"What's going on Raven?" Robin asked, watching Mr. Smith steadily.
"He's going to tell us something I don't want to hear." Raven said in a flat, emotionless voice.
"Perhaps I am, Raven. But it's something you need to hear. All of you." Mr. Smith said. His tone was kind, but there was steel in it too. "I am marisu. This is what I do."
"Please, I do not understand! Do you seek to do us harm?" Starfire's face was distraught but determined. "If so, I will fight you, marisu or not. I will not let you harm my friends."
"No, Starfire. Fighting you would be like kicking a puppy. I have nothing but the deepest respect for you--all of you, and I don't want to fight. Besides, there's the whole marisu vast-cosmic-powers thing."
"All I plan to do is thank you for being heroes. But by doing so I will be meddling. And given that I am marisu that meddling will have consequences." He sighed. "One of the downsides to being marisu, actually."
"Wait, the downside to being a marisu is meddling? But I thought that's what a marisu does!" Beast Boy complained. "Dude, make up your mind, you're making my brain hurt!"
"Hang on a second." Cyborg broke in. "Didn't you just say marisu have so much power they can't meddle?"
"That would be God, Cyborg." Mr. Smith corrected the Titan. "Marisu can intervene; it's just if we do it can change the course of history. At the very least. However, the Teen Titans have saved the world on what, four separate occasions? I think you can handle it."
"We saved the world once." Raven said. "From my father."
"Actually you're forgetting Malchior. And Larry. And the Nufu." Mr. Smith said.
"Malchior threatened the world?" Raven asked, startled. "How?"
"He was the last of the true dragons, Raven. Once released there was no one powerful enough to stop him. He'd have ended up ruling the world--and he hates humans. The only way to stop him was the curse you used to seal him into the book."
"How do you know all this?" Raven demanded. "That part of my life is private!"
"I did say I was a fan, yes?" Mr. Smith answered gently. "Vast cosmic powers, remember? Just like Larry."
"Who watches everything we do." Robin said in disgust. "Speaking of Larry, you mean when Larry broke reality it might have destroyed the world?"
"Of course. Once reality had fractured it was a race against the clock. Larry had more or less lost his powers and Johnny Rancid could have stolen them to give himself the powers of a marisu. And you know how he delights in wanton mayhem. What more exciting show is there than watching the sun go boom, hmm? Johnny's not entirely sane you know."
"There's also the little matter of reality continuing to fracture, until the entire galaxy would have descended into a soup of primal chaos. Of course, Zarok might have been able to stop it before that happened--but Earth would be gone, and the Zarokeen might not have cared enough to put things back the way they had been."
"Dude, that's scary." Beast Boy muttered. Mr. Smith nodded.
"Fourth time's the charm, Beast Boy. The Titans have saved the world from magic, tofu, marisu, and a demon prince. You're heroes, one and all. I wanted to tell you that. I wanted to show each one of you that you're appreciated, that the sacrifices and pain you go through aren't wasted."
He looked around the table. "You don't hear it often enough. Thank you for being heroes, for doing what's needful, for stepping into the line of fire when no one else will."
"There's you." Raven's eyes started to glow white. "You have the power. You could have stopped my father, stopped Slade. You could have stopped all of it. So why didn't you?"
"Yes I could have. Like this." Mr. Smith said, watching Raven calmly. The glow snapped off in her eyes, she blinked.
"Feeling better now?" He asked. She nodded.
"What did you do to me?"
"I've blocked certain pathways in your brain. Your powers are gone, along with your ability to feel emotion. I also drained your anger so there won't be any backlash when I give your powers back."
He watched the shock on the other Titan's faces.
"I haven't hurt her. In fact I've already returned her powers to her. But this is exactly the kind of thing I've been talking about. This is why a marisu can never be a hero. Yes, I could have stopped Trigon. By killing Raven. Or Trigon. Or burning out her superpowers so she would be useless as his gateway to your world."
He leaned forward. "But to do anything I would have been taking away God's second and third gifts to her. She would never have the choice to become a hero. She would never have become strong enough to overcome the tragedy of her birth and her early life. She would have been crippled by guilt until the day she died. She would have been alone, never finding friends to lend her strength when her own failed her. And worst of all, she would never have known why."
"Raven, you defeated your father with the help of your friends. But you did that. You fought back even when your father stacked the deck. You shouldn't have been able to win--but you did. He hadn't counted on your friends, and they were enough to tip the balance. But you wouldn't have had those friends without your conscious decision to be everything your father was not--brave, kind, helpful to others. Willing to sacrifice yourself to protect the innocent." He smiled.
"In short, you defeated your father because you chose to be a hero. Half-demon or not, fated to end the world or not--you still chose the path of the hero. It was that choice--one I can never make--that saved the world."
"By the choices you made every day of your life, you have earned the friendship of other heroes, and your place in the light. You will continue to be the hero; you may very well save the world again. You'll certainly save many more innocents."
"You think you owe your friends a debt you can never repay. But it isn't a debt--it's a bond. They did save you from your father. But you saved them from him. It's a balance, Raven. They save you. You save them. Together, all of you save the world."
Mr. Smith smiled at the gray-skinned girl. "I'm not a hero, I never will be. You can't count on me to save the day because I won't. That's the job of heroes. I meddle in the world to make sure God's gifts remain available for those who choose."
He looked around the table. "Some choose to be heroes. Some choose to be villains. The vast majority choose to be neither. But my job is to see that the choice remains open."
"So I meddle." He grinned suddenly, turning his attention to Beast Boy.
"Now it's your turn, wee green beastie."
"Who me?" The green skinned shape shifter gulped audibly.
"Your greatest fear is you let your teammates down because you aren't strong enough, right?"
"No! Um. Well, yeah, kinda." Beast Boy's ears drooped.
"If you let your teammates down so much then who was it that saved Raven from Adonis? Who convinced Thunder he and his brother were hurting people? Who was there for Raven after Malchior? Who was it that saved the day after the Brotherhood froze Robin?"
"Who saved the rest of the Titans from drowning--twice? Who turned Terra back from the dark side in the end? Who was it that gave her the choice to become a hero--and the chance to step away from the battle in the end?"
"You mean that really was Terra at the school?" Beast Boy said frantically. Mr. Smith nodded.
"Beast Boy, she's finally free to follow the life she always wanted. Thanks to you. Who saved the day when Control Freak slipped into the TVs of the world? Who saved the world from the Nufu? Who destroyed the Brotherhood's quantum generator? Who took on Slade by himself and fought him to a standstill long enough for Terra to kill him?"
"Heh, heh," Beast Boy rubbed the back of his head in embarrassment. "Yeah, I guess that was me. Who'da thunk, huh?"
"Without you the Titans would have fallen and the world would be nothing but rubble circling the Sun. You may not be the most powerful Titan, shape shifter, but you are vital. Not only to the Titans--but to a certain half-demon as well." Mr. Smith grinned as Beast Boy gaped and Raven blushed.
"I don't feel emotions you know." Raven said calmly, cheeks blazing.
"Then why are your cheeks so red, Raven? And I thought Robin and Starfire had a monopoly on denial!" Mr. Smith said. "Yes, yes, I know. It's none of my business. Marisu, remember?" Beast Boy was still watching Raven with his mouth open.
She swatted the back of his head.
"Ow." He said rubbing the spot. "That hurt."
Mr. Smith laughed at their antics. Then he turned his attention to the other Titan couple.
"And you two." He pointed an accusing finger at Robin and Starfire. "Took you long enough." He shook his head. "You know what? The number of alternate universes is as close to infinite as makes no practical difference. There are universes where one of you was never born, or died early, or you never met for a myriad of reasons."
"Here's the weird part though. In every single universe where you meet, you eventually end up together. No exceptions. Anywhere."
"Um, when you say anywhere--Robin said hesitantly.
"I mean there is not one alternate universe where you and Starfire meet where you don't end up together. Not a single one. That's not to say there aren't any where you start off with other partners, or where you don't separate for a while, but the longest recorded separation is only 25 years. And that's in a particularly turbulent war-torn universe where both of you are much darker--almost but not quite evil. But even there you end up together in the end."
"So Robin and I are destined to be together?" Starfire asked slowly, an unreadable expression on her face.
"Yep. Like hydrogen and oxygen, sodium and chloride." Mr. Smith said happily. "And don't go all angst-ridden on me either, Koriand'r! Your feelings for Robin aren't some dark cosmic conspiracy to rob you of choice. It's just you two are such perfect soul-mates that in any universe where you meet, you always choose to be together."
He looked at Robin. "Dick Grayson you look me straight in the eye and tell me you wouldn't make exactly the same choice you made in Tokyo."
"No." Robin turned to Starfire and deliberately took her hand. "If I had to do it over again I'd have made the same choice--but I'd have made it much earlier than Tokyo."
"Robin, I chose long ago." Starfire said softly. "And I would choose nothing else." Taking his other hand she said.
"Gend'an knorf zeda tan hoosark, tadar rinsof." And then she leaned forward and kissed him, much to the shock of the other Titans. Even more shocking, he didn't draw back, but returned her kiss, although in a rather formal way. Mr. Smith looked on approvingly. When they drew apart neither Titan was blushing.
"What did you just say, Star?" Robin asked.
She shook her head. "Tameranean language is very different from the English, Robin. The closest words I believe would be: to you, the missing half of my soul, I vow love and protection past the death of the world, past the end of time itself." She looked at him with serenity. "It is the vow those of Royal blood give when the match is by choice rather than political necessity. In the history of my people, it has been spoken aloud only twice. I am the third."
Robin froze, eyes widening. Starfire just watched him, serene. "Starfire--" Shock choked him for a moment, and then he shut his mouth with a snap. She didn't move, just sat placidly. Mr. Smith's words echoed in his head. No exceptions--anywhere. Robin's eyes narrowed and his face settled into a familiar and (to her) welcome expression. Determination.
"Star, I'm no good at talking--I do. Tell me what I need to do."
Starfire smiled and spoke.
"When Trigon came he ended the world, and time as well. You did protect me, as I did you. Past the death of the world, past the end of time. And in Tokyo, you made your choice. There is nothing more you need do to prove yourself to me. I also have chosen. It is done."
"About damn time!" Mr. Smith said, smiling widely. "Congratulations you two."
"You make it sound like they got married or something." Cyborg joked.
"They did, Victor Stone." Mr. Smith said seriously.
"Say what??!!!" Cyborg's human eye widened and his jaw dropped.
"The Royal Princess of Tameran made her vow-by-choice in the presence of her closest friends and comrades in arms. Her vow was accepted and returned by one proven worthy of her. She declared it done. That's it."
"But they aren't even 18 yet!" Cyborg protested.
"Tameraneans judge a person adult when they take on the responsibilities of an adult." Mr. Smith said. "If they're old enough to save the world--repeatedly--then they're old enough to marry. Of course California law is somewhat silent on interstellar marriage requirements, but the United States recognizes the right of a sovereign to solemnize marriage ceremonies--even their own. And while Starfire isn't currently the Grand Ruler of Tameran, she is Grand Ruler Emeritus. Diplomatic usage allows her most of the privileges extended to a sovereign."
"Thus by both Tameranean custom and American law, they're married."
"Well fry my circuits and call me a toaster." Cyborg muttered, stunned.
"Married?" Robin echoed, blinking. Starfire nodded calmly. He blew out a breath and finally said. "Past the death of the world, past the end of time." He nodded. Starfire's answering smile lit up the room.
"So now that just leaves you, metal man." Mr. Smith grinned evilly.
"Um, that's ok." Cyborg said hastily. "I'm good."
"You are, aren't you?" Mr. Smith mused. "You know who you are now; you're comfortable inside your skin and your steel."
"You shaped the course of history when you fought with Sarasim to save her people in the distant past--and learned your heart was still human. When you met Mr. Fixit you saw what losing your humanity would really mean--and then you brought him back from the edge of losing his."
"You found the answer to the Riddle Of Steel and used it to defeat Brother Blood and by so doing saved an entire city."
"When it came to the painful choice between destroying the one thing you loved above all else and doing what was right, you never hesitated. When you saved the rest of the Titans from Atlas you learned what strength truly is and won in spite of his technological superiority."
"You stepped up and learned that while you could lead you prefer the vital but unglamorous support role."
"In short, you've learned who and what you are and have pride without hubris. That's a rare thing, Cyborg. I admire you for it."
"Um, yeah." Cyborg slumped, thinking he'd escaped lightly.
"But I can't let you go without meddling just a little, Victor. It's not in my nature." Mr. Smith grinned. "I must say this. Right now you don't have a special someone the way the other Titans do. But good things come to those who wait. And that's all I'm going to say." He laughed happily.
"Is there anything else I can get you?" The waitress materialized beside the table.
"Anybody want desert?" Mr. Smith asked. Stunned and silent the Titans all shook their heads, even the bottomless pits Cyborg and Beast Boy.
"Just the check please." He answered. She nodded and put a small rectangular tray on the table. Mr. Smith put a credit card on the tray and handed it back to her. She left.
"So what happens now?" Raven asked. Mr. Smith blinked at her.
"Well, as soon as the waitress brings my card back I'll walk you to Jump City. Then I have to meet my wife, she just told me she's done shopping. As for you, you go on with your day. I'm sure you can find something to do." He smiled slyly.
"Oh, one more thing. Your peaceful interlude will last another two weeks. Then I'm afraid it's back to business as usual for the Titans. On Tuesday of the third week make sure you have lots of Super Soakers and a ton of vinegar to go with it." He winked. "Not saying anything more--I don't want to interfere too much."
"Here you go." The waitress said, handing him the bill. He signed it and tucked his card away, then stood.
Still reeling from the enormity of lunchtime's revelations the Titans followed him out the door.
"Hey, my GPS just came back online!" Cyborg announced. Looking around the Titans found themselves outside the door of their own favorite pizzeria. A man came out with a pizza box, nodding to them and strode off down the street.
"Dudes! It's open." Beast Boy said in confusion, looking through the window and seeing the place bustling with customers.
"A little gift to you all." Mr. Smith said with a smile. "You've been really good sports about all this, it seemed only fitting." He shook Robin's hand and bowed to Starfire.
"Congratulations again, Robin, Starfire. I'm honored to have been there at your wedding. It was a pleasure and a privilege meeting all of you. I wish I could say I'll meet you again sometime, but that probably wouldn't be a good idea. So goodbye and good luck. I'll be watching, but remember I'm no hero. Don't expect me to intervene if things go pear-shaped."
"We're the Teen Titans." Robin replied. "Whatever comes up, we'll handle it."
"Yeah!" Beast Boy nodded happily. Mr. Smith nodded.
"I'm confident you will." He waved and walked away. The Titans watched tensely, making sure he wasn't going to come back. They saw him turn the corner and extend his arms, as though meeting someone. Then he walked out of their line of sight behind a building.
Raven suddenly relaxed. "He really is gone." She informed the others. "I can't sense him anywhere. Guess he went back to his universe."
The Titans started walking toward the T-Car.
"He mentioned his wife." Starfire said, tilting her head. "Do you think she was marisu as well? Perhaps they have children also?"
Raven shuddered. "Starfire, some questions are best left unanswered." She glanced uneasily at Beast Boy who fortunately was walking in front of her and couldn't see. "Definitely best left unanswered."
And somewhere, she knew, a marisu was laughing...