The Deepest Circle

Plot: Jack has been betrayed yet again by another treacherous shipmate, and he starts to believe that his old friends are beginning to turn on him, too. How can they prove to him otherwise before he goes mad with hate?

Rating: PG (for this's likely to get more severe as the story goes on)

Author's Notes: This fic takes place about five years after POTC left off. I've given Will and Elizabeth a daughter, though generally I like to wade away from that territory; it tends to get rather sticky. However, she's necessary for the plot, and not in it for very long, so be patient. ;) An enormous, enormous thanks to the lovely Merrie--my delicious beta and wonderful friend. You rock, love! This fic's for you. :)

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Will Turner seldom received knocks on the door, especially at this time of day. He had been sitting in the study glancing at various books kept in a locked chest, debating which ones to give to Elizabeth for her birthday next week, when three hard taps on the door interrupted his thoughts. He stood up and paced over into the main hall.

"Who is it?" he asked lightly, leaning in towards the front door. There was only more knocking. He pressed his fingers on the handle and pulled it open.

There stood a man of about Will's height, give or take a few inches, wrapped in ragged threads that proved they were once of an elegant and expensive nature. His raven-colored hair was adorned with many miscellaneous and colorful trinkets, and his eyes were dully lit like burnt coal--dark and sharp, so hypnotic they looked as if they could pierce iron with a simple glance. They were thickly outlined in kohl, and above his lips was a small mustache; below, a tiny patch of a beard, in little French- braids fastened with two pairs of beads. He let out a grin, and revealed no less than four glimmering gold teeth, all scattered around the far corners of his pearlies. He held out his arms and moved his fingers slightly, the sun glinting off his silver rings. "Master Turner," he purred, giving a wee bow.

"Jack!" said Will breathlessly, leaning in and giving his old friend a hug. He would have held him longer if he didn't smell like a decaying slab of meat. "How are you?"

"Fine, lad, fine. Just stopping by to catch a glimpse at your humble shack."

"Humble shack, indeed," smiled Will. He was still living in Elizabeth's old grand estate, along with said strumpet, of course. The interior was as lovely as ever, as Jack could see as his eyes wandered past Will's shoulders. The damage that the Barbossa's old crew had caused had also long since been patched up, and Jack could pick up the faint scent of smoke and roses from inside. "Would you like to come in?" Will asked after a few moments.

Jack revealed a gold-toothed smile and swaggered into the house, and let out a booming, "Hello, Tuner household!" that caused Will to jump. Suddenly the sound of scurrying footsteps rang throughout the halls and a little force slammed onto Jack's knees.

"Jack! Jack! Jack! Jack!"

Jack looked down and there was Peony, Elizabeth and Will's young daughter. "The birthday girl!" Jack roared, picking the little girl up by the waist and hoisting her into the air. She laughed crazily as Jack threw her over his shoulder. "Well, that's all I wanted, Mr. Turner. Thank you very much." He turned around and started out the door once more, then went down the path that led to the large black gates. Will leaned against the doorframe and smiled, watching his little girl being bounced about by the captain.

At last, Jack set her down and took her hand and charged back up to the front door, then pushed her into her father's arms. "Okay, love. You're too big for me to carry home now."

"I want to go on your ship later," said Peony, as her father lifted her up and supported her on his waist.

"Ah, that bit's up to your father, darling. And your mother, of course, I'd imagine she'd have a hard time lettin' her girl on the Pearl with a bunch of smelly pirates."

"But I'm bigger now," she replied, leaning in towards Jack more. "I'm four today."

"That you are. Maybe we'll be lucky."

"Come along inside now," said Will, plopping Peony back on the ground. She stood by Jack's knees and clung to him for all she was worth.

"Jack?" asked a female voice suddenly.

Jack glanced up and at the top of the staircase stood Elizabeth, looking lovely as ever. Her hair wasn't done up, and cascaded gloriously down her shoulders in a golden spill of shine. She was wearing a nightgown that fluttered by her ankles in the warm breeze from the open windows. "Why, Miss Swann. What a pleasant surprise. Aren't you looking pretty this morning?"

"It's Mrs. Turner," she corrected him gently.

"Ah, you'll always be Miss Swann to me, pet," Jack purred with a grin.

She gave him a weak smile and trotted down the stairs, then brushed up next to Will. "It's nice to see you again. We were certain that you wouldn't be coming back until at least Christmas."

Jack shrugged. "Aye, well, I'm back for just a little while. I'm stopping by Port Royale to take care of some business."

"With whom?" asked Elizabeth inquisitively.

"Old friends," Jack smiled. It wasn't a free and easy smile, however, like the ones Jack generally offered. This one seemed forced, and it made Will uneasy. Jack's face was also unnaturally pale, and he looked tired. 'Probably after long months at sea,' Will thought. 'Stop worrying yourself.'

"You mean us?"

"Who else?" he asked loudly. "I haven't got many friends that aren't bartenders"--he gave a small smile--"or pirates."

"Not in front of the child," Elizabeth muttered dully.

"Bah, are you hearing this, Peony?" asked Jack incredulously, picking the little girl up again. She giggled. "Your mother's obviously got some sort of grudge against me and my fellow buccaneers, wouldn't you say?"

Peony smiled and nodded vigorously, then put her arms around Jack's neck.

"Mummy, I want to go on his ship," she said, "the Brat Pearl."

"Black Pearl, love," Jack purred into her ear with the small smile still on his lips.

"Absolutely not," Elizabeth said sternly, widening her eyes, giving Jack that you-should-know-better look.

Jack gave her a coy grin, the ones she hated, and put Peony back down and pushed her in the direction of the long hall on the left side of the house. She scurried off. When she was out of sight, Jack crossed his arms and sighed heavily, leaning back on one of the windows, the wet leaves of the palms outside--still moist from the night's rain--pressed against the glass behind him.

Will studied Jack for a few moments, trying to see any changes in his appearance since he had last seen him six months before. Not much different at all, he thought. But it was when he caught sight of something red and thick against Jack's copper skin: a gash. It stretched from his wrist and then disappeared into his jacket, and it was only visible when Jack crossed his arms in this position. The wound was new, and the blood still soaked on the sleeve making the blue fabric look merely doused in salt water.

Suddenly Jack frowned and uncrossed his arms, and tugged the sleeve over his wrist. He knew Will had seen it.

"Jack, what was..."

"Let's see what the little girl is up to, shall we?" Jack asked nonchalantly, and he followed her path and rounded the corner at the end of the hall. The couple was left in silence for a few moments.

"Will, are you all right?"

Elizabeth's quiet voice interrupted his thoughts, which seemed to topple over one another like a deck of cards.


"You look pale. Are you feeling ill?" She looked concerned. And he knew it was stupid, but he loved the look on her face whenever that emotion struck her. Her full and rose-kissed lips slightly parted, her ample cinnamon eyes wide with every sensation in the world stuffed into them. She was so beautiful.

But then there was Jack's wound. That ugly, horrid, freshly-licked slit going up his arm. Where had he been? How had he gotten it? Jack was certainly not acting himself. At first he was putting up a pretty good charade, but now it seemed to be catching up with the poor man. Something was nagging at Jack, and Will wanted to know what it was.

Finally, they both went down the hall and entered the kitchen, and saw Jack leaning over a counter with his back to them, and Peony sitting on the very same counter dangling her legs and swinging them gently. She looked up off the floor and to her parents. "He's helping me flatten the dough," she said, "I couldn't do it myself."

"Darling, what have I told you about trying to cook without mummy or daddy around to help?" asked Elizabeth, with one eyebrow raised. "Now hop off that counter, and--"

"Oh, come off it," said Jack, turning to her and giving a faint smile. "She's got Uncle Jack now, hasn't she?"

Elizabeth pressed her lips together and looked at Will harshly, but he simply shrugged again. She pulled out a chair from under the table and sat herself down, her arms crossed.

"So Jack, what have you been up to lately?" asked Will finally, after listening to Peony explain to Jack the multiple ways she could tie her bootlaces.

"Oh, not too much," the pirate answered, still pounding on the dough with his charcoal-smeared hands, and occasionally elbows. Even his answer was unusual. Will was expecting a lie about some great fierce conquest in which he'd slain 240 men without once dropping his cutlass and ended up claiming a new ship to add to his nonexistent fleet. But just 'not too much'...that was strange. Will also noticed how Jack was taking some great care not to allow his sleeves to spill down and reveal the gash...


He snapped back to the kitchen again. "Yes?"

Elizabeth was staring at him. "Are you sure you're all right?"

"Yes, darling. Fine." He smiled back at her weakly, and she didn't look entirely convinced, but she didn't pick up on the matter again.

There was more silence now.

Elizabeth had never felt so uncomfortable in Jack's company, aside from the day when he nearly put a bullet in her brain. He wasn't acting the same, and neither was her husband, and it irritated her that both men were keeping something all to themselves.

Suddenly Jack let out a loud moan and seized his arm and his knees buckled a bit. Peony gave a violent tremble and stared at him, surprised, until he caught his breath and leaned in against the counter.

Will stood up and rushed over to him, putting his arms around his waist and got him to stand straight on his feet again.

"Jack, what's wrong?"

"Nothing," Jack muttered loudly, swatting Will away with his good arm. "Nothing, I--I'm fine. I just hit the table too hard..."

"Want me to kiss your arm?" asked Peony, her eyes expanding with sincerity. Jack managed a weak smile.

"No, love."

"Jack, can I talk to you?" asked Will, moving his hands up and clutching Jack's good arm, a bit of his finger brushing beneath the cloth. His skin was freezing.

"Sure," Jack answered slowly. Will pulled him aside out the kitchen, around the corner, and back into the main hall of the house.

"What is this?" hissed Will sharply, grasping Jack's arm and thrusting the sleeve off to reveal the angry wound. It was worse than Will had imagined. The blood ran down the sides of Jack's arm like exterior crimson veins. Most of it was smudged all over, and some of it had even dried into thin maroon dust along the cut--which was the most horrible to look at. It was at least four inches long. "What is this?" repeated Will again, harsher this time.

Jack let out a gasp and tore himself away from Will, who realized he had been holding the arm tighter than he had meant. "I'm sorry, Jack...but...Jesus, what happened?"

"I cut myself," Jack said almost angrily. "Just an accident, Will. No fuss. I've 'ad worse." The pirate turned to face Will again, and he gave him a glance that nearly made the former blacksmith shiver.

Jack looked cold and morose, yet it was almost apologetic; as if he were making up for some horrendous injustice that he had committed towards Will.

His chest tightened as the uneasiness crept through his bones, his mind suddenly focused on his daughter, who was, out of the corner of his eye, standing in the doorframe. He supposed she had heard the whole conversation. She said in a small voice, "Jack?"

Jack quickly tore his sleeve down to cover the wound, and gave the little girl his best smile. "Yes, love?"

"I can buy you some things for your cut," she answered. She glanced at her father. "Can I take him down to the market? Please?"

Will was almost dazed at the sudden and violent new light the last twenty minutes had cast upon the day. Something was wrong, something big, and he feared for Jack's current state. His arm was bleeding badly, and from the pale of his friend's face it looked as if he would pass out within the next hour.

"I'll go," said Will finally, glancing at his daughter, who was wide-eyed with fear. He knew she was afraid for Jack, too. "Stay here, I should be back as soon as possible." Will got the door and gave Peony and Jack a final glance before he quickly closed the door, exited and shut it behind him.

A few seconds of silence passed. Peony still stood in the doorframe, arms tucked behind her back. "Are you going to die, Jack?"

Jack let out a small laugh, walked to her and picked her up with his good arm. "Nonsense, darling. I'm Captain Jack Sparrow." She giggled at this, and he strode forth into the kitchen, where Elizabeth was sitting at the table drumming her fingers impatiently. She glanced up as they entered.

"Are you all right, Jack?" Her voice was limp with concern.

"Yes. Fine." He smiled at her and then at Peony, then boldly stated, "How would you like to come aboard my ship, Miss Peony?"

Her eyes widened and her face lit up with such complete euphoria that Jack laughed out loud again. She transferred her look of joy to her mother, who appeared slightly uneasy.

"On a pirate ship, Jack?"

"Just for a little while," Peony pleaded, throwing her arms around Jack's neck. Jack laughed again.

Elizabeth's brow furrowed and she gave Jack a long, hard stare, looking as if she were begging Jack to give her the right to trust him. He only smiled nonchalantly at her back.

"All right," she muttered finally. "But Jack, I swear, if you so much as let her *touch* a cutlass--"

Peony let out a cry of excitement and Jack lifted her up higher in the air and said, "We'll be back in one hour at most. Ta!" He hauled her out the doorway.

"All right," Elizabeth replied, sounding slightly frazzled. "Bye, darling."

"Bye, mummy!" she heard Peony call from the outside hall, and then the door slammed closed.

It was the last time she would hear her daughter's voice.

x x x x x

Jack held Peony to him closely as he wandered down towards the docking bay. His head was light; he couldn't think clearly and he would stumble every so often, but his grip on the young girl would not loosen. His arm stung viciously, and the blood clinging to his sleeves was cold and unpleasant, not to mention doused in the ocean's salt water, which made it even more unbearable. But he thought of Peony. Her sweet, innocent weight curled up in his arms made his eyes prickle at the corners. He imagined every detail of her to try and keep his mind off the pain. The way she smelled--like smoke and powdered flowers, just as Elizabeth had when she leaned onto Jack that drunken night by the fire on the marooned island five years before.

"Will they like me?" the girl asked suddenly, interrupting Jack's desperate thoughts. He tripped over nothing, but Peony remained unfazed, since she seemed to have an idea of how much he valued protecting her.

"Who, love?" he breathed, trudging on.

"Your crew," she replied. "Will your crew like me?"

"They'll love you," he said with a weak smile. "Who could possibly not love you, darling?"

She grinned. Jack's heart ached, as his brain throbbed with the same thought over and over: Keep Her Safe, Keep Her Safe, Keep Her Safe...

They arrived at the ship sooner than he'd expected--or wanted. He also realized that he was panting quite heavily and that things weren't beginning to appear right in his eyes. Images were fuzzy and his head felt empty as his eyes watered. He sucked all the pain in as best he could and stepped onto the walking platform, when suddenly a voice interrupted him: "Jack Sparrow?"

His name perked in his ears. Jack turned, and on the main dock it was none other than Commodore Norrington, a tight scowl on his face and his arms tucked behind his back dutifully.

"Captain Jack Sparrow," Jack muttered, adjusting Peony in his arms.

"What exactly are you doing with Miss Peony, Captain?" He scoffed on the last word, as if it were a fluffy and useless object.

"Just taking her aboard the Pearl for a bit," Jack answered. "Mother's permission, Mr. Commodore Sir, no worries."

Peony waved at him, her head still tucked between the smooth curve of Jack's jaw and throat. "Hello, James."

He smiled slightly. "Hello, Miss Peony. Are you sure you want to get aboard with Mr. Sparrow?"

"Yes," she answered. Jack smiled.

Norrington's brief look of remote happiness faded, and he nodded shortly. "Very well, then. Until then, Mr. Sparrow."

"Captain!" Jack hollered, as Norrington turned his back on them and went on his way. "Stupid git," he whispered to himself.

"What?" Peony's head poked up.

"Nothing," Jack murmured. "Onward, then." He was about to take another step, but he hesitated, and said, "Peony?"

She looked up at him.

"I want you to promise me something," he said slowly. She nodded. "Whatever happens, I'm...well, your mummy and daddy love you. And Uncle Jack loves you; he loves you more than anything. And you must promise me to remember that."

"All right," she answered, slightly confused, and she rested her head back on his chest.

Jack took a deep breath and felt his heartbeat pulsing throughout the bony walls of his wrists as he stepped onto the deck.

He was fading now. The pulse was in his ears, blocking out all sound, and there were bright flashes erupting over the naturally quiet palms and houses lining the beach. He sunk down to his knees and put Peony on the deck. "Go inside that room," he slurred with as much strength as possible. He pointed to the captain's quarters. "Don't come out until I tell you."

"Jack," she said strongly, "come in with me..."

"In a moment, sweetheart," he muttered, "in a moment. I'll be right there, just go on in ahead." He pushed her foreward, and she glanced back at him reluctantly before disappearing behind the door.

Jack exhaled heavily and stared at the wooden planks of the deck. Thick red fluid began to ooze onto it as inch by inch he lay down, finally spinning into darkness as he heard the scream.