Lois Lane woke early one morning, momentarily disoriented by her surroundings. Above her was an expanse of faintly glimmering white, cold and cheerless. She was warm and comfortable in a familiar bed, but nothing else seemed familiar. The walls were more sleek translucent white material that looked otherworldly beside her simple wardrobe and nightstand.
As always, it took a few moments for her to remember. Somehow her mind kept rejecting this reality, leaving her to experience the shock and loss anew every morning. She wasn't on Earth anymore; she had been taken to a planet called Krypton. Lois was one of a hundred humans currently kept here to secure the cooperation of their families back home, all influential politicians or military leaders.
Still, she was lucky enough to be the 'guest' of the House of El. Kal-El tried to make her comfortable and happy; the Earth-style bed and furnishings were his idea. No other political prisoner had anything like it; no other Kryptonian was as fascinated by Earth culture as Kal-El was. Lois never got the sense that he looked down on her the way the rest of his people did. She could stand his incessant questions and intense curiosity in return for being treated as an equal.
Sometimes, though, he could be a little much. Like this morning, when he was standing at her door the instant she opened it. Lois managed not to flinch, arching an eyebrow at him questioningly. "Good morning," he said. His English was excellent, just a little formal.
"Good morning. What's up?" The first time she'd asked that, he had actually looked up, inducing a conversation about idioms.
Kal-El grinned broadly. Lois knew he was several years older, but sometimes his enthusiasm made him seem like a little brother. "It is the winter solstice – the Kryptonian solstice, true, but I thought it would be an appropriate time for your solstice celebrations."
"Solstice celebrations?" God, she really needed coffee to keep up with these first-thing-in-the-morning conundrums.
At her blank look, he seemed worried. "It is a major celebration across the nation from which you came. Surely you know? I … I had made preparations… I researched Yule traditions very thoroughly…"
It finally clicked. "Oh, you mean Christmas?"
Relief flooded his expression. "Yes! You certainly have many names for what is functionally the same celebration."
Christmas. I hadn't even thought of Christmas. I don't even know what month it is back home – it should still be fall. I can't have been here six months already, can I? Lois forced aside the nostalgia ruthlessly. "You set something up for Christmas? For me?"
"Yes. I have a gift for you." He was practically bouncing with excitement, his eyes bright, and Lois couldn't help grinning as she realized he was holding something behind his back. But what he handed her wasn't the sort of gift she expected. Lois received it gingerly, afraid the many spiky points of crystal were sharp enough to cut.
Unlike most of the crystal she'd seen, it sparkled with many colors, mainly white but with hints of green, red, gold, blue, silver, and orange. After examining it for a moment, Lois was still clueless as to what it was – unless it was meant to be purely decorative. "It's very pretty," she finally said.
That wasn't the answer he was looking for, apparently. "It is still in seed form. You have to water it. Come, decide where to place it."
After a few moments of indecision, she got the odd spiky crystal placed to Kal-El's satisfaction in a large metal basin set on the floor. He insisted that she pour the water over it from the carafe by the bedside. Bemused, Lois stood watching it, until he cleared his throat. "You will wish to step back…"
She did so, just before all the crystals dimmed in unison. That spooked her, and Kal-El was right beside her, soothing her. "Do not be afraid. It is merely a small electromagnetic pulse." Lois glanced at him speculatively, wondering how that was supposed to reassure her, but the lights came back up a moment later.
Before she could ask a question, a strange sound caught her attention. Something like a chime that slid up and down the scale, coming from the spiky crystal seed. As Lois watched, it began to grow, rising toward the ceiling. The spikes branched, and branched again, light gleaming on each crystal point. The base grew broader while the top stayed narrow, giving the structure a conical shape. The glints of color began to grow into spherical forms near the ends of the spikes, while the central structure remained white. At the top, a bit of silver became a five-pointed star shape.
Lois gasped as she realized what it was: a Christmas tree, complete with ornaments. She stared open-mouthed, amazed by the level of detail. Sure, it really should have been green, but he must've seen pictures of artificial trees. And it was for her, he'd made this for her.
"Do you like it?" he asked, a note of anxiety in his voice.
Lois blinked and looked at Kal-El. Her astonishment must have seemed like a lack of response to him. "I love it," she told him. "How … why… It's beautiful. Did you make this yourself?"
He looked down, almost shuffling his feet. "I have some small knowledge of the art of crystal sculpture. Is it a good likeness?"
"It's perfect," she replied. Just then, the crystals of which it was made began to glow, very faintly, just about as brightly as the lights on a real tree would. Lois gasped again as the tinted light bathed her face in its glow. "That's really, really spectacular, Kal-El. It's the most amazing thing I've seen here."
He beamed under that praise, meeting her eyes with his deep blue ones. His joy and delight seemed to call for something more, but Lois didn't have the words to express how she felt. She knew that no one else on this planet would have thought to get a Christmas tree for her, and she was grateful for more than the gift itself.
Lois hugged him impulsively, forgetting for a moment how much his people dreaded a simple touch. Forgetting, in fact, that he wasn't human at all, no matter how he looked and acted like one. It was something she was starting to take more and more granted. And something Kal-El didn't seem moved to put an end to.
For an instant he stiffened at the unexpected contact, but Kal-El knew the quirks of the human race, and knew that this was a spontaneous gesture of affection and gratitude. One of several that had passed between them in the last months. And the more often they occurred, the more Lois Lane trusted him and his actions, the less the touch seemed intrusive. Instead of pulling away, he put his own arms around her. He was so much taller than Lois that her cheek rested on his chest, the softness of her hair just barely tickling his chin.
They stood like that a long moment, Lois startled by the warmth and safety of being wrapped in his embrace, Kal-El amazed at how natural this felt after his initial discomfiture. He, too, had no words to express his emotions, but after a moment he remembered what he'd meant to say when he gave her the seed crystal. "Merry Christmas, Lois."
As long as there's Christmas
I truly believe
That hope is the greatest of the gifts