Many thanks to hereswith, and hendercats for suggestions and editing.
The first time it happened he wouldn't tell her what was wrong. They'd been hidden, waiting for the opportune moment to spring a couple of their crew from a Spanish gaol, and had been forced to hole up in a dank cellar. Something about the place -- the light, or perhaps the smell -- threw him off. He was not given to odd humors, he was imaginative, but never let it get in the way of his goals. Even so, something in the whites of his eyes, and in the smile that faltered near the edges, told her things were amiss. And when he dozed finally it was only to wake with a start of terror, which turned to a grim look as he realized what he'd dreamed.
"What's wrong?" she whispered.
She frowned and took up his hand. His expression lightened, but he insisted, "It's nothing," and kissed her.
She let it rest, and slept again, though she knew he did not.
The second time was months later, and it came upon him as they lay in the sweet safety of their own bed on the Black Pearl. In the dead of night he was visited with the same evil dream. He began to mutter, and thrash beside her in the bed, struggling against some nightmare foe, anger and fear combined in panicked protests.
"Jack! Jack, wake up!" She shook him, her hand light and firm on his shoulder, but he cried out and thrust her roughly away. She was dismayed, but the action seemed to bring him back. His eyes popped open.
"Did I hurt you?" he demanded, breathing hard.
"No." It was the truth, or nearly so.
He didn't reply, and she had the feeling he was uncharacteristically overwhelmed.
"Jack... tell me." She moved across the small space between them, and laid a hand on his shoulder once more. "Tell me."
There was a long pause, then a simple, "No. Not now," and he pulled her close, hands trembling, and began to make desperate love to her. She started to protest, but he cut her off -- "Hush. Let me. Let me." And so she did, letting him use her, returning his ungentle touch with that of her own, both of them fighting whatever darkness assailed him. The end was more than he could bear in silence, and his hoarse cry wrung her heart. For once she was left unsatisfied, but it didn't matter. She lay still, holding him as he eased into sleep, tears seeping slowly from the corners of her eyes and into her hair.
It happened again, a few weeks later, but that time she merely watched as he came to himself, then, saying nothing, drew him to her.
She was looking out over the sparkling ocean when he came to her the next morning. He leaned on the rail beside her, covering her hand with his own.
"D'you want me to tell you?"
He grimaced slightly at the blunt reply. "No mercy, eh?"
"None!" she said, confronting him. "Not when you must savage me in the effort to forget."
That could not be turned off with a jest, and he did not. "I'm sorry, love. Maybe--"
"Don't be!" she said, cutting him off. "I am yours! But you are mine, too. And I want to know everything."
"Everything." He shook his head, eyeing her askance. "No you don't."
Her patience was close to failing. "Jack, I'm not a child! I don't need a legend to love. I need the man behind it."
His look of consternation would have been amusing in other circumstances.
She took his hands in hers. "Tell me."
After a moment he nodded. "Come back to bed then. It's not a tale for the bright sun and sea. And I promise I won't 'savage' you."
She dropped his hands and took his face between her palms and kissed him. Then she led him aft, back to their cabin.
They lay very close, face to face on the velvet coverlet.
But he chuckled. "No! You'd think so, wouldn't you? But no. It's only this." He let her go and pushed his sleeve up, baring the puckered pink scar on his left forearm. P for Pirate.
"Only that." Taking his wrist, she gently ran her thumb over the letter. "It must have been dreadful."
"It was. Dreadful's the word. I wasn't so... familiar with pain, you might say. Not back then. Beckett had me, and he told me what he was going to do. I'd a couple of days to think on it. It was a long couple of days, and the end of it worse even than I'd imagined. Moses Law, and then the brand. And then they burnt my ship."
"Aye. And more or less intact. That's what matters, of course, though at the time I wasn't so appreciative as I should've been."
"How did you escape?"
"Didn't. I became ill, and they thought I'd die, so they set me ashore. At a convent."
"It was a poor, run down place, on the coast of
"Nuns? Oh, Jack! You didn't!"
"Of course. Mostly other things other than what you're thinkin' of."
The humor waned. "No. As you see. Some things you just live with, as best you can. Most things are easier. But that... well, it still plagues me, now and again. Damaged goods, darlin'. But you knew that."
When he could, he breathed, "You don't mind, then?"
"Of course not. You cannot have thought I would."
"Never know about women. Take some odd notions... ah! Do that once more, will you, love?"
"Only once more? I was thinking perhaps you'd like to savage me again. Just a little."
"Very possibly. Almost... almost certainly, in fact. Insatiable wench." His own hands drifted to pull at the ties on her shirt. "'Twas the part about the nuns, wasn't it?"