
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Zoe didn’t want to think about leaving Serenity, it was her home, her life. She could not turn her back on them. Although it would be tempting. She had worked with Mal for over seven years, she did accrue some vacation time, but those few months would never be enough, not for where her cousin was concerned with the matter.

All concerns about her cousin and her views had faded from her mind as soon as she had stepped into the room shared by both Hobby and Drake. All the decorations were handmade including the mobile hanging over the wooden crib containing a sleeping infant.

Zoe turned on the light before she approached the crib, hoping it wouldn’t wake her son. If it did she wake him it would weigh down on her guilt far more than any of Alanna’s words.

“Hey there,” Zoe whispered. “Mommy is here.” She stared down at him. He was still wearing the knit cap Alanna had made for him and had a blue blanket covering him. He was dressed in a pair of pajamas that covered everything from neck down. One white padded foot stuck out from under the cover. She watched him sleep, his eyelids fluttering from the dreams he was enjoying. “I haven’t seen you in so long. Mommy went to Earth that Was.”

“Earth that Was?” The light voice of Alanna’s oldest piped up from behind her. “It would take years to get there and nobody can live there.”

Zoe spun around to come face to face with the eight year old. “That is an interesting way of greeting folk, Monica.”

“Sorry.” Monica played with the buttons of her lace-trimmed overalls. “I was going to say hello and then you brought up Earth that Was.”

“It’s a story,” Zoe sighed at the memories that were still too recent and too frightening. “A story that is too real for some.”

“Can I hear the story?”

“Is this the story about your last assignment?” Alanna stepped into the room.

“Our last job that took a bit of a detour,” Zoe explained. “How long as it been?”

“Over three weeks.”

“It felt more like three months.” Zoe turned back to the crib. She felt something was amiss.

“Is that not good enough reason for you?”

Hobby’s ear piercing wail ended the conversation. Zoe did not look or say a word to her cousin and picked her son up.

“I’m sorry.” Alanna closed her eyes and lowered her voice.

“It wasn’t your voice,” Zoe sought out the familiar changing table.

“Ewww.” Monica grabbed her nose. “I smell poop.”

“Exactly.” Zoe placed the infant on the table and quickly unbuttoned his clothing and slipped it off him.

“Lemme help.” Monica opened the small doors on the bottom of the table and pulled out a clean diaper. “There is also powder and lotion.”

“Thank you,” Zoe had placed Hobby’s clothes aside and set to removing the diaper.

“She helps me with him when she is not at school,” Alanna picked up the pajamas. “I’ll have these cleaned.”

“I heard you receive high marks in school.” Zoe placed the old diaper into a diaper pail and used the damp cloth to clean up Hobby.

“I do all my homework and mommy and daddy help me study for tests.”

“Hopefully that is not what you are just studying for. It is good to study for a test, but the real reason to study is to remember it. That is why you learn to store the knowledge. There are people who only study for tests and the rewards at the end. They eventually forget the facts once they achieve their goals, but those who study for the facts will keep everything.”

“I study because I want to learn.”

“That is good.” Zoe sealed the clean diaper. “How are you feeling Hobby?”

Hobby had stopped crying halfway through his diaper change and once Zoe had sprinkled on the powder he made gurgling sounds. Hobby stared at his mother with his bright blue eyes before he pulled his legs back and grabbed onto his toes.

“I think he will be fine.” Monica said.

“Yes he will, once we give him something else to wear.” She picked him up. “You have gained some weight, yes you have, yes you have.” She could not believe the sugary sweet voice she was using on the infant.

“I like the yellow shirt we got him last week.”

“Yellow shirt?” Zoe raised her eyebrows.

“We went shopping and brought him with us and we looked for some baby clothes and there was this one yellow shirt he was pointing at.”

“I would like to see this shirt.” She held Hobby even closer to her and savored the sound of his heartbeat and the feeling of his hand as he brushed it against the side of her face.

“This one,” Monica held up tiny yellow t-shirt with the picture of a colorful stegosaurus on the center.

Zoe felt her own heart pause for a second. “He wanted that shirt?”

“It sure seemed like it.”

“His father loved dinosaurs.” Zoe set Hobby back down on the table. “He would play with them at the bridge when everyone I was at work. He kept his console covered with his dinosaurs and plastic trees. Even when he flew he had them.”

“He was nice.” Monica said softly, remembering the only time she had met Wash. “And funny, he made me laugh.”

“He made everyone laugh,” Zoe slipped the shirt on her wriggling son.

“Who flies your ship now?” Monica handed her a pair of blue pants.

“A very special young woman.” Zoe held onto Hobby’s legs. “Would you like to hear about our last assignment?”

“Yeah.” Monica pulled open the top dresser.

“A friend of ours built a special machine for a group of people. He didn’t like what he has done because he was afraid of what that group was going to use the machine for.”

“What did you friend do?”

“He asked us to get it for him.”

Monica stared at her with wide eyes. “You mean steal it?”

Zoe knew she could not like to the girl. “Yes we stole it for him, but on the way back something went wrong. One of our crew members decided to play with it.”

“Was it Jayne?”

“Yes.” Zoe smiled. “It was Jayne.”

“Doesn’t he ever learn?” Monica rolled her eyes.

“No he doesn’t.” Zoe fastened Hobby’s pants and accepted the socks and shoes, Monica handed to her. “He did something to the machine. Our ship started to shake and we ran to secure ourselves and then everything went dark.”

“You crashed?”

“Not exactly. Everything was dark and we woke up on a beach and we couldn’t find our ship. We came across a young man and he led us to an old sailing ship. We fixed that ship up and he directed us to a swamp where a strange lady lived.”

“What kind of strange lady?”

“She was a tall woman and wore a raggedy black dress and had dots tattooed around her eyes. She had black stained lips and gray teeth.”

“Gray teeth?” Monica made a face. “Yuck.”

Zoe nodded. “She had a white snake in her hut and had jars hanging from the beams. She told us we had gone back in time and in order to get back here we had to find our ship and to do that we had to find a pirate.”

“You went back in time?” Monica shook her head. “You can’t go back in time. Time travel doesn’t exist.”

“See.” Drake stood in the doorway holding onto a plastic robot. “She says stuff like that all the time.”

“Do not.” Monica turned on her heel. “I only tell the truth.”

“She thinks she knows everything.”

“Do not.”

“Do too.”

“Let’s not start this,” Zoe had Hobby in her arms again.

“Start what?” Alanna called from another part of the house.

“Nothing.” both brother and sister shouted back.

“How about you two show me stuff you learned in school and I shall tell the whole story at dinner.”

“Okay.” Monica shrugged.

“From the start?” Drake asked.

“From the start,” Zoe smiled. “The rest of the crew might be with us. They can also help tell the story.” Knowing her cousin, Alanna would invite Mal and the others. “You may get to meet a 700 year old man.”

“Shiny,” Drake said.

Monica blinked. “Really?”

“Really,” Zoe said before Hobby mumbled out another baby word, voicing his opinion.
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