"God, Jan," Superboy gasped, drawing in a shaky, reverent breath. "That's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen..."
Jan Arrah, Element Lad, smiled. "You're the sculptor, my friend," he said, "not I."
Clark Kent shook his head, absently tracing the line of one alabaster cheek on the transformed bust before him. "Before you touched it," he breathed, "it was just a piece of clay. Now look at it."
It was Jan's turn to shake his head, then. "Just a piece of clay?" His voice denied it. "No, never that. When you fashioned this with your hands, the love you used to craft it transformed it long before I touched it with my power. I merely brought the beauty you released to the surface, that's all."
The 20th century youth regarded his teammate in the 30th century Legion of Super-Heroes with dawning awe. Element Lad was so quiet, so unassuming, that it was easy to forget the vast power he wielded. With a thought, the elements themselves were his to command; his to transform as he had transformed the bust of Martha Kent sitting now on the table of Jan's quarters in Legion HQ.
"Jan, as many times as I've seen you use your power, I don't think I'll ever get used to it. What's it made of, now, anyway?" Superboy inquired.
The last survivor of the planet Trom stroked the bust's silver colored hair. "Her hair is made of real silver, now," he said, "and the eyes are star sapphires," he informed the friend with whom he shared so much loss in common. They had, after all, both lost the worlds of their birth, hadn't they? His long, elegant fingers caressed the coral lips. "But that smile, the twinkle in those eyes is made of purest sunshine," smiled Element Lad. "And your skill and love. She must be a remarkable woman, your mother."
The brightness of Clark's smile threatened to eclipse the sun. "She's someone to know, all right," he agreed.
Jan's returning smile was wistful. He missed his own parents, terribly, long dead now at the hands of Roxxas, The Butcher, along with the rest of his world. Almost as if reading his mind, Superboy touched his shoulder lightly in comfort.
"You'd like Ma," he informed his Legion teammate, softly. "And she'd like you, too. I know she would. She'd spoil you rotten with home-made chicken soup and hot, gooey chocolate chip cookies." He regarded his friend's slender frame with a critical eye and grinned. "She'd put some meat on those bones of yours!" he declared.
"Well, in that case," Jan chuckled, "then, I'm glad I was able to help you with this Christmas gift for her," he affirmed.
"Jesus, Jan, it's gorgeous. I wanted this present to be really special for her this year and you've certainly made it that."
"No," Jan corrected, "you did that."
Jan looked pensive for a moment, unsure if he should speak. But his curiosity got the better of him, in the end. "Clark? May I ask you a question?"
"Sure," the Last Son of Krypton assured his friend of his assent with a nod of his dark head.
"Jesus? I've heard that name a lot of late. You just swore by his name." The Trommite youth frowned. "But I'm afraid I don't know him. Who is this 'Jesus' you speak of?"
Superboy was stunned. His friend was an alien for all his human heritage, he reminded himself firmly. Born on another planet, birthed by a brighter, harsher star than the kindly sun of Earth. He had his own spirituality, his own beliefs. And Jan Arrah was deeply spiritual, he knew. How to answer a question like that, he wondered? Running his fingers nervously through his hair, he plunged in.
"Jesus was a teacher," he began. "A great teacher. In fact, the title they gave him, Rabbi, means 'teacher'. He taught us to cherish one another, to love and help one another because we're all God's Children. In the end, that's what his message was all about. Love."
"That's a good message," Jan averred. "I think I like this Jesus."
"Some people believe he was the Son of God," Clark said.
Jan lifted one elegant eyebrow in cautious inquiry. "Do you believe he was the Son of God?"
Clark hesitated. He had no desire to belittle or denigrate, however inadvertently, Jan's beliefs. How to best say this?
'Speak from your heart, son. Speak from your heart,' he could almost hear the soft, but firm voice of Jonathan Kent admonish him.
'Yes, Pa,' he smiled. 'I'll do that.'
Clark nodded, slowly. "Yes, Jan, I do believe that. But God takes many different forms, I think. He takes the form in which His Children will best understand him. Doesn't that make sense? I've seen a lot in my travels, but He's always been there. To the ancient Kryptonians he was Rao, and they set him blazing in the sky like the red sun of Krypton itself. To the long vanished Martians, he was H'ronnomir and they sought him in the endless red sand deserts of their dying world. To the mer-folk of Atlantis he was Father Poseidon, who surrounded them, sustained them, in the waters they breathed. Even here on Earth he took many different guises. To the ancient Hebrews he had no form and they were forbidden to give him one, to depict him. He was everywhere and everything at once. Vast, unknowable. They called him El Shaddai and heard his voice in the high places, the deserts of their wandering. When the great prophet Moses asked him his name he replied, 'I AM THAT I AM.' This is the Season we celebrate His birth. That's what Christmas is all about." Embarrassed at such loquacity, Clark smiled nervously and gazed out the bay window of Jan's apartment.
"Look, Jan!" he cried in delight, pointing at the sight. "It's snowing!"
Puzzled, Jan Arrah regarded the fat moist flakes falling from the pale, frosty sky. "Weather Control must be into some serious downtime," he opined.
Clark's smile broadened itself as if by magic. He shook his head and the unruly curl resting on his forehead bounced and danced merrily in reply. "I don't think so," he grinned. "It's supposed to snow on Christmas!" Softly, under his breath, Superboy began to hum "Winter Wonderland".
Fascinated, Element Lad paced to the window and, with a wave of his hand, deactivated the forcefield there. A breath of invigorating air stirred its way in and Superboy watched Jan inhale deeply the crisp, fresh scent of new fallen snow. With an eager hand the transmuter reached out and collected a handful of tumbling snowflakes and stared at them as they melted in his hand.
Astonished, he looked up at his super-powered guest with wide crystal blue eyes brimming with wonder.
"They - they're all different!" he cried. "No two of them are alike! Beautiful...so beautiful..."
Sobered, Superboy peered at his friend in awe. "Who was God to your people, Jan?" he asked.
"To us, God is Change," Jan spoke softly. "The only Universal constant. Everything changes. Or it withers and dies. May I paraphrase your own words to try and explain?" Superboy nodded his assent.
"He gave my people a wondrous gift so that we might know him better. I see him in the simplicity of a hydrogen atom, in the whirling complexity of Flight Metal, element 152, that gives us Legionnaires the power of flight with our Flight Rings. When I use my gift to Change a thing into something else, I am doing his will. To Change one element into another, I must first understand them both; his way of showing me himself and his Universe."
Clark touched the bust of Martha Kent once more. "You certainly changed this" he said with a smile. Clark was always smiling, it seemed. He studied his crimson boots for a moment in embarrassment. "I brought you a gift," he told the other young hero. "It's traditional to give gifts for Christmas." Shyly he looked up uncertainly and proffered a small gay, festively wrapped box. Element Lad accepted the box, his eyes widening in surprise.
"I didn't know," he mourned, "I didn't know. I - I'm sorry, I didn't get anything for you." His voice was so sad that Superboy couldn't help but be touched.
"That's okay," he reassured the slender Trommite. "Christmas is about giving, not receiving." Jan Arrah smiled and Clark couldn't help but echo him. "Go ahead!" Superboy urged, "Open it already!" He was anxious to see if he had pleased Jan with his gift.
Carefully, oh so very carefully, the 30th century hero removed the bright paper, folding it neatly into a small square to be preserved and enjoyed again and again, later. He was fond of doing that. When the gift stood revealed to his eyes at last, he gasped.
"Oh!" he exclaimed softly at his first sight of the gleaming, whirling mobile light sculpture he held joyously in his long fingered hand. He had earlier spoken of the simplicity of a hydrogen atom, the foundation building block of the Universe itself, and here it was, wrought in pale blue and bright, actinic scarlet light. Around the nucleus of its single proton, the sole electron sped, whirling in its feverish electron cloud, in all its simple glory.
"Clark, it's magnificent," Jan breathed, staring, entranced by the flow, the steady movement of the small sculpture.
Clark seemed to breath a sigh of almost audible relief. His embarrassed, shuffling feet stilled themselves. "I thought you might like it," he admitted, his eyes twinkling like twin stars in his joy. "Once Imra showed me how to use the light sculpting tools, I did my best. Saturn Girl is good with artistic things. I'm glad you like it." Shuffling uncertain feet, Superboy suggested wistfully, "Maybe your touch can turn it into something really beautiful."
Placing the sculpture on his mantle with careful hands, Element Lad sought Superboy's blue eyes.
"No," he said, "it's perfect just the way that it is." Clark beamed.
Still mesmerized, Jan could only nod, lost in the beauty of this simple thing. It was always the simplest things that were the most beautiful.
"I have to go," apologized Superboy, "or else I'll be late for the Kent family Christmas Eve tree trimming." He grinned. "Ma always lets me put the angel on top of the tree." For a moment, he rose a foot or so into the air with a wide grin. Landing, he hugged the slighter youth in a quick embrace.
"Merry Christmas, Jan!" he whispered.