To Hear the Angels Sing
by Sarah B.

It was past eleven o'clock on Christmas Eve, on a warm and starlit night off the coast of Gibraltar, when Horatio Hornblower stopped pacing on the deck of the H.M.S. Indefatigable and decided it was time to go to bed.

He had nothing else to do; well, nothing that wouldn't make him uncomfortable. Down in the lieutenant's wardroom, beneath the sturdy planks that Horatio now walked, he knew that most of the officers were sitting around the tables with warm mugs of punch and grog, smoking and reminiscing on Christmases past. Horatio did not care to do that, so he had excused himself some time ago and come up to the deck, to pace and surrender himself to his thoughts.

They were not pleasant ones.

No one in the wardroom understood. They didn't know why Horatio had remained silent while they swapped stories of family and home, of treasured times spent in the company of loved ones. They seemed mystified when his response to their inquiries was a simple shrug and an awkward smile. It was almost as if there was something wrong with not enjoying Christmas.

Oh, he could have shared stories, but Mr. Bracegirdle and Bowles, and the other men gathered around, wouldn't have wanted to hear them. Where would I begin, Horatio thought somewhat sarcastically as his eyes fell to the candelit houses on the shore. Would I tell them about the Christmases I do remember, vaguely, before my mother died? About the scent of pine and candles, the lovely voice she had, the warm glowing moments that seemed tinted with gold dust and velvet? Or perhaps I should begin after she died, when the house went dark and my father withdrew, when Christmas became just another day and all singing became as cacophonous noise to me...

No, he thought, they would not wish to hear any of that. But that was how he felt.

And no one understood. Although, to be honest, Captain Pellew seemed to respect his wishes, and did not press him at dinner when he noticed Horatio's silent brooding. The other people at the table were in a lively enough mood, and except to wish Horatio a happy Christmas Pellew left him alone, indeed steered others away when the occasional joshing comment was made about Horatio's recalcitrance. Thank goodness for that, Horatio sighed, and stared up at the stars. Captain Pellew was looking out for him, as always.

But it was inevitable that the dinner would end, the party break up. Dr. Sebastian, the Indefatigable's new surgeon, left to check into the sickbay, then help the chaplain with preparations for the Christmas service. Captain Pellew retired to write letters home to his wife and family. And Horatio was left alone.

The wind blew off of Gibraltar's coast, warm and inviting. Horatio glanced at the shore again,and resumed his pacing. If things had gone his way, by this time he and Archie would have been sharing a rum in some corner of the wardroom, or perhaps in Horatio's cabin, far away from the cheerful reminders of other peoples' happy Christmases. Of everyone on board, Archie understood Horatio's gloominess, and it was only with Archie that Horatio felt comfortable enough to sit, just sit, with a glass or a tankard. They had passed other evenings like that; while all about them others were making merry, Horatio would take a flask of rum to Archie's cabin and the two would just sit, sometimes in silence, but sometimes in quiet conversation. Archie was the one person on the ship with whom Horatio knew he could have passed this evening comfortably; Archie would not attempt to dislodge him from a melancholy mood when he was feeling melancholy himself.

Because Archie's Christmases had not been that joyous either.

Archie didn't talk about it much; he didn't need to. Horatio was well aware of how his most recent Christmases must have been, trapped on the Justinian with the shadow of Jack Simpson looming over him, even in his dreams. Before that, though, Horatio had asked Archie once, what were Christmases like when you were young, still at home? He was thinking of his own childhood of course, of the joy in the house when his mother was alive.

Archie's reply was soft and wistful Long ago, when he was very young and his mother was alive, it was as if nothing could harm him in the world, he said, especially at Christmas. His brothers would go off and leave him alone, but it didn't matter because his mother would see his loneliness and wrap him in her arms, and he felt safe and protected and loved. But after she died.... Archie trailed off with a sad shrug and a shake of his blond head. He didn't want to talk about it.

And yet, despite his unhappy past, Archie was still determined to celebrate Christmas. Horatio pondered this as he came to the end of the deck and turned around to pace the other way. In fact, Archie had suggested that they attend the Christmas service, at least to make Dr. Sebastian happy. Horatio had to smile at that; it was such a relief to Archie to have a surgeon on board who wasn't cold or rude, who didn't think fits made one weak or terrible scars made one less of a man, that Horatio was certain that Archie would have performed somersaults to make Dr. Sebastian happy. However, attending the Christmas service would have been enough, and Horatio had almost agreed to it despite reminding Archie of the discomfort music caused him due to his tone-deafness. He had almost regretted mentioning it, when he saw how Archie's face had fallen in dismay and disappointment. Then Archie had rallied and said, come anyway, Horatio. Perhaps it will cheer us both up. And Horatio had just about decided to go.

Then that afternoon Archie had gotten sick, and that changed everything.

Horatio hoped it wasn't anything serious - Archie insisted it was just a sore throat, but because he also had a fever Dr. Sebastian confined him to the sick bay, to stave off a possible epidemic. Horatio had gone to see Archie after dinner, but since he was asleep it was an extremely short visit, and an unhappy one as well. To see anyone sick made Horatio feel frustrated and helpless, but when it was his closest friend lying in a sickbay cot, his face damp with sweat and pinched with pain, it made Horatio particularly unsettled. But Dr. Sebastian assured him that he would do all he could, and that likely Archie would be fine in a few days. Attending the Christmas service that night, however, was definitely out. After some inner debating Horatio decided to forego the service as well, and instead went to the wardroom. Then up to the deck to pace.

And now - at last - Horatio was weary of pacing, and decided it was time to go to bed.

The unfairness of the world weighed heavily on Horatio's shoulders as he made his slow way to his cabin. It was bad enough that the season afforded him no joy, when it made others practically giddy; it was bad enough that England was at war, and he was forced to spend Christmas away from his father, who while distant, did not deserve to be alone; but besides all of that, the one person Horatio knew who needed happiness, who needed the kind of peace and rest that Horatio was unwilling or unable to accept, was lying ill in a sickbay hammock and would miss even the sharing of rum in Horatio's cabin. It was too much to bear.

With a deep sigh, Horatio plodded down to his cabin and opened the door, half-asleep already with the sodden mantle of depression. As soon as he turned up the lantern, however, something lying on the neat covers of his bunk caught Horatio's eye and, frowning, he leaned over and picked it up.

It was a slip of paper, Archie's handwriting. Your gift is by the Ensign, it said.

Horatio grew puzzled. Gift? By the ensign... well, all right. If it would cheer Archie up, Horatio decided to play the game. He turned the lantern back down and made his way to the topdeck.

The ensign,the grand flag of England, was flapping in the soft Spanish breeze just as Horatio knew it would be. But as he neared the pole, Horatio saw to his aggravation that there was nothing there but another slip of paper, jammed into the bottom of the flagpole. Taking it out, he opened it and read,

Sorry, I'm mistaken. Your gift is over by the wheel.

All right then, Horatio thought, getting a little more puzzled with each passing second. He turned about and headed for the wheel, which stood unattended as they rode at anchor.

A little searching found not a gift but yet another note. Has this taken your mind off the melancholy? This note asked, Then you've only one more journey to make. Your gift is really up at the mainmast fighting top.

The fighting top! Horatio looked skyward, to where the platform halfway up the main mast sat. Damn it, Archie knew he didn't like heights...why did he put his gift on the fighting top?

Growling inwardly, Horatio tucked the note into his pocket and, swearing revenge on Archie once he got better, climbed the rough ratlines to the fighting top.

The climb did not seem nearly as long as it had when he was a midshipman, and after only a little huffing and puffing Horatio found himself on the metal platform that marked the halfway point between the deck and the top of the tallest mast on the ship.

For a moment Horatio forgot about the promised gift and took in the view. Since they were at anchor, the sails were furled, and the unobstructed view was magnificent. Below him, and some distance away, Horatio could still see Gibraltar, the town's lights twinkling serenely across the black waters of the harbor. It was the same town as it had been when viewed from the deck, but Horatio could see more of it, could see how all of the homes were lit with candles and torches, how the churches were glowing and inviting. As if in answer, the endless web of stars sparkled overhead, and Horatio tilted his head to gaze at their sheer number and the vastness of their reach. Down on deck they were grand enough; here he seemed to be among them, and it stirred his unpoetic soul out of its sadness to wonder at their heroic simplicity.

Then he thought, it's Christmas Eve. And looked for one particular star. A moment later, he found it.

His mother's star.

The wind grazed his cheek again, soft and wistful, and Horatio leaned his back against the mast and looked at the tiny beacon, now so close he felt he could reach out and touch it. It was the star his mother had shown him before she died, and told him whenever he needed to feel her near, he had only to look for that heavenly reassurance and know that she was close, and watching him.

Horatio's sight was blurred by sudden tears, and he looked away from the star in sudden, ferocious anger. It was Christmas, and his mother wasn't there, would never be there again. The rawness of his pain made him gasp - he wasn't prepared to miss his mother so much, all in an instant. But there it was, as undeniable as every other unfair thing he'd been dwelling on, the sorrow as real as if she'd died yesterday. His practical scholar's mind fell away as if it were made of paper, leaving only the aching knowledge that he missed his mother, and what Christmas had been when she was alive and he could hear angels singing. It was that real, that foolish, and that agonizing. And Horatio had never thought about it before.

One of the men called to another below, and Horatio came back to himself and wiped his eyes. A moment to compose himself, and then - oh - Archie's present -

Before Horatio had even completed that thought, he happened to glance down and see that someone was climbing the rigging toward him. He was even more surprised when the figure came closer, and he recognized who it was.

"Dr. Sebastian," Horatio breathed, for it was indeed the tall half-Spaniard who was now near to his perch, and came up through the lubber's hole with a gentle smile on his long face.

"Ah, you are here, lieutenant," the doctor said in his deep tones, easing his tall frame through the small hole much as Horatio had done some time earlier. "Good, it was my last hope."

"Sir?" Horatio asked, confused and hoping his eyes did not look red. He couldn't think of a way of wiping at them without Dr. Sebastian noticing; the man was very observant. "Do you need me? Is something - "

"Everything is fine, lieutenant, Mr. Kennedy is resting comfortably," Dr. Sebastian replied as he crouched with a grunt on the metal platform, using one hand to steady himself on the ropes. Looking at Horatio with his sharp black eyes he continued, "I am afraid I have come to offer you an apology, however, on his behalf."

"On Archie's behalf?" Horatio's eyebrows went up. "What for?"

"Well," Dr. Sebastian looked down with curious eyes, his long gray hair flowing around his face as he spoke, "It seems that Mr. Kennedy was very keen on my finding you as soon as possible, to prevent your following the notes he left for you. My apology is that apparently I failed in that mission."

Now Horatio was extremely confused. "He didn't want me to follow the notes?"

"Do you mind if I sit for a moment?" Dr. Sebastian asked as he stretched out his long legs on the platform, "It was a long climb up here, and I must gather my strength to climb back down without becoming a casualty."

Horatio shook his head, his grief giving way to aggravating puzzlement.

"The notes," Dr. Sebastian said with a sigh as he gazed at Gibraltar's shore, "You see, Mr. Kennedy's intention was to meet you up here with a bottle and his good company, to witness the Christmas services on shore."

Horatio nodded. "Oh - "

"Of course," Dr. Sebastian frowned, "That was before he fell ill, and in his fever forgot that he had already baited your path. He only awoke a few minutes ago, and remembered them."

"And sent you to keep me from..." Horatio looked down at the ratlines, and made a face.

"Um, yes," Dr. Sebastian scratched his neck and smiled a little, "I believe his exact words were, 'Oh my God, Horatio will murder me if he climbs those ropes and nothing's there.'"

Horatio returned the smile, then asked, "Then is he feeling better?"

"Not quite yet, I'm afraid," Dr. Sebastian reached into his jacket and pulled out a thin black cigar and some flint, "But he will, with rest. Don't worry."

Horatio sighed, felt his melancholy weigh once again upon him.

"My, this is quite a view, from up here," Dr. Sebastian squinted at the distant shore. "I believe I've been to that church."

"Indeed, sir," Horatio said, just to be polite. He was beginning to feel very tired.

"Yes," Dr. Sebastian leaned back against the mast and struck the flint to light the cigar. "It's beautiful on the inside, but you can't tell from here." There was a sharp crack as the flint sparked, and the tip of the cigar flamed.

Horatio watched in silence as Dr. Sebastian took a few puffs on the cigar, then blew a thin line of blue smoke into the night air. Then he turned to Horatio and asked, "Lieutenant, do you mind if I ask if something is bothering you?"

Surprised, Horatio stammered, "Me, sir?"

Dr. Sebastian nodded, squinting again through the smoke, "Mr. Kennedy was very keen on me making sure you were all right. We had a conversation after he awakened, while I was making some tea for his throat."

Knowing Archie would never divulge his secrets, Horatio shrugged and said quietly, "Mr. Kennedy knows that I...we share a similar..." Finally he stopped and said in a louder tone, "I'm sorry, doctor, I know you hold this season sacred, but to myself it brings only unhappy memories, and I seek to avoid it."

Dr. Sebastian nodded. "And Mr. Kennedy feels the same. I understand; it's honorable that you both wish to carry each other."

"Yes, sir," Horatio answered in frustration, "Only you see the result, him alone in sick bay and me alone here. If you'll pardon my saying so, if there is an Almighty this is a very bad joke."

"Oh, I don't mind," Dr. Sebastian replied with a smile, "He's played some very cruel ones on me as well!" He took another long drag on the cigar and studied Horatio closely. "You consider yourself alone, lieutenant?"

Horatio couldn't help glaring at him. "Sir, if you'll forgive me, I'm in no mood for religious debates - "

"Nor am I!" Dr. Sebastian laughed and stretched his legs out again. "Believe me, lieutenant, I have no arguments that would batter down that thick wall of logic that I can see surrounds you. And after that climb, I don't have the strength either."

Fine then, Horatio thought, and stared at the lights on the shore.

Dr. Sebastian took another pull on the cigar and said softly, "No, the reason I asked concerns Mr. Kennedy. You see, we talked about his mother, about Christmases when he was a young boy. Did he ever tell you of those times, lieutenant?"

Horatio remembered, nodded. "Some."

Dr. Sebastian leaned forward and crossed his legs. "And he told me about you, that you lost your mother when you were young as he did. You do not mind that I know this, I hope?"

Horatio shrugged. "It's common knowledge."

Another drag on the cigar, the red tip glowing in the warm darkness. "Memories are powerful things, you know. Mr. Kennedy told me he wanted to bring you up here in the hopes that seeing the lights, the stars, and hearing the choirs sing when it strikes midnight would remind you of your mother, and that you are not alone."

Horatio managed an awkward smile. "Mr. Kennedy forgot that I am tone-deaf, but I appreciate his trying nonetheless."

"Ah, but there it is, you see," Dr. Sebastian said as he leaned back and waved his expressive hands, "He is trying. And your Captain Pellew, he is concerned for you also, he told me so after services tonight. They do not want you to be alone, lieutenant, they pray for you, I thought you should know that if it does not make you too uncomfortable. He did not tell me as much, but I believe that was to be Mr. Kennedy's Christmas gift to you. To guide you back to your happiest memories, and to let you know that you are not alone."

Horatio's eyes went to the star that still shone overhead, so far away. "I know." But he didn't; not really.

Dr. Sebastian paused and took a long drag on the cigar, his black eyes gazing at the glowing shore in front of them. After a moment he blew another thin veil of smoke into the air and said softly, "It is usual, when one receives so generous a gift, that a gift is given in return."

Horatio frowned and gave Dr. Sebastian a searching look.

The doctor answered that look with a solemn smile. "Your friend wishes you a release from your solitude, lieutenant, indeed made me climb halfway up the ship to give it to you. What would you wish Mr. Kennedy in return, that I may take back with me to the sick bay this night and give it to him?"

Horatio paused, turned his eyes once again to that singular star, and thought. A gift for Archie? A thousand thoughts filled his mind, books he knew Archie liked, new clothes, other things, but they were all trinkets, useless really. Archie didn't really need any of those things. What he really needed was...

Horatio sighed and let his gaze wander to the shore, to the churches that were now filling with parishioners eager to celebrate Christmas. Peace. That was what Archie needed, just one night of complete peace, no horrible memories, no fearful half-sleep that was too easily jarred to waking. Perhaps a kind dream, where he could return just for a night to the arms of his mother, to feel safe and loved and protected. Those reassurances seemed to be denied to Horatio, but he didn't really need it. Not really. But Archie did.

Yes, Horatio decided, if it were his to give, he would give his friend one night's blissful peace. He did not say this to Dr. Sebastian, however; he was not sure the doctor would understand, and he didn't feel like explaining. And in any case, it was a gift that was beyond his ability to give. So Horatio cast about for something else to say.

Strangely enough, however, Dr. Sebastian didn't press him for an answer. With a loud sigh he stood up into a crouch and put the cigar between his teeth. "Well, you'll excuse me, lieutenant, but I fear that Mr. Kennedy will not go back to his rest until I've returned with your good wishes." He dug his pocket watch out and looked at it, "Well, we've a few moments to go, but I've never been one to mind tradition. A happy Christmas to you, Mr. Hornblower."

"And to you, sir," Horatio said hastily, for Dr. Sebastian was already halfway through the lubber's hole. "And please give Mr. Kennedy the same for me. Tell me his gift was very much appreciated."

Dr. Sebastian smiled. "I will, lieutenant. Good night."

And he was back down the ratlines and gone.

Horatio lingered on the fighting top a few moments longer, half-afraid that he would once again be overwhelmed by those feelings of loss and loneliness that this time of year seemed to accentuate so sharply. Archie was a good friend, Pellew was a fine captain, but all the prayers in the world would not bring his mother back, and somewhere deep inside himself where he was still ten years old, that's what Horatio wanted. And he knew he would never get it.

Time to get to bed. With a heavy grunt, Horatio hoisted himself to his feet, wincing as his cramped legs told him how long he'd been sitting there. As he stretched, Horatio spied one last piece of paper, stuck in between the platform and the mast. Horatio smiled and shook his head. Leaning carefully forward, he plucked the note out of its home and opened it.

It read, simply: Happy Christmas, Horatio. A.

And the bells began to ring.

Horatio started a little; but it was midnight, it had to be. Christmas Day, and the bells were ringing. Of course. The bells - the -

Wait a minute - Horatio turned around and looked at the church. The bells...they were playing a melody....

Adeste Fideles, Laeti triumphantes -

The notes. He could make out the notes.

No - Horatio shook his head, that was impossible. He had been tone-deaf for ages, ever since -

Natum videte, regem angelorum -

Horatio's eyes grew wide with astonishment. He could make out the notes. Every note, it wasn't noise to him but glorious, flowing melody, but that couldn't be, but it was. He grasped the mast in shock, listening with his breath held as the music floated over the harbor, the sweet strains so long dormant in his memory springing to life again as if heard only yesterday -

But it couldn't be. It couldn't be -

As he strained to listen, Horatio heard something else, mingling with the bells in a crystalline harmony, sounds at once so foreign and familiar that it made his heart stop to hear them. The people inside the church were singing, a song he knew, a song his mother sang, and he had not heard it since she died.

Ergo qui natus,Die hodierna 
Jesu, tibi sit gloria
Patris aeterni ,Verbum caro factus 
Venite adoremus 
Venite adoremus 
Venite adoremus 

Horatio was unsure how long he stood there, between his ship and the stars, listening to the rapturous music and feeling his heart overflow to bursting with the beauty of it. Part of his mind cast about frantically for some explanation, the sea wind, the air, perhaps he was catching Archie's fever...but that was only one small part of his mind. The rest was weeping with joy at hearing those wonderful sounds again, at feeling his mother's hand on his cheek, her arms around him, even if it was just for one night. Even if it was just for one moment, how warm and welcoming it felt! He had no idea how he had longed for it, until he had heard that beautiful music...

Cantet nunc io,Chorus angelorum 
Cantet nunc aula caelestium 
Gloria, gloria, In excelsis Deo 
Venite adoremus 
Venite adoremus 
Venite adoremus 

Horatio knew he was crying; he couldn't help it. He had forgotten how beautiful it was. It was like coming home again, and being loved forever -

"He did not tell me as much, but I believe that was to be Mr. Kennedy's Christmas gift to you. To guide you back to your happiest memories, and to let you know that you are not alone."

The words came unbidden, drifted over the music almost, and Horatio gasped as he remembered what Dr. Sebastian had said. It seemed absurd - it didn't make sense - and Horatio was not sure he completely believed it -

But the music - the music -

The gift had been given after all. And it filled Horatio's heart until he was sure it would burst with joy.

Another carol began, a Spanish one, and as Horatio closed his eyes and drunk in those glorious long-forgotten melodies he heard entwined in them words, Dr. Sebastian's words -

What would you wish Mr. Kennedy in return, that I may take back with me to the sick bay this night and give it to him?

Horatio opened his eyes with a start, his mind still captivated by the wondrous music but suddenly aware of a new and urgent thought. He had not answered that question except in his heart - and if this miracle could be worked, why then...

With trembling hands Horatio quickly descended the ratlines, not caring that his eyes were wild with amazement and his face was streaked with tears. As soon as he touched the deck, he almost ran to the sick bay, desperate to know. Desperate to see for himself.

The sick bay was quiet, dark with the softness peculiar to special nights. Horatio saw a dim glow in the corner, and stilled his pounding heart enough to walk in slowly. There was Dr. Sebastian, reading by the light of a single lantern set by the hammock where Archie was sleeping. Horatio came forward quietly, until he came into the glow of the lantern's light.

And Horatio saw Archie's face, and began to weep again.

The lines of pain and flush of fever were gone, replaced by a peace so complete and profound that Horatio knew he was in the presence of something he could never understand. No mere pleasant dream could erase the torment from Archie's brow, but it was gone; no drugged slumber could soften those haggard features, replace that stolen innocence, ease that wounded soul, but those miracles were happening, and as he stared in awestruck amazement Horatio knew, knew , that at that moment his friend was resting safe and protected in his mother's arms, far away from the world, where no evil could ever touch him. To know such peace was what Archie really needed. And he was receiving it this night.

As Horatio stared, staggered by what he was witnessing, Dr. Sebastian looked up from his reading and met Horatio's gaze. Horatio opened his mouth, but of course he couldn't say anything, how could there be words for what he was feeling? He closed his mouth again and looked at the floor, too undone to even attempt composure.

Horatio heard the soft thump of a book being closed, and a moment later he felt Dr. Sebastian's hand on his shoulder.

"Mr. Kennedy's gift was to your liking then?" the doctor whispered, a smile in his voice.

Horatio shook his head and fumbled for some means of expression. He was so confused - "Sir, it was...extraordinary, it was..." He paused, then asked, "Sir, if I may ask your opinion, is it - is it possible when one has a - a deficiency, for that deficiency to - to vanish without cause or...or..." Horatio stopped, looked down at the floor, feeling very foolish.

But when Horatio gathered his courage and looked up again, the expression on Dr. Sebastian's face did not suggest that he thought Horatio a fool. Indeed, the doctor studied him very closely for a moment, half in wonderment and half in awe. Then he said quietly, "On this night, lieutenant, I believe anything is possible."

He indicated the book he was holding, and Horatio saw that it was a Bible.

Horatio felt his confusion mount and mingle with an unexplainable fear, of what he did not know except that it terrified him to be the recipient of a miracle from a God he wasn't even sure existed. The enormity of it was overwhelming, and Horatio found that he did not know what to do with the emotions he was feeling. So he simply shook his head and shrugged.

Dr. Sebastian smiled a little and glanced back to where Archie was sleeping and said, "For the believer, no explanation is needed. For the skeptic," He turned back to Horatio, his dark eyes shining in the low light, "No explanation is sufficient. I'm sorry I cannot answer your question scientifically, lieutenant, but for whatever it's worth I hope that the gifts you receive today bring you happiness and the profoundest of joys."

Horatio sighed and looked again at Archie, knew he could never find words to convey the gifts that had been contained in hearing music again, and seeing such calm in the face of his friend who had known such sorrows. Mustering an awkward smile he said feebly, "Thank you, Dr. Sebastian. A happy Christmas to you as well."

The doctor smiled and patted Horatio on the arm. "Come back again in the morning, I'm certain Mr. Kennedy will be most anxious to see another's face besides mine."

"Yes, sir," Horatio said softly as he backed away, "Good night."

Dr. Sebastian nodded his farewell and was on his way back to the chair when Horatio left the sick bay. Before he left, however, he chanced one more look behind him, at that small halo of light where Dr. Sebastian was but a dark silhouette, and Archie's sleeping face almost glowed with the inner serenity he so desperately needed. Then Horatio turned, and went back up on the deck.

The night air was still warm and soft, and as he walked to the railing Horatio found that he could still hear the glorious music from the church on the shore. It was grand and triumphant, wreathed in the wind and entwining all around the riggings and the masts of the grand ship he called home. Horatio looked up, thinking that he could almost see the melodies and harmonies twining around the masts like living things, to spin like a ribbon of gladness and beauty from the ship to the stars, and beyond them. And it seemed - of course, it didn't make sense, and Horatio knew that come the morrow his doubter's mind would attempt to dismiss the notion - it seemed that the shimmering ribbon of song and happiness was infinite until it reached his mother's star, where it found its home and came to rest.

Horatio smiled as he beheld that vision, and with a heart too full for expression gazed up with grateful eyes at the star that would always be there, to shine steadily and remind him of the friends he still had on earth, and the miracles that even the stoutest of sensible hearts could not in good conscience deny.

Happy Christmas, mother, he said, not to himself, he knew. Not tonight.

The star seemed to twinkle an answer. Horatio smiled to himself. Then he took ahold of the closest rigging and leaning against it closed his eyes, and with the kindly help of the rejoicing voices on the distant shore, surrendered to the miracle...

... and listened to the angels sing.

The end

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