Note: "Falling Shadows" is based around a poem I'd written years ago (a period of my life I politely refer to as 'hell') and had subsequently forgotten about. But as I was writing AND THE GREATEST OF THESE, I found the poem again and thought, "God, that'd make a great piece about Kurenai." So to all the fans of AtGoT who wanted to know more about Kurenai's life, this is for you…

Falling Shadows

there are shadows in my mind
in my heart
in my soul

Kurenai stood outside her small house at Capsule Corp, leaning against the wall and watching the sunset over the tops of the buildings. A light breeze playfully rustled her hair, and she tilted her head back to feel the warmth of the last sunlight on her face. The air was sweet with the scent of the roses she had planted a few weeks earlier, and even in the heart of the city, for a little while, things were still.

For a little while.

But it never lasts, she thought morosely as the sun continued to descend. It never can, not as long as I'm alive and I carry the burden of this immortality with me. She sighed and closed her eyes. Sometimes I wonder if, at the end, it will be worth it… worth dealing with the pain, the loneliness…

The death…

they steal around me
like thieves in darkest night
shutting out the light

So many deaths… so many lives cut short because of me.

As the sun finally slid below the horizon, a sudden chill blew over Capsule Corp, raising goosebumps on her arms. She rubbed her hands over her arms to dispel the chill and opened her eyes.

I had hoped, as time passed, that some things would become easier to bear, that the ache of loss would fade. But it feels like it's been forever, and I can still remember, I can still feel the pain.

When will I be allowed to forget?

the thieves move with deadly grace

Kurenai sighed deeply, trying to shake the melancholy that weighed upon her.

I guess it's lack of sleep doing this to me, but it's so hard to sleep when the dreams won't stop.

She glanced across the Capsule Corp grounds toward Vegeta's gravity chamber. Even from where she stood, she thought she could hear the low hum of the gravitron engine as the prince continued his high-gravity training.

I wish I could ask him to stay with me, just to guard my sleep, but he'd only see it as weakness and dependence…

As if in response to her thoughts, the door to the gravity chamber opened, and Vegeta sauntered out. Her gaze followed him as he headed toward the main building, but if the Saiyan was aware of her watching him, he didn't outwardly show it.

No… she thought sadly, not even Vegeta can keep the dreams away anymore.

some steal my peace of mind
some my sleep at night
some my vision and talent
some my strength of heart

She reached out with one finger and gently caressed one of the blooming roses, feeling the silken softness of its petals.

"'You are the answer, the experience, the truth, untouchable, indestructible, even loveable.'"

Kurenai winced as a long-forgotten voice drifted out of her past. It had been a favorite quote of one of her teachers, centuries ago.

Teacher… friend… even lover, of sorts, if one such as I could ever be said to love…

It was he who had taught her the bliss of meditation in the middle of a rose garden. Together, they had spent hours side by side in the garden, eyes closed, intensely aware of the world, themselves, and each other. And in a rare moment of passion, he had made love to her in that garden as well.

She shuddered again as another breeze danced past her and sent her roses gracefully swaying.

What would you think of me now, my teacher? What would you think of your wayward student who struggles to remember what stillness and calmness true meditation brings to the soul?

my eyes, once so clear,
are darkened now

"'How many times do I have to remind myself? There is no way not to be who I am, and where.'"

Kurenai quoted the ancient poem to herself as she often had during her years as a scholar. Even centuries later, she could still smell the clean scent of pine wood as it burned in the fireplace of her room, could still recall the feel of the parchment beneath her fingers, could still hear the crackle of the fire and the hooting of the owls as they flew past her window in the night.

What am I? I am Kurenai. Scholar. Friend. Woman. Sorcerer. Teacher. Lonely. Abandoned. Hunted. Immortal.

Suddenly she laughed, a low and dejected sound.

I don't even know what I am anymore.

no amount of faith
no tears can lift the shadows

The stars began to twinkle above her as the sky's colors slowly blurred from vivid reds and golds into softer blues and violets.

In the back of her mind, she heard a child's laughter, clear and innocent.

"Catch it, Kurenai, catch the star!"

"Silly, you can't catch stars when they fall… you have to just let them go."

She dug her fingernails into her palms as her breath caught in her chest.

"It's dark, Kurenai… it's so dark… I'm frightened…"

"Shh, darling, don't cry… it will be all right. I'll catch a star for you… I'll catch you a star to light your way home."

"You will?"

"Yes, little one… all you have to do is close your eyes and see it. It's bright, so bright… and so beautiful."

Tears slid down her cheeks, just as they had that afternoon so very long ago.

No one should ever have to bury a child

fear moves inside the darkness
and the warmth within me
flees at terror's cold caress

Faces moved through her mind in a relentless parade of images – people she had known only for a single night. Someone with whom she could forget, even for a little while, what it meant to be immortal.

What it meant to be alone.

Tempting as it was, it was best not to stay. Not to become attached. But at least for one night, I could remember what it felt like to just be a woman, to hold someone and be held, to feel alive.

But in the end, it never lasted. She had been forced to remain content with just those fleeting moments of passion, those nights of aching need and heat, never to know the quiet bliss afterward.

Never once to hear the word 'love' spoken.

why do the shadows come for me?

Her hand drifted uneasily to rest over her heart, covering the tattoo that had been inked into her skin with meticulous care. Even as she closed her eyes, she could still see it – black and white coils twisting and writhing. She still swore that if she stared at it long enough, it moved.

I still dream about it… taking a knife to it and carving this damned thing off of me.

Instinctively her fingernails sank into her flesh.

Since the day it appeared, it's drawn trouble to me like a magnet attracts iron. Because of it, I'll always be hunted, always be alone.

are they messengers
of some dark fate for me?
or for someone else?

The voice whispered in her head again, as it had time and again for as long as she could remember.

"Untouched by age, by illness, by injury…"

She had been protected by her immortality, but she was no stranger to death. She had lost innumerable friends, had buried countless others, had killed many more. Sometimes, during feverish dreams, she could see blood all over her hands, felt as though she had been covered in it, until she woke up screaming and drenched in sweat.

At times she thought that her spirit would be crushed under the weight of the dead.

"… to prepare for this battle that is now her fate…"

"Shut up!" she cried out, and instinctively brought her head back hard against the wall of her house. The voice stopped in a blaze of pain.

Why me? she wept silently. Why did you have to choose me? Why can't you just let me die?

the thieves seek their victim…
… the fear seeks warmth…
… the shadows seek someone
I know and love.

Inside her house, she could her phone begin to ring. Once, twice, a third time. Then silence. It rang again, and this time she heard her answering machine pick up. Then she heard, "Hey, Kurenai, it's Gohan, pick up the phone. Kurenai? Hello? I thought you were going to be home… Hello? I guess you're not there. I'll try again later."

She slowly sank down along the wall until she was sitting on the ground, her knees drawn up to her chest.

The phone rang again a few minutes later. As the answering machine clicked on, this time she heard, "Kurenai? It's Goku… I know you're home, I can feel your energy there. Why aren't you answering the phone? Kurenai? Why won't you answer me?"

Gohan lying dead in her arms. ChiChi sobbing over her husband's body.

And not just them… All of them… Krillin and Tien, Yamcha and Piccolo and Vegeta… She felt her stomach twist and her heart stop at the thought.

It will happen again… I know it will. But how can I just stand aside and let them die for me?

Kurenai wrapped her arms around herself and sobbed quietly.

and I, for once,
cannot hold back
the darkness approaching.