He came to himself standing in the courtyard of a building he had never seen before. Where was he? Where had he been before? Was he on a purging mission? No, he'd gone to Earth, and…
Now he remembered.
"Kakarot," he growled, fists curling by his sides. He remembered the battle, clearer than he wanted to, though his memory after that felt fuzzy and disjointed. He concluded that he was dreaming. One did not often dream in stasis, but it did happen. He must be in his pod, in a healing sleep, and he was dreaming. Yes. That was why he didn't remember coming here. It had to be.
"Oh, hello. You must be a customer."
He snapped his gaze around to see a tall thin boy with a silly-looking kerchief on his head, sweeping the front yard. Birds were singing, and the sun was shining brightly. All in all, far too pleasant a scene for his subconscious to have come up with. Suspicion began to grow.
"I am nothing of the sort," he told the boy. "What is this place?"
"Well, I guess you could say this is a shop that sells a little of everything," the boy said, and Vegeta snorted.
"Don't waste my time. Is this a brothel, or do you deal in narcotics? Either way, I have no use for such things."
"My assistant speaks the truth, if vaguely," a low, velvety female voice said as the boy sputtered and turned red at Vegeta's accusation. He looked up to find a very tall woman in an elegant kimono standing in the doorway, regarding him with a smile that reminded him uncomfortably of Frieza, or a cat.
"Then what do you sell here?" Vegeta demanded.
"We deal in nothing more, and nothing less, than the deepest, most desperate desires of the heart," she said, still in that low, carrying voice. "To be plain: this is a shop that grants wishes, and I am Yuuko, the shopkeeper."
Vegeta snorted again, though with less conviction. There was an odd feeling to this place; otherworldly, though he could not put his finger on what exactly felt odd about it. Neither the boy nor the woman had high power levels, but the woman's ki felt a little like she was hiding her true power; though, again, he could not say precisely what made him think this. If this was a dream, it was an unusually vivid one.
"I was told that to have a wish granted I needed the dragon balls. Now you say I can simply buy one in a shop. Sorry, but I think I'll stick to magical orbs."
"And how is that working for you?" she purred, and Vegeta narrowed his eyes.
"What do you mean?" he demanded, and she smiled a slow smile.
"The fact that you found your way here means that you have a wish you desire to be granted. You speak of another means of granting wishes, and yet here you are, desire intact." She let the implication hang in the air for a moment before continuing. "There are many ways and means of having a wish granted, and it is true that some are…" She paused again, and the slow smile deepened along with the dread in his chest. "Simpler than others," she finished. "My shop here is one of the more straightforward means."
Vegeta regarded her with his full attention, and she looked calmly back into his eyes, still with that disturbing smile on her lips. Behind her he could see two small children peeking from behind the doorway.
"You have the power to grant my wish?" he said finally, not daring to hope. She inclined her head.
"Why don't you come inside so we can discuss the matter?" Yuuko turned aside and gestured to the door. "Watanuki? Bring us some refreshment. Maru? Moro? Do stop staring, dears, it's not polite."
The boy rushed off and the two children squeaked and disappeared into the shop. Vegeta followed his host inside, alert and on guard, as much out of habit as because he was still not completely convinced this was a dream. When she offered him sake he refused, and did not eat the snacks placed in front of him.
"I don't require food," he said urgently. "Tell me how you can grant my wish."
Yuuko swirled her cup of sake and gazed at him thoughtfully. The boy was standing off to the side, demurely holding his tray and looking at the floor, though Vegeta was not fooled into thinking he wasn't paying close attention.
"I must warn you," Yuuko said. "I will require payment."
"That won't be a problem."
"I do not speak of money," Yuuko warned. "The price must be equal in value to the wish granted. No more, and no less."
"What sort of price do you require for immortality?" Vegeta challenged.
"Immortality, hmm?" Yuuko sipped her drink. "A simple enough wish to grant. But one with a high price." She leaned forward, giving Vegeta a piercing look. "Immortality is no game. To never die? To see everyone you know and love pass on before you? To never know the sweet rest of death yourself? In many ways, immortality is its own price."
"Then grant it to me and be done with it!"
"Not so fast. I still require payment."
"Then name your price, woman!" Vegeta snarled. The smile did not falter.
"The price I would require in exchange for immortality is nothing more and nothing less than your most important relationship with another person."
"What the hell does that mean? I don't have a relationship with anyone!"
"By relationship, I do not mean only positive emotions. You can have a very strong connection with someone you hate. Is there really no one like that in your life?"
He could tell by the almost mocking tone of her voice that she probably knew exactly where his thoughts fled to. A powerful connection with someone he hated? Of course he had such a thing.
"You're talking about Frieza, aren't you." It wasn't a question.
"I don't know his name, but I can tell there is someone in your life that you think about to the exclusion of all others. Someone whose fate you care about deeply. This relationship is what I would require in exchange for immortality."
"How can such a thing be accomplished?" he asked, horrified at the idea.
"That is not your concern. Simply be assured that it can, should you choose to accept my terms."
Vegeta stared at the food in front of him, trying to find the catch.
"What exactly would that mean, to give up this… relationship?"
She smiled, as though he were a particularly clever pupil she had great hopes of.
"Whatever past events you two shared, whatever drives you to the intense emotions you feel about the other person: all of that would be gone. You would no longer have any reason to feel anything at all about them."
"But—but that's absurd!" Vegeta protested as her meaning began to sink in. "What would be the point of gaining immortality if I can't even remember why I wanted it in the first place? This is bullshit!"
He stood swiftly, power flashing briefly, and he heard the boy whimper in fear. Yuuko remained as calm as ever, watching him with those eyes.
"The Earthlings told me that all they had to do is gather the seven dragon balls in one place and they could get any wish they wanted. Why should I bother paying a price when I can get what I want for free?"
"Tell me," she commanded. "How easy has it been for you, gathering these dragon balls?"
"Wha—I… There have been… obstacles…" he muttered.
"Every wish, whether I am the one to grant it or not, requires a price to be paid equal to the value of the thing desired. The effort one puts into gathering all seven of the dragon balls, scattered across the earth, is the price one pays for the wish the dragon grants."
"But even so!" he exclaimed. "No matter what obstacles stand between me and the dragon balls, that still can't possibly be on the same level as forgetting Frieza entirely! That's not equal at all!"
"No matter what obstacles?" she repeated softly. "Even if it was Frieza himself standing between you and them?"
Vegeta stared, open-mouthed. Yuuko went on.
"Everything in this world is controlled by fate. If what you want is nothing less than immortality itself, then the only way you will be able to have that wish granted is if you pay the price, whether you go through the dragon balls… or me."
Vegeta sat down. He was silent for a long moment, and then he looked up again.
"Am I really dreaming?" he asked, and she smiled her cat-smile again.
"It is probably better that you think so," she said. He frowned.
"I will have immortality," he said stubbornly. "I will. Make no mistake."
"Whether your wish is granted in the end or not, you really should try the sake. It's a fine vintage."
He shook his head at the proffered bottle.
"If you cannot give me what I want, then I am wasting my time." He stood, and made his way swiftly out. Watanuki remembered to breathe.
"That guy was dangerous!" he exclaimed, refilling Yuuko's empty cup. "It was like his power was something I could reach out and touch."
"And yet even he is not the most powerful in his world. Nor will he ever be."
Watanuki gulped, hearing the tones of prophecy in his boss's voice.
"I have a feeling we have not seen the last of him," Yuuko added.