"That guy was dangerous!" Watanuki exclaimed. "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.


They hadn't.

Vegeta frowned as he paused between skyscrapers in West City, high, round domes and tall towers on either side of a small, eastern-style building that looked somewhat familiar. Almost against his will he stepped forward into the courtyard, into the same summer's day, with the same young boy wearing the same silly kerchief, sweeping the same dust in the same courtyard.

Watanuki yelped and scrambled for the door, while Vegeta snorted and took another few steps forward, wondering idly how it could be sunny here when it was cloudy all over the rest of the city. The same tall, willowy woman stepped forward, but she was wearing a different kimono and her hair was styled differently.

"I didn't expect him back here so soon," the boy was whispering loudly to her, trying to stare at Vegeta without being obvious about it.

"It has been a lot longer for him," Yuuko answered, and then turned fully to Vegeta, "hasn't it, friend?"

He shrugged.

"Longer than a day," he said mildly. Yuuko's eyes narrowed fractionally as she studied him.

"Watanuki, two large bottles of scotch and a bottle of sake, please. And a plate of umeboshi and some dango."

The boy spluttered.

"I don't have the ingredients for dango! And it's way too early in the day for you to be drinking. And scotch doesn't go with umeboshi anyway!"

"Aww, but the scotch is for our guest," she whined. "And I like umeboshi. As for the dango, I suppose I can survive without some for now." She delicately placed the back of her wrist against her forehead, closing her eyes in weariness.

Vegeta rolled his eyes and hefted the plastic convenience store bag in his hand.

"I have dango here. You can have it if it will mean you don't perish from the privation of going without."

Yuuko clasped her hands and snatched the bag away, digging through it like a child on Christmas. "Oh, thank you! You're a life saver! It's even mango flavored, my favorite!"

Vegeta, who hated dango, snorted softly and turned away.

They settled on the porch out back, to enjoy the sunshine. Once Watanuki returned with the tray, Vegeta picked up one of the sour plums, looked at it curiously, and ate it. He felt his mouth pucker uncomfortably, and spat the pit out into the yard when Yuuko laughed at his expression. Watanuki yelped again when the pit hit a tree and made it shudder. The two little girls, who were helping him air out some laundry, danced under the sudden shower of leaves, giggling and singing. It was a homely, comforting scene, and it reminded him of the atmosphere of his own house, which he had just left under the pretense of buying a snack. The sensation of peace made his skin crawl just as it had back at Capsule Corp.

"What brings you here this time?" Yuuko said eventually, when Vegeta had nearly drained his first bottle of scotch. She was sipping a cup of sake, despite Watanuki's vocal concerns for her liver.

"This is no dream, is it," Vegeta said in answer, taking another swig straight from the bottle. It wasn't a question.

"Not precisely," the woman beside him answered, slowly eating her way down a skewer of dango. Vegeta took another umeboshi and didn't make a face this time.

"Then what is it?" he asked. Yuuko nibbled another ball of dango, eyes never leaving Vegeta's face.

"Think of this shop as existing in its own space and time," she said. "It is as real as your world, but it does not join up with it in the conventional way."

"Hn," Vegeta said. He didn't really care about the answer. He wasn't even sure why he'd asked the question. Habit, he supposed, and scowled at the thought. Small talk was a disgusting habit for a warrior to possess.

"I can see that you didn't get your first wish," Yuuko observed. "Was that by choice or circumstance?"

His scowl deepened.

"Both," he said shortly. "Neither. What business is it of yours?"

"It's not, I suppose," she said easily. "Just making small talk." He winced. "The real question is, what brings you here this time?"

He cracked open the second bottle of scotch and took a long pull from it. He could feel the yearning in him, less defined but no less intense than the burn that had brought him here before. He did have a wish, but he had no words to describe it.

"I'm sick of this place," he muttered into the bottle.

"You aren't talking about my shop," Yuuko said, and it was just enough like a question that he felt compelled to answer it.

"I'm talking about this whole miserable planet. I have never stayed in one place for so long, among the same people, doing the same things day in and day out. I'm losing my edge, I can feel it!"

He knew the drink was starting to have an effect on him, but of far greater effect was finally putting to words the restless unease that had been plaguing him for years.

"No amount of pushups in the Gravity Room or sparring with my eight-year-old can make up for real battle and bloodshed! No amount of alcohol—" He gestured sharply with the bottle of scotch, "can compare to drinking the blood of my enemies and feasting on their flesh. Here I am only half myself. Less than that. I am the last of my kind. Even that clown Kakarrot is dead, leaving me bereft of the chance to regain my honor by surpassing him."

Vegeta downed the last of the scotch and threw the bottle at the fence, shattering it and embedding several shards of glass in the wood.

"My wish, witch?" he mumbled drunkenly to the grass. "I want my life back."

There was a long silence during which could be heard cicadas whining and the two girls giggling in the kitchen as Watanuki scolded Mokona for drinking too much. Yuuko set her empty cup of sake down on the tray with a clink, and Vegeta lay back on the porch where they sat and stared at the ceiling.

"I have a warning for you," she said finally, "as compensation for the dango. You obviously think of your life in two parts, Before and After, but it's hardly that simple. Your life is comprised of many befores and many afters, as lives tend to be, so my warning is this: think carefully about which life you are choosing before you commit to getting it back. Turning back time is always costly."

"What would your price be," Vegeta asked, after he had mulled that over, "to grant my wish?"

"The cost of a life is a life," she said simply. "All you have to do is give up your current life completely and you can have your old one back. But you already knew that, didn't you?"

Vegeta was silent again.

"It's not that simple," he rumbled after a while, haunted by blue eyes.

"Oh, it's quite simple," Yuuko said. "But simple doesn't always mean easy."

Vegeta grabbed a handful of the sour plums and stuffed them into his mouth, and he chewed and swallowed them stoically even though they burned all the way down.