The Random Babblings © of Chibi: Yay! I can write an epilogue! I love epilogues. Complete license for absolute nothing writing. I'll probably go back and fix up the spelling and weird sentences and words and stuff after this, so if you see it updated, it's not really. But feel free to read it again and point out any mistakes I've overlooked. People underrate editing. As an author, you know what you've written, so when you go back and read it a lot of the time you read what you meant to write (because that's what you did write, in your head) and don't actually see what's there. More pairs of eyes always help.

Special thanks to:

Katrina-chan

Masshiro

Ken

Araschid

Kirbypuff

ZeonReborn

Dimensionalmage

Shihali

~mraZzz

Alexia

Cantthinkofaname

PoopooPlaTTer

ChibiSana

Caballero dorado

…who actually reviewed. ^_^v thanks everyone (bows) you've been a great audience. If you wanna read anything else I wrote, going on reviews, I'd recommend What Went Wrong for Slayers fans (X/F) and for anyone who watches Beyblade, The Day Hell Froze Over. Which both probably need editing. The Sequel To Chaos got discontinued, for anyone who wants to read that. And Chaos itself has a crap ending. Not really fond of either.

Regarding a Sequel:

If I do write sequel, it'd probably be like… around the kids, because quite frankly I think Soujiro and Reiko have been through enough over the twenty/thirty-odd years they've been living. I'd just want them to settle down and finally be happy, for crying out loud. As a writer I don't wanna mess up their lives anymore. Again. Whatever.

So the sequel, if I ever bring it into existence, will probably be around the four kids ie Kaji, Ryoko, Souta and Kenji, with Soujiro and Reiko probably being mentor figures, kind of like Madam. Integral to plot (what exists of one), but not main characters as such. And the problem with that sort of sequel is that not many people read the damn things. I mean, I'd like to write it it'd be fun, but there doesn't seem much point if no one's gonna read it. And I don't have time either (I feel so bad about these erratic updates), so I'd have to write it after I finish finals, which is… um… the 21st of November, I think. So by THEN everyone will have forgotten what the hell "Shades of Grey" was/who wrote it/what the hell is was about and will generally be thinking "who the hell are these people?"/ or forgot about the ff entirely and as such just not even see the sequel is up. Which leaves ME feeling depressed.

So…I don't know. I'll probably start a sequel on my computer, knowing me. Whether I finish it or not is another matter. If anyone wants a sequel, if you say so in a review and leave your email/ sign-in so I can get to your email thru your profile, I'll send it to you or let you know the sequel's up because… I HATE IT WHEN PEOPLE DON'T REVIEW! It leaves you feeling like… so...inadequate. I stop writing when that happens. It really annoys my best friend who says that when she takes over the world she's going to lock me in a padded room with a computer, printer and a cd player until I finish "her" story… -_-;;

Whoa. Long rant. I should be a webcomic artist.

Owari no ato de…

After The End…

Time moves on, as it usually does. Things change, things stay the same. Some things change, but they are the same as they always were.

Seasons, for example. It's spring, the sakura flowers surrounding the house, occasional streams of petals along the breeze. The purple plum blossoms to the back of the house fill the air with a sweet scent that carry gently on the wind, brushing past the warm, soft cheek of the dark-haired woman sleeping peacefully on the futon in a large room. A man lies next to her, his black hair slightly messy; he hasn't bothered to get out of bed yet, and simply smiles as the breeze passes silently through the open doors that open out the garden. The breeze catches the long locks of a teenage girl sweeping the stone path that leads out from the house, and down into a set of stairs. The house may as well be a shrine, sitting on its lofty perch in the forests of the mountain. The young girl pauses sweeping and sniffs the sweet scent of air, and laughs breathily as it sweeps a stream of petals past her and down the stairs. They brush past another young man, who stops and watches them pass before continuing his way up the stairs.

Some things change, but they are the same as they always were.

The second example is people.

This young man does not, technically, live here. He has been gone for several months already, teaching and learning kendo in a dojo near Osaka. He has dark brown hair, soft chocolate eyes, and he looks quite tired, as if he as been walking constantly for some time. He's grown a lot from the last time we saw him, so we may as well be blunt; some young women have been known to faint on sight.

His name is Souta, self-proclaimed E xpert of Everything.

'Why'd they have to park themselves on top of a bloody mountain?' he grumbled, trudging up the stairs. He pulled himself up onto the top stair and stared at the girl sweeping the path. She hadn't changed at all, but she was a sight for sore eyes…she always looked prettier, every time her saw her. That kimono was new, he hadn't seen it before…

'Ryoko-chan!'

The girl spun around, a huge smile spreading across her face as she saw the young man standing at the top of the stairs.

'Souta-kun!' she dropped the broom, running towards him as fast has her kimono allowed her.

Unfortunately, she didn't reach him in time to see or stop the wooden tray that shot out of, apparently, absolutely no where. It smacked out worn traveller on the head hard enough for him to tumble back down the stairs, stopping about twenty down.

'…ow..'

'MWAHAHAHAHA! DIE!'

'KAJI!' Ryoko yelled, glaring at the young man standing on the balcony and looking far too pleased with himself than was necessary.  'How could you?! We haven't seen him for months!'

'Exactly! How dare he ruin my day by coming back!'

Ryoko sighed, and anxiously trotted down the stairs to where Souta was gradually sitting up and rubbing his head. Souta and Kaji had not exactly grown fond of each other over the years. Reiko said it was because they both had something the other one wanted all to themselves, but she hadn't told Ryoko what she had meant. And Soujiro wouldn't either.

'Are you all right, Souta-kun?' she asked, kneeling down by his side and touching his arm. He gave her a smile.

'Yeah, I'm fine. Was that Kaji?'

Ryoko gave him a Look. It promised instant death if Souta even thought about picking a fight the first day he got back.

'All right, all right.' Souta sighed, and winced, rubbing his shoulders before getting to his feet.

'You look exhausted,' Ryoko said, as they climbed the stairs together. 'How long have you been walking, Souta-kun?'

'Mm… about a day and a half, I think…'

'Without stopping?!'

'I wanted to get back here.' Souta muttered, not looking at her expression. Ryoko groaned at the same time as his stomach did, and they looked at each other. Ryoko folded her arms. Souta put his hand behind his head, laughing sheepishly.

'Er… do you have anything to eat?'

'Souta… I thought it was you as soon as Reiko said she thought she heard a large pig sniffling around outside.'

Souta glared at Soujiro, who had the uncanny knack of either being able to tell a joke and not let people know it, or to say something that was entirely innocent but at the same time incredibly suspicious. Like that.

'Right.' He said, still glaring. Soujiro looked ridiculously young for his age as Reiko came up behind him, gently kissing his cheek and making him flush slightly. It was crazy. Souta could have sworn it was supposed to be the other way around.

'Souta, you've grown.' Reiko said, sitting down beside him and brushing some dirt off his cheek in the air that she always did.

'I know,' Souta said.

'I'll run a bath for you, and get you some fresh clothes.' Reiko said, standing up.

'What exactly are you implying?' Souta demanded.

'Put bluntly,' Kaji sniggered, ' "You Smell."'

Souta threw the rice bowl with deadly accuracy and so fast that even Soujiro later admitted it would have been only easy for him to catch it. As Kaji stumbled and fell into his sister's arms, Reiko sentenced Souta to doing the laundry for the rest of his stay.

'But Rei-chaaaaaan…'

'Don't "but" be, Souta-chan.' Reiko said severely. 'You could hurt Kaji.'

'Well, that was the idea…' She just Looked at him. Souta hated that look. It was almost as bad as his mother's. Words of protest died in his throat, and, ignoring Soujiro's laughter, he trudged off to take his bath. The door slammed.

'Do you think I upset him?' Reiko asked, in the thoughtful silence that followed, broken only by distant griping from the direction of the bathroom.

'He just doesn't like being susceptible to the women in his life,' Soujiro soothed, but the effect was spoiled by the constant sniggers he was having trouble controlling. Ryoko looked at him severely.

'Stop teasing him, niichan. He's tired.'

'Yes! Stop teasing me, I'm TIRED!' Souta yelled grumpily from the bathroom.

'Oh, you've got good hearing.' Reiko observed.

'Damn straight!'

'Souta-chan, you probably already know this, but I haven't actually prepared the bath for you yet, dear…'

There was a silence.

'Ah, shit.'

'Mother?' Souta said, sliding open the door. He stepped quietly into the room, watching the lady seated on the edge of the tatami, watching the birds in the garden beyond. His mother had aged quickly, as if the need to look after her sons had stalled age and it's troubles. Once that need was gone, certainly, she had aged. Her one black hair was dark grey with streaks of while, and a few lines showed the passing of years. She had lost weight too, he noticed with concern. She turned her head and smiled and him, and he relaxed. She was fine, just…getting old.

'Once we are born, we must die,' Shiori said, as if reading her son's thoughts. 'I would tell you, Souta, if anything were wrong.'

Souta smiled.

'I know.' he sat down on the tatami, and she watched him. 'What?'

'Don't you have even a hug for you poor mother?' she demanded, and Souta laughed. He hugged her tightly and kissed her cheek, and then looked around as the door slid open again.

'Thanks for coming to say hello.' Kenji said dryly, shutting the door behind him. Souta stood up, grinning.

'Well, I thought you and the missus might be busy…'

Kenji whacked the back of his brother's head. He had married a six months ago; that was, incidentally, the last time Souta had been back. The girl Kenji had married had been the daughter of a nobleman he'd lent his services to as a bodyguard during his time wandering. He'd become friends with the girl, at least on formal terms. The result was that when her family had passed through the town a half and a half before and seen him, Reiko had-gently, of course- beaten the reason Soujiro was able to exchange smiles and nods with the daughter in the carriage out of her husband and invited the family over for a meal. She had enlisted the help of some of Kenji's cooks and staff to help a bit, of course. Madam and Kenji themselves had of course been invited as part of Reiko and Soujiro's extended –or unofficially adopted- family. One thing had led to another and so while Madam was wrapping the lord around her little finger regarding trade agreements, Kenji and the daughter had gotten along quite well bitching to each other about respective duties.

Getting married because they understood each other and would make their families happy had, for about six months, been a joke between everyone with the exception of the girl's parents, who had little sense of humour. They weren't aware of it. Then Kaji had said something that made Kenji start thinking about his own feelings in the matter, instead of what everyone else thought. Reiko had given him the little emotional nudge and Souta had literally beaten some sense into the man. Combined, along with Madam's people-twisting skills, appropriately romantic (and private, to Souta's disgust) circumstances had been arranged and Kenji had proposed for the girl's hand in marriage.

Which she had gratefully accepted and then proceeded to beat her new fiancé into the ground for putting off for so long. Soujiro had commented that she reminded him of a married girl his age he'd seen in Tokyo not long back.

Her name was Yukino, and she slammed open the door in time to stop Kenji strangling his younger brother in order to stop various lewd comments.

'Kenji!'

'Well, he's being a-'

'Put your brother down this instant!'

Kenji looked at his wife sulkily, and then grinned, seeing something in her eyes no one else could. He released Souta without another word of complaint.

On reflection, Souta thought he should have wondered more about that. Yukino glomped him. He had a suspicion she cut off his air and made it that painful on purpose (which, just for the record, she did).

'Wai! How are you? You look so well! And CLEAN! They made you have a bath before you came, didn't they? Why didn't you come and see us first? You've grown so much, you're not as cute as Kenji, though, how did the training go?'

Souta blinked as the girl stepped back, and then narrowed his eyes at her stomach. He jabbed her obi once, and then twice.

'Have you put on weight?' he asked. Yukino's eyebrow twitched.

'Well, I see you really haven't changed.' Kaji said dryly, looking at the Souta-shaped hole though several shoji. He looked, Ryoko noticed with a twinge of annoyance, rather impressed.

'Shut up.' Souta said, from where he was nursing his bruised head in a lump on the floor, lying on his mother's lap. The woman took the cold towel Ryoko passed her and changed it with the one on the boy's head. Soujiro, Reiko, Ryoko and Kaji had followed Souta after, they said, giving him time to say his hellos.

'So if you haven't put on weight, why do you look like it?' Souta demanded, earning the Kaji Award for Most Dense Person Ever To Walk the Earth. Yukino's eyebrow twitched again.

'I'M PREGNANT YOU IDIOT!'

Everyone looked at Souta to see how he would take this. He blinked, and blinked again.

'…oh.' He said eventually.

'You know what?' Ryoko giggled. 'That's exactly what Kenji said.'

'So…I'm going be an uncle in another six months at my tender young age.' Souta was listing off on his fingers. 'Kenji and Yukino are sickeningly in love. Soujiro and Reiko haven't changed a bit, which is, on reflection, kind of depressing. You've grown a bit and Kaji's as annoying as ever. What does this tell you?'

'You have a good life?' Ryoko suggested. Souta sighed and flopped back on the grass, staring up at the purple sky through the leaves of the forest. He smiled faintly, and rolled his head to look at her. She was standing by the tree, watching the sun begin to go down. The edges of the sky were beginning to glow orange- from here, you could see it, out over the flat land of the rice patties and town, the strange yellow-orange glow of sunset. The clouds and the sky, mirrored in the rice patties, made it look as if the world was as thin as a rice biscuit and someone had cut through, so they could watch the sky from both above and below.

'You say,' he murmured, 'the strangest things.'

Ryoko smiled down at him.

'But you do, Souta-kun. You can barely remember your father, who abused your mother and Rei-chan. You grew up with a loving mother and practical sister, and your older brother. Soujiro always played with you, and taught you things no one else could and that you wanted to know. And even though there were times when you were sad, it all worked out for you, in the end. It really did.'

Souta smiled bitterly, and lay his arm across his eyes.

'Perhaps. I know. But… that makes me feel… like such a worthless person. You all learnt things through your pain that I… I can only imagine, to try to understand.'

'Does that bother you? That you're happy? That you… have had a happy life?'

Normally, Souta thought later, people like her would be angry. Kaji would have been. Kenji wouldn't have understood. They would be angry that he didn't realise what he had. They might even be angry because he had what they hadn't. They'd be angry that he didn't appreciate it, but that wasn't it. He knew he had a good life. It was full of little sorrows… like his mother's impending death, regret on behalf of Reiko and Soujiro, for the lives they had led. That his brother had never really been able to spend much time with him as he'd been growing up. Little sorrows. But because of them…he felt worthless. Nothing truly painful had ever happened to him. So he could only try to understand.

'Yes.'

Ryoko looked at him, and he knew she understood. Because she… seemed to be able to understand everything. She said she only had a teenager's experience behind her, but that wasn't right. Because she listened. To Soujiro and Reiko, just like he did. And had pain of her own. So she…

'That's all right.' She said, sitting down next to him. He opened his eyes and shifted his arm a bit to look at her. 'It's all right. Because we do learn things through pain….'

'…but you, people like you, you learn things as well.'

Souta and Ryoko looked around. Behind them stood Reiko, holding a small box filled with ohagi. Soujiro was next to her, holding her free hand. And behind them, Kaji, looking sulky, Madam, Kenji and Yukino.

'We understand,' Reiko said. 'Most of us. Those of us that have been hurt. But people like you, with only life's little sorrows behind you, you're not worthless. Because even if you don't have anything happen to you that makes you suddenly realise something, or make you have some philosophy that helps you through life, you're still worth more than any of us with bittersweet memories of the world. Because you remind us that we're human. We can't get lost in thinking about our own troubles, or start thinking with our heads in the clouds, like we know everything. It's people like you, who live for the present and for happiness, that keep us on the ground.'

'Or makes you angry,' Souta said. 'Or upset.'

'Determined to be miserable, aren't we?' an all-too familiar voice shouted, and Kyoko appeared into the clearing, to the surprise of all.

'Neesan!'

'Hey sis! Ne, Souta-chan. I've never had anything apocalyptic happen to me either.' Kyoko said. 'And you're going to say that I have a lifetime behind me, and that's true. But so long as you can make someone smile and be happy, I don't think it matters what's happened to you. You're always worth something, if someone smiles because of you.'

There was a long silence, and Souta smiled. That Kaji broke the spell.

'You know I think the last ten minutes of conversation made no sense whatsoever.'

'You wouldn't.' Souta shot back, before he could even think about it.

'Are you implying that I'm stupid?'

'Hm, let me think about this… YES!'

'You little-'

'Who's little?! I'm taller than you are!'

'You are not!'

'Are too!'

'Am not!'

'Are too!'

Soujiro sighed as he and the others sat down on the grass and began eaten the ohagi.

'You know, it really is true. I really don't think some things will ever change.'

'Oh yeah, Soujiro.' Souta said, pausing grinding Kaji's face into the dirt with a foot. 'That talk reminded me. What was your truth, in the end? You never said.'

Soujiro smiled.

'I didn't, did I?'

There was an expectant silence from those around him. He picked up another ohagi.

'What're you all so quiet for? Mm, these are really good, hon.'

'Thankyou.' Reiko smiled. Everyone else hit the ground.

'You mean you're not going to tell us?!'

'What was with that "I didn't, did I" crap then?!'

'I was just agreeing with you,' Soujiro said, looking a bit confused. 'I never said I was going to tell you, did I?'

'Argh! You're all mad!'

Soujiro smiled as Kaji and Souta resumed beating each other up, and Madam and her sister started placing bets on who would win with Ryoko tried to get them to stop.

'No…you'll…have to find out something for yourself.' He smiled. 'If you need a truth. Sometimes… a feeling will do. If you're lucky, Souta… you'll never have to think about it.'

The world is full of truths and deep and meaningful sayings. They're beautiful phrases and words, each one like a flower; precious. Being philosophical about things isn't wrong. It gives you something to hold onto, and having a set of your own truths, your own phrases, words that you can hold close to your heart, that gives you a sense of warmth inside. Like you know something, that you do know something, that's precious.

But what's really precious… is looking at those words, things written down, shaped by tongues, and realising that deep inside…you already knew that. And so you can move on, leaving those words behind, with just that feeling in your heart. Because something that's in your heart can never, will never, ever truly leave.

'That's why normal people and those with painful memories need each other. Sometimes…you need someone to put the words there, or bring them out of your heart. Or to help you move on. Remind you.' Reiko murmured.

'Hm?' Soujiro asked, looking at her as the sun went down. She smiled softly, and looked around her extended family with warm eyes.

'Nothing,' she said. 'Just thinking out loud.'

And as the sun went down, everyone knew it wasn't the end. It wasn't a beginning. It was just another sunset. Tomorrow, the sun would rise again, and fall in the evening. And it would keep on doing so.

But it would be nice to think that life was that simple.

'Kyoko….'

'Yes?'

'What the hell are you doing here, anyway? I thought you were in Yokohama!'

'Oh yeah. Well…I'm not.'

'I can see THAT! Why the hell not?!'

'Well…'

(owarijyanai no…)

(It's not the end…)