Disclaimer: see chapter 1

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"It's not that you're not an able seaman," the captain of the Lizard said, apologetically. "Y'are. Able, and a seaman. It's just …" He fidgeted.

"It's what?" Jack prompted.

"Well, I don't need another man, see, and you're a tad … visible, shall we say?" The man nodded, to reinforce his point. "Visible. And what with the Royal Navy gettin' all keen about roundin' us up, I'd rather stay …"

"Invisible," said Jack. "I see. Fine. No hard feelings, mate."

"Good." The captain beamed, released of tension, and shook Jack's hand. "Good. Best o' luck to ye, Cap'n Sparrow."

"Thanks." Jack smiled, tucked his thumbs in his sash, and left the Lizard.

He had spent most of the months since the wreck of the Nictaux hopping from one ship to another. At first, he had tried to find another ship to captain, but there were none to be found. So he signed on as a mate aboard a large pirate vessel, but had not got on with the captain. After that, he spent a few weeks aboard a variety of ships - old ones, large ones, battered ones - but never stayed for long. He could not now return to a position of subservience. He tried. But he kept finding things he did not like about the ship or the crew, or the way they were being captained. Jack had had his own way for far too long, and he was frustrated being under another man's command.

Eventually, he had returned to Tortuga, where he was now making one last attempt to find a ship. Circumstances were not conspiring in his favour, though. The pirate community was wary; the British Royal Navy had redoubled their efforts to catch buccaneers, and skeletons swinging from Port Royal's Gallows Point were commonplace. Rumour had it that a young captain, well on his way to being promoted to Commodore, was the prime culprit. Normally Jack would have thumbed his nose at this Captain Norrington, and gone on his merry way, but without a ship …

He sighed, and looked at the next vessel in the harbour. She was a large, elegant ship with 32 guns and good lines. Her captain appeared to be the grizzled man currently examining charts on the quarterdeck, and he looked up as Jack admired the ship.

"Ahoy there."

"Cap'n." Jack nodded at him. "Lovely vessel."

The captain came to the rail and leaned over, looking down at Jack. "I think I heard you were seeking a berth?"

"Aye, I am."

"So happens I'm looking for another man. Hop aboard, will you?"

Jack came up the gangplank and joined the captain on the main deck.

"So you're Jack Sparrow, are ye?" the older man asked. "Heard a bit about you."

"That's right." Jack wondered which of the tales the captain had heard, and what version of the Nictaux's wreck. Just in case it was one of the less flattering ones, he grinned in a reassuring manner.

"They say you're a good sailor."

"They're right," Jack said. No need to be modest about this - he knew very well he was one of the better sailors out of Tortuga. "I'm not expensive, neither. Nor picky. And I'm a good man with a blade to boot."

"And you could sail on the dawn tide?"

"I could sail on the dawn tide," Jack agreed. "No ties. Where're you bound?"

"Here and there," shrugged the captain. "We've no set plans."

"Sounds good to me," said Jack.

The other man started to hold out his hand, but hesitated. "You'd just be an able seaman. I've a full complement of officers. I understand you've had your own vessel some years now …"

"Afore I lost her, aye," Jack said. "But I lost her. For now, all I want is a berth, I'm not askin' for more. I'll be an able seaman if that's what's going."

"Good." They shook hands. "Welcome aboard, Mr Sparrow."

Jack went below to sign the ship's articles, where he learnt the captain's name was Tenby and the ship the Lavender Sprig. He was to come aboard that evening, and so he left to bid Tortuga farewell with a last drink.

A week out of port, the Sprig was making good progress. The awesome power of her 32 guns had been unleashed, with a lot of noise and smoke, on an unfortunate Dutch ship, and a goodly amount of loot had been taken. Jack was aloft, keeping watch, and enjoying being high above the blue water below. Taking advantage of being a simple crewman, he had left his boots in his hammock; his sleeves were rolled up and his legs and arms were exposed to the sun. It was a lovely day.

So when the dark cloud began to form on the horizon, Jack found his eyes instantly drawn to it. It got bigger quickly, fog rolling up and about the black epicentre.

Jack frowned. He remembered seeing this before. Pulling out the ship's telescope, he examined the cloud closer, and then snapped the telescope shut and called down to the deck.

"Ship ho! Port bow!"

"What ship?" came back the reply.

His eyes set on the shape now growing closer, Jack returned the shout. "The Black Pearl!"

There was a pause. Glancing down, he saw a cluster of people talking to Captain Tenby. Shortly, an order was shouted up for him to descend the mast to the deck.

Tenby was by the helm, now looking at the Black Pearl clad in her fog with his own telescope. "Come here, Mr Sparrow," he said, beckoning, and Jack came up to the quarterdeck. "You're certain this is the Pearl?"

"That's the Pearl," Jack confirmed.

"Once your ship?"

"Still my ship, just not in my hands," Jack said.

"They say she's cursed, cap'n," Tenby's quartermaster put in, with a shiver.

"Is she cursed?" Captain Tenby asked.

"I don't know," said Jack, honestly. "I'll say there's something not right. She never used to be like that."

Tenby flipped open his telescope again. "She has not been well cared for."

"She was, ten years ago," Jack returned. "She could be again." He met Tenby's eyes. "Go after her. Take her. A ship like this one, with this firepower - you could have her, cap'n. Easy."

"Take her for what?"

"Consort. Prize. She'll be loaded. Fastest ship in the Caribbean, ma … cap'n."

"We do not attack fellow pirates, Mr Sparrow," Tenby said severely.

"Barbossa's no fellow pirate," Jack said. "He's a black-hearted mutinous bastard who deserves to swing, savvy? Take her."

"No."

Jack leaned in. "He doesn't obey the Code, why should you? She'll be richly laden. She's a good ship. Take her."

Tenby's face tightened. "Mr Sparrow, I will not take that ship. Kindly return to your post."

"You're missin' a chance," Jack said. "Take her!"

"Return to your post now, Mr Sparrow," said Captain Tenby, "or I'll have ye flogged. Or marooned. Fancy escaping from that, twice?" Jack stepped back, his hands rising, his mouth opening to speak. Tenby shook his head. "Not another word, Sparrow."

Jack closed his mouth, and silently climbed the mainmast to sit once more on lookout. He watched, as the Black Pearl and the Lavender Sprig turned away from each other. The dark shape of the Pearl disappeared, away towards Jamaica, clad in her veil of cloud.

He left the Sprig when she reached the next port, paying Tenby to let him go despite the ship's articles. And then he looked for a vessel that would take him back towards Tortuga, and three weeks after leaving he was back in the pirate stronghold.

The Black Pearl had not been seen in Tortuga, but several men were willing to admit they had sighted her on the horizon. She was certainly in the area, looting and killing as was her wont. Nobody would take Jack to her, however much he wheedled and bribed and beguiled. The legendary Jack Sparrow charm was not working, and eventually he collapsed in a tavern and laid his head down beside his tankard of ale.

"You're not looking good," a voice said from beside him.

"'M not."

"Pining for your ship?" The voice was soft, and undoubtedly feminine. It tugged at Jack's memory, and he turned his head.

"Yes."

"I'm sorry." Anamaria sat down beside Jack. "I've heard she is round about. Heading to Jamaica, Port Royal, the last anyone heard."

Jack lifted his head, and looked at his old friend. "She is. She looks …" He shrugged. "Bad."

Anamaria picked up his tankard, and drank. "C'est dommage."

"It's more'n'a shame," Jack said. "It's …" He looked blearily up at Anamaria. "What are you doin' here?"

"I have a boat." She grinned at him, the uncharacteristic smile lighting up her face. "Of my own."

"A boat?"

"A boat." She pushed the tankard towards him. "Want to see?"

He shrugged. "Why not?" He finished the drink. "Lead the way, fair lady."

"Cut out the flattering," Anamaria said, standing up. "She's in the harbour."

Jack followed his old friend through the busy night streets of Tortuga to the harbour, where she showed him a small, neat one-master with a white sail tidily furled. He bent to read the name.

"Libert." He straightened, and grinned. "Good name, love."

"I thought you would like it," Anamaria said.

"But what do you do with her?" Jack asked. "You can't raid anythin' with a boat this size - not that she's not an uncommonly nice boat."

Anamaria climbed down into the Libert and tucked a pail away under the centre casing. "She is my freedom," she said. "I run errands, do some deliveries, earn a little money. She's mine. Not many men will take a woman in their crew."

"Then they're bloody fools." Jack held out a hand, and helped her back on to the quayside. "But she's a sweet little craft."

For once, she let him tuck his arm around her waist, and he guided her back towards the hub of the town. He bought the rum, and got Anamaria talking about what she had been doing for the last year or so. She drank, and talked, and he drank too and talked also, and so the evening passed. At one point Anamaria said that she should be getting back to her aunt's, where she was staying, but Jack bought another round of drinks and persuaded her to stay. When his friend's eyelids drooped and she looked fit to collapse under the table, he went to the bar and paid for a room for the night.

Anamaria protested weakly as he draped her arm over his shoulder and hauled her upstairs, but she collapsed on to the bed happily enough. Jack pulled off her boots and stood them by the washstand in the corner.

He looked down at her. Her hair had come loose at some point and lay over her shoulders, dark and glossy; and her skin looked temptingly healthy. Fighting back an urge to give in to physical desire, Jack bent and brushed back a lock of hair from Anamaria's eyes.

"I'll bring her back," he said, leaving a coin or two inside the boots. And then he turned, and went out into the night.

The wind was fresh, but not too strong for a little boat, and the Libert rode the evening waves well. Jack set the sail, and settled down with the tiller at his side. Humming a little tune, he turned the boat towards Jamaica, and the Black Pearl. It had been a long ten years, but he felt certain that some day soon he and his vessel would be reunited.

"Not much longer, love," he said, out to the ocean. "I'm coming for you."

He rested his hand on the tiller, feeling the rush of the boat under his fingers, and smiled. Not long now.

THE END

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Author's note: Er. Yes. Sorry, that happened quicker than I originally intended. But that's it, that's the end, and you know what happens next!

Libert is of course the French for 'freedom'.

Many, many, many thanks to every single person who has reviewed this story. Your comments have meant a great deal. Particular thanks to the wonderful crew of the 'Black Pearl Sails' yahoogroup. I've enjoyed writing this, I hope you've enjoyed reading it even half as much.

Now, bring me that horizon ...