This must be the place.
It was almost sunset when Auron finally arrived at The Evrae, a dilapidated old Al Bhed inn sleeping deep in the slum district of Bevelle.
Wearily, he re-adjusted the heavy katana strapped to his back, feeling drained from the sheer length of his journey, and still heartsick with grief over everything that had happened. Worst of all, his wound had reopened again during the night and he'd slept little as a result.
Yet every time he thought about stopping to rest, he could hear Braska's voice in his head. Promise me, Auron. Promise me. So compelled by the weight of the secrets he carried with him, Auron had pressed on.
Now, finally at his destination, he paused only to give the rundown Inn one doubtful glance before entering, throwing caution to the wind in light of his fatigue.
The first human to exchange words with him in several weeks turned out to be the old Al Bhed woman who kept the Inn. She addressed him 'Sir' and bowed her head just as earnestly as she ushered him inside like a mother reprimanding some wayward child who had spent too long playing in the rain.
All severity melted from her face when she caught sight of his own.
He knew what she was seeing; the fearsome long battle scar marring his face, still cracked and bloody, grave brown eyes all but empty of emotion, and the beginnings of an unkempt beard. He supposed he must look like the recent victim of some common bar brawl. That, or a beggar.
Nevertheless, the fierce old harridan took only half a moment to recover herself, and had barely finished shutting the door when she rounded on him, admonishing. "Here, what a state you've gotten yourself into! You young men and your fights! Sit yourself down and let me see to that awful wound o' yours."
Auron sighed gratefully. "If you have medicine, I have the coin to pay for it. But first I need to inquire after a woman I was told worked here. Amanecera was her name."
"And her daughter, Yuna," he interrupted, firmly. "She would be 7 years old."
"My dear Lord," she told him, "You've come to the right place, but-"
"Where can I find them?" he asked impatiently.
"In the old cemetery," she said, her countenance suffused with compassion, "the first row on the left."
As it turned out, when he reached the grave site, Auron found he wasn't the only soul seeking out the company of Amanecera that evening.
It was almost impossible to spy her kneeling there in the moonlight, especially with only one good eye, but there she was all the same, a little girl with soft brown hair that curled inwards just past her chin.
A skinny little thing, he observed, wearing a tattered old Al Bhed dress and no sandals. Her bare toes were entangled in the strands of grass and soft earth beneath her feet, but if anything it looked like she might have done so on purpose. To feel the earth between her toes, he knew. Braska sometimes did the same. He would have smiled, but the memory was only painful to him now.
The little girl had turned to stare at him as he approached Amanecera's tombstone, but if his appearance frightened her at all, she gave no indication. Perhaps she can't see me.
Her eyes were the most noticeable feature of her pretty little face. One green, he perceived, for the mother, the other blue… for the father.
Auron crouched beside her near the grave. "What's your name, child?"
"I'm Yuna," she said softly. It was at that moment Auron noticed a pitiful-looking flower clutched tightly in her tiny fist. A hibiscus flower, he recognised.
"Do you live at the Inn?"
"Yes, Sir. The Evrae, Sir."
"Come then. We'll go back together."
After pondering the offer with all her seven-year-old knowledge, the girl decided that this arrangement suited her. "Yes," she agreed.
Even after everything he'd been through, something in the way the girl carefully arranged her crumpled little flower on the gravestone, as though she had been deliberating over the most perfect position for a long time, pulled at Auron's heartstrings. There was so much of him in her face, and in her movements.
Maybe that was what made him offer her his hand, as they both rose from the ground and Yuna wiped her grubby hands on her dress.
They walked along in silence, which suited Auron perfectly. He was not accustomed to the company of children. Though he supposed he must have been a child himself at one time, he had never felt an affinity for them. Neither did he possess the patience necessary to entertain a childish heart… he had learned as much on the Pilgrimage.
His train of thought was interrupted when Yuna suddenly remarked, "Your hair is long, for a man."
It was so unexpected that at first he felt a swell of outrage that could be traced back to his warrior's pride, which swiftly fled and became shock. But finally, as he realised the absurdity of the words being spoken out of the blue by a girl a third his size, he let loose a burst of laugher, startling even himself.
It was a weak laugh, hoarse even; such a sound hadn't emerged from his lips for what seemed like an Age.
When the laugh died, he admitted, "Yes, I suppose it is, at that."
He felt absurdly grateful to this little girl.
And if he had chanced to look upon his young companion at that moment, he would have seen her smiling for the first time.
That evening, after Yuna had been put to bed, the elderly old woman sat up with Auron as she tended his aching facial wound, and told him Amanecera's story.
"She died of the fever, Sir," she explained. "Her health was ever delicate. We can only hope her daughter doesn't take after her, poor soul. Oh, don't be such a child," she fussed as he jerked back unintentionally when she dabbed at tender scar tissue.
He grunted in response, and asked, with all the courtesy he could gather, that she continue.
"We urged her to go to her brother, Sir." She lowered her voice and said, "Our Cid - the leader of all the Al Bhed, and always out warring. But he might have been able to take care of her better than us." She shook her head regretfully.
Much to Auron's relief, she removed the blood-soaked cloth from his face for a moment, to dampen it in a bowl of clean water.
"But would she go? Well, they had quarrelled over some matter, and if you ask me, most like her brother would overlook whatever it was after one look at her condition. He's a kind soul, our Cid, under all that gruffness, you can always tell. A bit like you, Sir," she remarked, and smiled knowingly.
Auron raised an eyebrow.
"But she wouldn't go. Whatever it was they'd squabbled over, she'd been wounded too sorely and wouldn't be the first to bridge the gap between them. It's a sad story, Sir."
"There are many sad stories in Spira," he replied. Too many, as far as Auron was concerned. He'd just walked away from one, and now he had walked right into another, it seemed. They follow me wherever I go.
"Now the child," she continued. "Yuna. There's an even sadder tale. Lost her mother, and now she's lost her father, it would seem, hmm?" Auron regarded her in surprise. He hadn't given the old woman enough credit; apparently she knew far more than she first revealed.
"We don't have enough money to keep her, I'll admit that much. Unless she's taken away from here soon, most like Rin will put her to an Al Bhed orphanage. Oh, don't mistake my meaning, good Sir, most like she'll get a lot o' care, but precious few good meals and even fewer prospects, I fear." She pulled back and looked at Auron meaningfully.
Even as she offered the suggestion, he could hear Braska's voice, pleading. Promise me. Promise me.
"You'll take her, then," concluded the old woman, detecting the resolve in his face. She nodded firmly, finally lifting the cloth from his face. "There," she said, "I've cleaned it up best I can. That's all can be done for now, but don't you go pawing it any time soon."
"You have my gratitude," he said sincerely. The wound did feel a lot better, a mild sting replacing the relentless throbbing of yesterday.
"One more thing, Sir," she said tentatively, "If you would, before you take your leave."
He made some noise of assent, sensing she was about to broach a graver matter.
"Is it done? Did m'Lord bring us the Calm?" There was no change in her features, but unless he was imagining it, her gnarled hands clutched the cloth a little tighter.
His own hands fisted at the question. How ironic that the Calm would bring happiness to millions… to the whole of Spira… to everyone except himself. And perhaps one other. "He did," Auron heard himself answer, in a voice that sounded hauntingly still.
Her only response was a deep, shuddering sigh – just one – yet somehow it sounded like a thousand sighs, in a thousand different voices.
Auron rose from his chair, stiffly, and began to make his way up the stairs to the bed she had prepared for him. Before climbing the first step, however, he put his hand on the bannister and turned back to the old woman, just for a moment. Then he said, "An eternal Calm."
The next morning he sat by Yuna's bedside, waiting for her to awake. He gazed upon her peaceful little face with a strange feeling he thought might be the beginnings of love. He knew by experience that this was a dangerous thing. And far more disturbing was the thought that these feelings were the same deep love and respect he had felt for Braska, only transferred into a new vessel. Though a smaller vessel, for sure, he thought, amused.
Presently, Yuna's eyes opened and she blinked at him in a sleepy stupor for a moment, before remembering her courtesies. "Good morning, Sir."
"Good morning, Yuna. I wanted to inform that I'll be leaving The Evrae today."
"Yes, Sir," she replied, but her troubled face belied her words.
Never one to dance around an issue, Auron explained, "I'm going to offer you a choice, Yuna. When I leave today, if you so wish it, you can come with me. You can come to live with me, or you can go to live in a school for other children like yourself."
Her face fell. "Other children without mothers and fathers, you mean?"
That is the gist of it, I suppose. "Yes."
Inexplicably, he found himself delighted when she decided, "I want to go with you."
They were half way to the exit of the city when he felt her little hand tug down on his own in weariness. Instantly, he swept her up in his arms so she could rest her head on his shoulder and sleep for a time. A deep yearning began to build inside him as he planned their new home, and he could surely sense Yuna's own restlessness. It won't be long, he thought. Peace awaited him on the Isle of Besaid, awaited them both.
Just before she drifted off to sleep, her head warm against his shoulder, he heard her whisper, in the tiniest of voices, "Will you be my father?"
As he looked into those lost little mismatched eyes, it was the easiest thing in the world for him to say yes.