Author's Notes: Okay, after months of inactivity, I finally FINALLY finished chapter 9. So so so so sorry for the wait.  I lost track of time; I had no intention of waiting this long.  Got this done JUST in time for Aithne's birthday (HAPPY BIRTHDAY AITHNE!!!).

But again, I'm terribly sorry for the wait, and subsequently, the shortness of this chapter.  It was going to be longer until I decided I wanted the next part to be in a separate chapter because it would have seemed kind of anti-climactic if it was in this one.

So yeah.  Started writing chapter 10 last night.  Soon as I'm done writing my Yu-Gi-Oh fic, which will be done by the 20th, then I'll tackle the remainder of chapter 10 and get it up ASAP.  I'm on April break, so I should be able to get it out no later than the end of the week.

Thanks to everyone for being so patient with me. T . T  I'm not usually this bad, I swear.  I'm not used to having a huge chapter-fic to update…

Chapter 9: Meeting Mela

            Jack hauled his newest companion through the crowded streets toward his meeting spot with Barbossa.  The latter of the pair wondered, darkly, how much longer his arm could take the abuse.

In the aftermath of their initial encounter and their secondary introduction, the two had gotten to talking.  When Bill had discovered that Jack was a pirate, the urchin had seen an opportunity to escape the streets and, not being one to pass up such an enticing (not to mention beneficial) chance, he had immediately inquired whether or not Jack's captain was accepting new shipmates.  Jack, unsure of a definitive answer, had concluded that they had better consult Barbossa on the matter, and so the act of Jack's towing of the older boy began.

"Here we are!" the braided-boy said cheerfully as they approached the tavern.

Swinging the doors open with a flourish, Jack tugged Bill into the dimly-lit building.  Instantly, the two were assaulted by a cloud of smoke and the stench of alcohol.  Jack visibly winced at the unfamiliarity of the atmosphere.  Bill, long used to Tortuga's air, was unbothered by the change.

At that moment, Jack caught sight of his friend; Barbossa saw him as well, grinned, and motioned his shorter comrade over.  When Bill hesitated, Jack tugged on his arm, eliciting a grunt of protest from the other.

"C'mon, Bill – that's Barbossa. He'll be able t'answer your questions."

"Is he the one that taught y'to duel?"  Jack blinked at the question.

"Aye, he is," he responded.

"I don't know that I ought t'be meeting 'im," Bill said, his eyes glinting.

"Why not?!" Jack asked incredulously.

"Because I think I'll 'ave t'tell him off for not teachin' ye the Rules."

They chuckled amongst themselves as they approached Barbossa's table.  They seated themselves as Barbossa ordered a round of drinks, and then he turned to Jack.

"Goin' t'introduce me to your friend, Jack?"

After exchanging names, Jack regarded the two carefully, wondering how – if – they would take to each other.  He shifted nervously as they stared each other down.

'Come on,' he thought, getting upset by the lack of conversation.  'One of you… say SOMETHING!'

"I've got a question to ask you."  Bill finally broke the tense silence.

"Let's see if I 'ave an answer, then," Barbossa proposed, eyeing the urchin warily.  Bill took a deep breath.

"Might your captain be in the market for new add'tions t'his crew – rather, is he taking on new members?"  Barbossa blinked and looked at Jack, who returned the look with hope in his brown eyes.

Their drinks arrived, then, and Barbossa took a swig of his.  "Ah'll see what I can do – Bill, is it?"  At the newcomer's nod, Barbossa grinned.  "I s'pose if Jack's taken a liking to ye that I'll 'ave a tough time getting rid of ye…" he leaned closer and spoke in a stage whisper, "T'be honest, I could use the extra help. Little whelp's tough to look after."

"HEY!" Jack cried out indignantly as the other two laughed at their younger companion.  As their laughter subsided, a feminine voice broke through the air.

"What's all this frivolity about, now, Barbossa? And who be these friends of yours? You'll introduce me to them, I'm sure—"  The rest of the young woman's words were cut off as Barbossa leapt from his seat, grabbed the girl and twirled her around.  She laughed – a bubbly, girlish laugh, if ever Jack had heard one, and he knew immediately that this must be Mela.

"This your girl, Barbossa?" Bill asked cheekily, grinning fully when Barbossa and the girl flushed slightly.  Barbossa cleared his throat.

"Mela, love, I'd like fer y'to meet me friends Jack Sparrow," he motioned to Jack with one hand, "and Bill Turner," he motioned to Bill with the other.  "Jack, Bill, meet my lass – Mela."

The newly introduced trio murmured their greetings, and Mela joined them at the table.  While she and Barbossa caught up on the events since their last separation, Jack used the opportunity to take-in Mela's appearance more fully.

She was only a few centimeters shorter than Barbossa, with olive-colored, smooth skin that indicated that she did not spend much time out in direct sunlight.  As expected, her hands were unblemished as well, a sure sign that she was of high enough standing that she was above doing menial labor.  Her eyes were dark black; her hair was of similar color and hung to just above her shoulders.  But perhaps more striking than even her appearance was the dress she wore.  It was purple – a color reserved only for the wealthy due to the dye's great expense.  That, combined with the rest of her features, told Jack instinctively that a woman such as Mela should not, for any point or purpose that he could fathom, be in such a place as Tortuga, consorting with a pirate.

And yet, there she was.

As he pondered this oddity, a second round of drinks was ordered.  And a third.  Pretty soon they were talking and laughing merrily, as if the four of them had been friends for years.  All thoughts of the young woman's social standing were forgotten as Bill asked Barbossa, in a bit of a stupor, whether Barbossa and Mela were planning to marry.  The couple blushed furiously and Barbossa said that they hadn't really talked about it.

"Shame," Bill said, his voice slurring a bit, "Th' two of ye'd make a grand couple, I think. What say you, Jack?"  Jack nodded his head in agreement, feeling a bit woozy, and Bill started drilling Mela about what kind of wedding she'd want to have.  Jack had never had this much to drink before – but if he was going to be a pirate, he supposed he'd have to learn how to deal with it…

Finally, Mela jumped up from her chair.  Swaying slightly, she proclaimed, "I'm going for a walk! It's a lovely night, and we've been cooped-up in here for hours. Who's coming?"  Barbossa rose and took her arm, pointedly ignoring Bill and Jack as they 'awww'ed at the display.

"C'mon ye idle-headed louts, she's right – we've been here long enough. Time fer a change o' scenery."  With that, Barbossa led Mela out into the evening air, and the other two followed quickly after.

The party made their way, laughing and stumbling, to the port.  Mela had expressed a want to look out at the stars over the sea, and so they would.  Jack couldn't remember the last time he'd felt so full of life.  They reached the cliffs at the end of the beach and sat down to watch the sky, which was quickly darkening.  As the salty air and spray from the water whipped around them, Jack felt at peace.  This was his new life – the sea was his new life.  His mother had always told him that she'd known since the day he was born that he reminded her of the sea.  It was why she had named him as she had, and he was certain that it had a lot to do with why she had told him to flee to the port rather than to flee inland.  The thought brought him comfort, and he smiled as the voices of his friends interrupted his thoughts.

"Look!" Mela cried, pointing at something above the horizon.  The others followed her gaze, and they saw that she had discovered the night's first star.  "Make a wish," she told them excitedly.  Bill looked suspicious.

"Isn't that a bit childish, Miss Mela? Wishin' on stars?"  The girl laughed.

"It may be, but I'm still going to do it!"  She closed her eyes, and Jack saw Barbossa do the same.  Bill glanced at Jack, who shrugged, and the two of them closed their eyes as well.  What to wish for…

He thought for a while, listening to the wind blow and the waves crashing against the rocks.  And finally, he knew what he wanted.

'I wish for freedom.'

That was the wish within his heart – to be free from everything.  Free from the confines of society and land and rules and anything else.  He wanted to be under his own command.  He wanted to go where he wanted to go, and to do what he wanted to do, and not have to answer to anyone.  Being a pirate was still restrictive, but as far as he was concerned, it was at least a step in the right direction.

The others opened their eyes a few moments later, having made wishes of their own, and the quartet leaned back to look at the sky.  They could hear, faintly, the hustle and bustle of Tortuga – even at night, the town was alive with sound.  Some tavern or another had opened its doors, and piano music drifted to their ears.  Jack grinned at Barbossa over Mela's head.

'Dance with her,' he mouthed.  Barbossa nodded, then said something quietly to the girl.  He stood and took her hand.  Bill gave Jack an inquisitive glance.

"Let's give them some time to themselves," he whispered.  Bill nodded in understanding, and the two snuck off, moving back toward the docks.

When they were out of ear-shot, Bill gave Jack a big smirk.  "They're so cuuuuute," he drawled, imitating Mela's voice as best he could.  Jack snickered.

"Don't be a prat, Bill. We can find plenty to do without them."

"I should think so," Bill commented.  "Let's go see what's bein' loaded onto that large ship o'er there," he added, pointing to a silhouette to their right.  Jack agreed, and they went to take a closer look.

"Eh, looks like ordinary cargo," Bill murmured.  "That's no fun t'all."  Jack shrugged.  After a pause, Bill asked, "D'you think Barbossa can get in a good word or two fer me with the cap'n?"

"I don't see why he couldn't," Jack replied.  Bill seemed hell-bent on getting into the crew.  Jack supposed he was probably tired of Tortuga.  "Don't worry," he assured him.  "I'm not leavin' here without you."  At Bill's look of surprise, he raised an eyebrow.  "What kind of lousy friend d'you take me for?"  Bill chuckled.

"I s'pose you're right, Jack, but I still worry about being stuck here."

"Well quit worryin'. It's not doin' either of us any good. Now," he gave Bill a pointed look, "there's got to be more to this place than a tavern, a market, a dock, and some rocks. Show me around, would ye?"  Bill laughed, and started back towards the market.

"C'mon, then, Mister Impatient. I'll show you around, for certain, but I'll be givin' you no guarantee that there IS any more to Tortuga than those things yout mentioned."  He gave Jack a look.  "Why else d'ye think I want out?"

The two walked off in the direction of all the noise from earlier, and Jack smiled to himself.  Yes, freedom.  He could get used to this…

End Notes: So there you have it.  Introduced Mela, girl of the purple dress. *hint*hint*cough* HAPPY BIRTHDAY (again) AITHNE!!!  Hope you liked your present.  I'll get right on chapter 10 when I'm finished with the other fic that I've got a deadline for.  ^_^