Ghosts of Memory
by Luvvycat


A/N: Once again, it's the anniversary of my father's passing, so I submit this story in tribute to him. I think, once you read it, you'll know why. (And for those who read last year's tribute story "Godspeed" please be assured that this tale is much less dark and depressing than that one was!)

Again, many thanks to the Charming and Delightful GeekMama for the (almost literally) last-minute beta! She is the Queen of betas, and I bow down to her exceptional skill and matchless expertise! :-)

As ever, I own no part of PotC or its canonical characters. They're Disney's, Disney's, Disney's ... so there! ;-)

(And, Dad, wherever you are ... I love you, and always will! Though you never knew about my amateur writing endeavours, you still inspire me.)

-- Cat


Sometimes they came to her in the dead of night, while she lay, defenceless and vulnerable, in sleep ...

Faded ghosts of a lifetime past, miraculously restored to vibrant life in her dreams, long-forgotten moments playing out in random scenes, making her a helpless voyeur to her own memories …

Mother walks in her garden, her diaphanous white frock billowing with the slightest stirring of breeze, making a pale blur of her swollen figure so that, in the five-year-old's eyes, she becomes a cloud drifting across a field of green. A broad-brimmed straw sunbonnet—tethered by fluttering blue satin ribbons the exact colour of the summer sky above—crowns her head like a golden halo, giving her the appearance of a stained glass angel stepped out of a chapel window. The wicker basket she carries, handle looped at the crook of her elbow, is already overflowing with multi-hued roses, their scent lending a rich perfume to the clean sweetness of the recently rain-washed air …

Mama stretches one graceful arm out toward her, beckoning, smiling in delight.

"Elizabeth, darling … come, see here! A little brown sparrow! Isn't he lovely?"

A scarlet velvet petal flutters from the basket, drifts on a warm updraft, alights on the swell of Mother's increasing belly, where it sits like a dark bloodstain seeping through the snow-white fabric …

The scene changes …

Father lounges on the terrace in the moonlight, wrapped in his most comfortable old, tatty dressing gown, his itchy, smelly periwig mercifully banished to its wig-stand for the night. She is cradled sleepily to his chest, and the comforting sound of his heart thrumming under her ear and the familiar Fatherly smells of pipe tobacco and after-dinner brandy surround and soothe her. He smiles calmly down at her as she, inquisitive chit that she is, pelts him with question after question. They turn their faces up to the star-dotted English skies, as he patiently explains to her once again why the moon doesn't fall out of the heavens, where the sun goes at night, why the grass is green and not blue …

… and, his voice growing gentle and sad, why, sometimes, beloved mothers and unborn baby brothers have to die.

And changes once more …

She feels Father's hand, warm in hers, giving a reassuring squeeze as they board the Dauntless.

"On to Jamaica, my dear … a beautiful island, I am told ... a veritable paradise. Just think of it, Elizabeth … a new world, and a new life … waiting for us, far across the waves …"

"Are there pirates in Jamaica, Father? Will we see any on the way?"

He rolls his eyes and sighs, but his gaze is filled with fond affection as he looks down at her and answers. "No, Elizabeth … the Dauntless is one of the finest, most powerful ships in His Majesty's fleet. No self-respecting pirate would dare to plough the same waters as she, let alone be foolish enough to come within range of her mighty cannons …"

And again …

Her father, gazing up at her from a small boat, the lantern on the seat in front of him limning his face with sallow light, casting gaunt shadows upon his time-worn features, hollowing his cheeks and sinking his eyes into dark pits, as though the death-mask image of a skull has been overlaid upon his own visage.

"I'm so proud of you, Elizabeth…"

Her heart breaks as he refuses to take the lifeline; she watches with desperate eyes as his boat slips past the Pearl, and on toward Eternity …

His final words drift back to her as he half turns, his familiar, beloved profile cast suddenly into sharp relief against the eerie, pearly grey backdrop of rising sea-mist …

"I'll give your love to your mother, shall I?"

And she would waken, with the lingering phantom scent of roses and brandy in her nose, the warm wetness of summer rain upon her face …

For the space of a few breaths, she would lie there, seeping eyes closed as her befogged mind let herself believe the illusion … her mother, her father, both still alive … wrapping her in their loving arms …

But as awareness sank its bloody talons deeper into her, and reality eclipsed dream, she'd be left only with smokedrift wisps of lovely half-remembered memories …

And a vast aching in her heart.

With cruel irony, memories that should have been sweet and nostalgic—a source of comfort to her—soured with wakefulness, evoking fresher, more painful memories as she was reminded of all she had recently lost. As though a door had been opened, to admit a veritable parade of ghosts, spectres of people—both those whom she had held dear, and those with whom she'd only had passing acquaintance. Those whose lives had touched hers, then passed on to lands where she could not follow but, at times like this—in the dark of night, feeling lost and alone and in the throes of deepest, darkest despair, longing for the comforting haven of her father's arms, knowing she'll never feel them again—desperately wished she could go.

No matter how quietly she wept upon awakening from these dreams-turned-suddenly-to-waking-nightmares, burying her face in the brocaded pillow to stifle her sobs, he always heard and, as though in answer to her grieving wish, his voice would sound, soft and low, in her ear, "C'mere, love…" and she would suddenly find herself enclosed in strong, loving arms, but ones deeply tanned and adorned with ink, scars and brand … then pulled to a chest that rumbled with sleep-roughened words of concern and consolation against the counterpoint rhythm of his heart, bronzed skin not redolent of tobacco and brandy, but of sweat and rum.

She would cling to him as the grief inside her eddied and whirled and threatened to pull her under, her fingers finding anchor in the scarred and painted flesh of his back, warm and blessedly real under her trembling hands. Not a dream. Not a ghost. Not some ephemeral illusion, to vanish like mist in the light of day …

Jack.

Her saviour. Her guiding star.

Her lover …

Fighting to free herself from the imagined clutch of ghostly fingers, embraces would lead to kisses, and kisses to tentative touches, and tentative touches to more intimate explorations as Elizabeth silently, desperately summoned Jack's help to fend off the lingering pall of death and loss conjured by her dreams, and to bring her back to life…

To her relief, Jack always seemed to know exactly what to do to cast out the haunts of her past, exorcise her demons of doubt, desolation and despair, calling on the time-honoured ways of the pagans of old: with the intrinsic magick of their bodies, and the purifying elements of salt and water, incense and oil …

The taste of water and salt combined under her mouth, as they tongued the glistening sweat from each other's bodies, drinking it in like a healing elixir, or a senses-firing love potion …

The mingled scents of rum and hot candlewax, musk and spice, aged timbers and the ageless sea, permeating the cabin's air like some intoxicating incense …

The feel of slick, practiced hands reverently sliding across her flushed skin, anointing all her most sensitive places with exotic oils from far-off lands, making her gasp with pleasure as sly thief's fingers cunningly stole her pain, taking what they could, but giving a bounty back …

The required mystical elements thus combined, the ritual would commence: a life-affirming rite as old as mankind, beginning with whispered fervent incantations of love and desire, the subtle sorcery of lips and hands weaving spells in the candlelit night, the flesh and spirit joining in a blissful fevered communion, until the vessel of her damaged soul emptied of the bitter gall and vinegar of sorrow, to be refilled to the brim with the sweet wine of pleasure, spilling over into joy...

And then she'd fly apart, the shards of consciousness which made up the whole of Elizabeth Swann breaking free, rising into the sky like stardust, where the crescent moon shone down upon silver-peaked seas like her mother's gentle smile, the planets glowed like the merry lights that had danced in her father's crinkled, loving eyes, and the stars twinkled like the bright trinkets in a pirate's tangled hair …

When those motes settled, reintegrated into the complete, fulfilled woman ensconced in Jack Sparrow's arms and his bed, the dark spectres of the recent past had been banished, at least for the moment, her body pulsing with renewed life, reaffirmed love, and the exhilaration of simply being alive.

Smiling in sated satisfaction, wrapped safely in the sheltering circle of her lover's embrace—reminded once more of the countless delights that rendered the myriad pains of existence bearable, and precious life worth living—she would give herself over to deep and blessedly dreamless sleep …

At peace …

Free from ghosts …

Freed by love …