I don't own them, *sigh*. But neither do you, so there! My response to the DSL "Rain" challenge, i.e. put your favorite character and rain together.

It was raining. The early morning sky this Mid-March of 1914 had started slate grey but quickly turned black as rain began to fall and the four people, three men and one woman, found themselves quickly drenched. They had left Prague before sun-up, hoping to make an early start and get close to a carriage station some 50 miles away. But the rain had started at sun rise – not that anyone could see the sun through the thick cloud cover - and the dirt road was quickly awash in mud as the rain turned into drenching sheets and then opened up into a torrential downpour.

Yuri Hyuga turned up the collar of his dirt-brown trench coat and shrugged. He had experienced such weather before in China and Siberia. He didn't think anything of it. But his companions: the elder Zhuzhen was mincing through the watery slew that had once been a road, while Alice did her best to step between the raindrops. Funny, he had never thought of her that way; with the rain spattering her blue coat and the mud turning her white stockings into - well they reminded him of mottled eggs! - trying to avoid each raindrop before it settled onto her already soaked clothing. Keith, the mysterious vampire from Bistritz was staring at him as if the rain was his fault, his piercing gaze cutting through whatever comment he had sitting on his tongue. With a shrug, he sighed.

"Okay, we need to get to shelter, yes?" he offered. Zhuzhen looked up with one rheumy eye and one fogged eye-glass.

"It's about time, idiot!"

"So where do you suggest?" Alice asked.

Yuri looked around. The road bent behind them leading back to Prague, its muddy expanse already traversed with no signs of shelter. Ahead the road continued into the distance, surrounded by woodlands, and disappearing into the low-lying clouds and fog. Yuri was about to shrug his diffidence to the lack of shelter when his sharp eyes caught sight of a structure in the dim distance.

"How about up there?" he said, pointing out the potential shelter.

His three companions nodded their acquiescence and followed quickly as Yuri went ahead at a run to check out the accommodations. It wasn't much, merely a road-side shelter set aside for travelers in these parts. Yuri rummaged around but found nothing but firewood, and little of that. No one had been to replenish the shelter's supplies in quite some time from the look of neglect. But he did get the fire laid and was just lighting the wood as the others arrived.

"Well, I can't say much for the decor," Zhuzhen said with a huff, wiping water from his face and wringing out his soaked pigtail. The shelter was little more than a three-sided structure made of wood. The wood was splintered and grey with age. On one side was a box with the remnants of the firewood, while another box that should have held water and food was bare save for spider webs.

"We'll be hungry unless someone thought to bring lunch," Yuri said while striking the flint to light the fire. Even in the modern world there were throw-backs like Yuri who still used a flint; his excuse was always that matches got wet and considering his life-style, no one argued the point. He was a ruffian, born of common rabble and living a life without a future, according to Master Zhuzhen.

"That's all right; I brought sandwiches. They're in your bag, Yuri," Alice said with a smile as she settled down next to the fire.

"My bag? I'm carrying the food? But I've been lugging the tent and bedding ever since we left the castle!" he complained.

Zhuzhen smiled. "You were also free-loading on Lord Keith here for over a month. You need a workout anyway," the ancient said with a chuckle as he too settled next to the fire. "Bring the food, will you boy?"

Yuri stood up and looked down at the elder Chinese Adept and scowled, his amber colored eyes shading to a dark golden brown.

"Get it yourself you old coot!" Yuri growled, but Alice looked up and indicated the bag set next to the open wall.

"The food and bedding will get wet if you leave it outside. Please Yuri?"

Yuri looked from Zhuzhen to Alice and back before shrugging and fetching the bags.

The four travelers shared the sandwiches and companionable silence as the rain continued to pummel down on their meager shelter. After a while Yuri rose and stepped outside, his need to move overriding his desire to stay dry. He walked around behind the shelter, his eyes scanning the near darkness for additional wood for the fire; there was no way their small supply would last through the afternoon and approaching night and the rain showed no signs of abating.

Inside the shelter, Zhuzhen had removed his coat and wrapped up in his blanket, setting his wet clothing out to dry. Keith sat next to him, his eyes half lidded as he silently contemplated the rain. The roadway had become a quagmire of mud and running water as the torrential rains poured from the sky; in his four hundred years of life Keith had seen it enough times to not be entertained by downpours of this magnitude. He let his thoughts wander with the rain. Next to him, Alice too had removed her jacket, laying it beside the fire to dry. She had pulled her blanket around her and was silently shivering with the cold from her drenching. She wished Yuri would come back inside. She didn't think about why; only that she missed him when he wasn't there.

'That's such a difference from what I felt before,' she thought. 'I remember being frightened of him. I thought he was a veritable devil!'

Her thoughts roamed back to a similar rainy afternoon in China. They had taken shelter from a brief shower and Alice had pulled away from the dark-haired young man, trepidation filling her once more when she thought of all that was happening to her. The warlock, Roger Bacon, had attempted to steal her away from the Japanese Army who was holding her prisoner. They were transporting her to Fengtian when Bacon showed up, killing the soldiers. Just when she thought all hope was lost, a young man stepped into the salon car. She was unsure what exactly happened afterwards, as Bacon had rendered her unconscious. But the man, Yuri, claimed he had killed Bacon in rescuing her. Alice had doubted that statement. And the young man proved to be a dangerous element added to her already frightening life. He was Darkness class, a Harmonixer with empathy for the dead; and a Fusionist with the power to merge his soul with the souls of monsters. He was all these things and none of them safe for her, a Light class Mage and a sister of the Episcopal Church. But he had saved her life. He had been kind to her even in her adversity. And she had reciprocated. And discovered in doing so that Yuri, in spite of his rough edges, was a kind man; a boy really in a man's packaging. And she found she liked him.

That day, as they sheltered from the rain, she had watched as he paced back and forth in their small haven; often stepping out to check the area for dangers even when it was apparent there were none. He had stood guard for her while she took a much needed nap and when she awoke, it was to watch the rain sluicing down his back in runnels. Yuri stood, face to the grey sky, rain washing his face and … his tongue out to catch the drops! He was like that; more child than adult.

He had laughed when he realized she had seen him, and entered the shelter for a brief nap himself.

"Wake me if anyone comes, all right Alice?"

And Alice had agreed, pulling out her prayer book. It was Sunday, and she longed to be home in church. But she was no where near either home or church.

'I'll offer up my prayers here, while I wait. God will surely hear me and …' she looked askance at the sleeping harmonixer. 'And please God, this devil in man's form, remains true to his promise of protection.' Like him she did, but he still frightened her. She offered up silent prayer until the rain tapered off and Yuri awakened. They then continued on to Fengtian.

Yuri returned to the shelter with an arm load of wood which he tossed into the wood box. He looked around briefly but only spotted Alice reading and so turned back to watch the rain as it hammered its way into the soaked earth. In China he had taken shelter more than once from a quick downpour, often being stranded for hours as torrential rains pummeled the earth. And often as not, he would give up after a while and brave the rains, just to keep moving. He did not understand the drive to keep moving, to walk, to run; it drove him from his childhood. Perhaps it was the same thing that drove him into the snowstorm that day his mother died. Fear - fear of being caught. But by what he had never known. Ultimately it was his fusion that pushed him along; that he knew now, but why he still felt that way …

Yuri sighed and turned back into the shelter. Keith had stretched out his long legs and was, to all appearances, napping. Zhuzhen was quietly snoring next to him, leaving only a small space next to Alice and the fire. Yuri debated a moment, then took off his coat, shaking the water from it, and laying it next Alice's jacket, and joined her at the fire. He leaned back against the aging interior wall, the light of the fire flickering in his eyes and dazzling them. He watched as Alice slowly turned pages in her book, her lips moving silently in prayer.

'She sure prays a lot,' the young fusionist thought. 'I wonder what she prays about.' He thought back to the night he had met the young woman and her speaking dreams. She had called out for her father that night, revealing that her father had been murdered not that long ago. 'Maybe she's praying for him; although a holy man like him is probably in heaven.' Yuri mused for a moment on the concept of heaven as presented by the priests he had known as a child and the one presented by Alice. Her ideas seemed much kinder than the painful lessons imparted by the priests in Ussuriysk or in Novgorod. Both had believed in using the rod to impart God's grace and Yuri still wore scars from those lessons.

After a little while, Alice put up her book and, wrapping herself tightly in the blanket, settled down for a nap. Yuri watched in silence, listening as the wind and rain offered their own lullaby but refusing to succumb to its blandishments. Instead he watched the slow rise and fall of Alice's breathing; the gentle susurration that told him she slept. A part of his mind took boyish delight in the view, wondering how soft she was beneath that blanket. That same part got him into trouble with the young lady back in China when he reached out a presumptuous hand and touched her.

He smiled with the memory, because it was the first time he had ever seen such a beautiful white woman before. Growing up around Siberia he had seen Russian women, and of course the Chinese ladies, but never one as pale and fair complected as Alice. However, it quickly became apparent that he could look but not touch, as he was there to protect her from the warlocks Bacon and Dehuai and the Japanese Army, at all costs: including his life if need be. That last part he had known instinctively within a few days. Something about her had set his own powers and energies into high gear, setting into motion the chain of events that had lead to his near death at the powerful hands of a summoned god of the Earth.

Yuri shuddered, partially from the cold and partially from memory. He didn't want to remember the god of the Earth turning its awareness onto him and swallowing up his mind and soul as well as his body. He had never been more terrified in his life, not even when the zombies killed his mother! If it hadn't been for Alice… Shaking his head he reached over and pulled out his blanket from the pile of their gear. He wrapped himself in the tattered blanket and scooted closer to Alice. He might not be able to touch her, but he could lie down next to her and pretend.

Sometime in the night the rain stopped and a cold wind blew in off the northern mountains, sending the clouds scudding across the sky in ragged sheets. Keith was the first to rise, setting up the fire once more and setting the pan on to boil water. Alice soon joined him in the preparations and they spoke quietly while they worked. Behind them Zhuzhen and Yuri yet slept, Zhuzhen curled up in a ball in his blanket and Yuri lying on his stomach, his blanket pulled up to act as a pillow. He seemed to be dreaming as his hands moved in little motions and his eyelids fluttered. Alice sighed. He looked so much different when he slept. Gone was the cocky mask that he wore as well as the short temper. Instead he showed a simple innocence that warmed Alice's heart toward the young fusionist and reminded her how much she liked him; enough so that she traded her own soul for his … but time enough to worry about that later.

When the others finally awoke the breakfast was ready and Yuri inhaled his quickly in order to pack up the bedrolls. He grumbled a bit as he worked, making sure the others heard his comments about being a harmonixer not a work horse … Zhuzhen smiled and Keith shook his head in amusement while Alice cleaned up the dishes. A little after sunup they were once again on the road, skirting the muddy road itself in favor of the strip of soft ground alongside and just under the forest canopy. The wind was still blowing strongly, shredding the clouds even further, scattering them along the slowly lightening sky, clearing it rapidly.

By noon they had gone a little more than half the distance to the carriage station at Labem. Climbing a steep hill, they stopped at the top and surveyed the countryside. Behind them was the mountains thick with forests while ahead lie the Ehre river and beyond that, Labem.

"How about a break for these old bones," Zhuzhen asked as he joined Alice and Yuri at the top.

"You getting tired, old pops?" Yuri asked.

"No! Whaddya thinking? I was talking about Lord Keith." Keith stood beside the ancient adept and smiled, shaking his head with amusement.

"I quite agree," he said in cultured tones. "We could all use a breather."

Yuri looked from Zhuzhen to Keith and suspected collusion, but let it slide with a shrug.

"All right." He gestured for Alice to join him at a small copse along the side of the road. Wind-blown branches were mostly bare on the scraggly trees but Yuri undid the bedroll and offered Alice a blanket to sit on before pulling the remainder of the food out for her.

"Thank you Yuri. And don't forget the others."

Yuri nodded and took the pack to Zhuzhen and Keith who had chosen a rocky outcrop for their sitting arrangement.

"Hey, food!" he called and tossed the pack to Keith before returning to Alice. She was sitting with her book open in her lap and absently chewing on an apple. Yuri joined her on the blanket and watched her read while he ate.

"Alice, I been meanin' ta ask ya something," he began absently a little while later. He was leaning on one elbow, stretched out on the blanket, feet crossed and he had snatched a small broken branch from the ground and was systematically peeling it into shreds.

Alice looked up from her book expectantly. "Yes, what is it, Yuri?"

""What do you pray about all the time? I mean, I see you praying and you do it a lot it seems ..."

Alice smiled and closed her book. "I pray for us, Yuri. For my father, and your parents; for the world. For the future."

Yuri remained quiet as he shredded the last bit of his branch into a twig the size of a matchstick.

"Oh," he said.

When they finally were ready to continue, Yuri followed Alice down the hill toward the flash of water that was the river below. He looked up briefly to survey the horizon and paused to look at the now clear blue sky. Like their path today, his past had been dark and stormy with conflicts and fear dominating it. But if Alice could pray for his parents whom she did not know, or for the future of the world, which was quite large, then Yuri's problems didn't seem quite as overwhelming as they had before.

They would find the warlock Bacon. They would stop his mad schemes and plans. And, as Yuri's eyes once more gravitated towards Alice's delectably swaying backside, he looked forward to a brighter future; one that included Alice.