When Rinoa woke up, she felt like hell.
Her first breaths told her everything. Her throat felt scratchy and she felt an ever growing soreness beginning to form. She could only breathe through one nostril as the other was clogged shut. Despite having just exited a slumber of the deepest, she felt as though she had only slept for a couple of hours. This, she knew couldn't be the case as she had retreated to bed at seven the evening before due to feeling extremely fatigued . She had begun to feel the symptoms of what she first figured was a measly cold, and now believed might be a flu. Everything was done in such haste that she had barely gotten the chance to speak to Squall.
Her arm expectantly reached beside her only to have her hand land abruptly on the mattress.
"That's strange" she thought. Squall always woke up at 6:00, rarely a minute before or after. The crazy part was that he never used an alarm clock. When Rinoa first inquired him about this, he'd shrugged and said that it was out of pure habit. After much thought, Rinoa decided that his military training most probably had something to do with it.
That was part of the little things she had gotten used to after marrying him.
Despite going on to their second year of marriage, the whole thing had seemed so novel to Rinoa. The past years had plunged her in a world entirely different from that of her first 17 years of life. Before meeting Squall and the others, the resistance group she had founded was based on the idea of a rebellion and doing what was right. However, it wasn't before she became involved with the Balamb Garden SeeDs that she truly found purpose to her actions and met the people who would forever change her life. Especially Squall.
When she'd first spotted the lonely soldier in the ballroom, leaning indifferently on the end wall, she had immediately felt a connection to him, one she had never been able to understand nor explain. Not one of yearning, but rather of curiosity. She felt as though he were a totally different person than he seemed to be, and that he needed that little push before opening up to the world. And that she would be able to give him that push.
Her impressions were proven right in the following magical moments they spent together, when within a few minutes' time and aided by her guidance, he'd gone from being seemingly clueless in terms of waltz dancing, to leading their dance with quintessential velocity.
From that day on, she had faith in her ability to have him open up to her. The same faith which ultimately brought them together.
She heard the sound of Squall's voice as it emerged from the living room, forcing Rinoa out of her reminiscing reverie. He spoke in a commanding tone, probably snapping orders into the receiver to prevent one crisis or another from occurring, like he'd been doing ever since he officially assumed the position as Headmaster. Rinoa sat up straight in an attempt to get up, an attempt which miserably failed as her head began reeling due to the sudden movement. She groaned as her head quickly returned to her pillow. She wasn't quite out of the slumber yet. "This is going to be a long day." Barely completing that thought, she was sucked back into the oblivion of dreamland...
Squall hung up after his fifth call to the office in just under an hour, an experience from which he learned that taking a day off had much more repercussions than he had originally thought. The Headmaster's unexpected absence meant countless effects on the day's activities, and consequently on those of the following days and even weeks. Ever since his first day, and against quite a number of his peers' recommendations, Squall had never taken time off other than the mandatory vacation allocated. It was the price to pay for assuming command of a weakened Garden. Even years after the war that had shaken Balamb Garden was over, the system narrowly depended on Squall's authority to recover.
Over time, he had become an inspiration, a sort of symbol. Famed for leading the elite team that risked it all to save the world, students now looked up to him and his team members as role models. So much had happened since the old days, the days of darkness, the days where making it to SeeD seemed to be the only goal he had ever fulfilled, a goal which he hadn't known what the purpose was anyway. Granted, the days proceeding when he stopped surviving and actually began living were long gone. Yet he still wasn't used to being the center of attention, and he quite frankly, never thought he ever would. How he'd gone from being the unhappy mercenary, survived a crazy period of self-searching all in the midst of a war, to being the successful and happy person he was today, was beyond him. But the one thing he knew for sure was that he owed it all to Rinoa.
She was the reason he would break his own rule and stay at home that day. The evening before, he'd returned home from work to find her visibly tired and weakened, despite her efforts in trying to hide it.
"Rin! Are you feeling alright?" One look at her had been enough for him to know that something was wrong with her.
"I'm fine, feeling a little tired that's all," she'd answered with a rapid flip of her hand. Her dark brown eyes looked tired, her nose was reddened and instead of her usually bubbly demeanor shoulders slumped slightly. She did not look "fine" at all. Squall observed her skeptically before raising a hand to her forehead, causing her cheeks to color. He frowned.
"You seem to have a bit of a fever..." his tone now heavy with worry.
"I think that I'm coming down with a cold..." she admitted, but quickly added "I'll just go to bed early today and I should be fine tomorrow. It's nothing I can't handle!" she smiled, not wanting to have her husband worry any further.
By the time she was tucked in, she looked exhausted. She fell into a deep sleep within seconds of hitting her pillow. At that very moment, her vulnerability brought up images within Squall, reminding him of a previous situation, far up in outer space, in the middle of nowhere. A moment suspended between life and death. Suddenly, he didn't want to leave her again. And the idea came quickly: He would stay home the next day, and see to helping her in every possible way to speed her recovery.
He woke up earlier than usual that day, anticipating the long time it would take to set things in order at Balamb Garden. Thankfully, he had called Quistis about his plans the night before and so half the task was already done.
"Fill in for you?" she'd asked, clearly surprised at Squall's unprecedented request.
"Rinoa's not too well and I think she might have come up with something. I'm going to stay with her and help around the house."
"Well, well, well," she'd scoffed playfully. "Mr. Workaholic actually giving up time at his desk to take care of someone... It can only be Rinoa."
Squall's face reddened at that remark and grew grateful he was on a phone and not face to face. He'd paused before replying. "Quistis, she's my wife. Isn't it the obvious thing to do?"
"Oh absolutely!," she'd gushed, before lowering her voice in conspiracy. "Only are you sure it's because she's sick or are you just playing hooky and planning a little escapade for you two? I mean, it is Friday and conveniently-"
"Instructor Trepe," Squall loudly interrupted, though deep down he wished he was actually in Quistis' suggested situation. "Surely I don't need to remind you of my position in relation to yours and that I am the one who signs your pay check..."
"Right, right!" she laughed. "Really, Squall leave everything to me. You might just have to call Xu tomorrow morning and fax her your direct orders. Protocol you know... Send Rinoa my best and let her know that I'll drop by tomorrow!"
"That is if I'm in a good enough mood to let you in," he'd said to a tone. She had already hung up.
Squall sighed audibly. He was finally done with all work related things. Now was the time to truly start the day. He began to assess the tasks he would have to undertake. First off, Rinoa needed to eat. Immediately, a vision of Potato Gratin Dauphinoiseentered his mind. The elaborate meal which they both had the night he proposed to her, also was her favourite dish. He knew that she kept a copy of the recipe to make at home in one of the kitchen drawers.
On his way to the kitchen, he glanced into the bedroom and saw Rinoa sound asleep, breathing laboriously through her mouth. The mere sight of her like this put him in a state of urgency. Quietly, he shut the bedroom door, and continued to the kitchen.
Squall had never considered himself to be a good cook. Unlike other things, he viewed cooking as something he would never be good at, no matter how much he practiced. Irvine -who had surprised everyone one day at Selphie's birthday party by preparing a meal including gourmet-level skewers, stuffed mushrooms and basmati rice among other things- had offered to show him a few "easy recipes", all of which had ended up setting up the sniper's apartment central smoke detectors, at which point Squall had given up. Today he wanted to make one dish to which he had a clear recipe. He'd just read and follow the instructions, with no improvisation and everything would be fine.
He hurriedly got to work. He mixed all the ingredients for the cream, measuring each one to the last gram before including it to the skillet, leaving it to simmer. He then proceeded to slice some potatoes into small near identical pieces. The soldier exercised the same military precision when chopping the onions, measuring the condiments and cutting oiling the aluminum pan. Finally, he put the dish in the oven.
Within two minutes, the sweet smell of marinated potatoes wafted around the house. Squall was proud. For once he had succeeded to cook something without setting off a single alarm. And he could already picture the charming smile gracing Rinoa's features once she will have seen her surprise...
However, a few moments later, the smell had turned from sweet spices, to something somewhat overcooked.
"Strange," the headmaster thought to himself. He picked up the recipe to confirm that he had gotten the time right, 15 minutes. "The dish still has 9 minutes to go! And the temperature is 200-"
His heart skipped a beat. It was 200 Fahrenheit. Not Celsius.
He quickly sprung into action, switching off the oven and opening it in a single swift movement.
The pan had turned to charcoal.
Rinoa woke up to a piercing sound she eventually identified as being of the smoke detector. Her alarm clock read 11:23. As she sat up, slowly this time, the faintest smell of burnt aluminum entered her her single unclogged nostril, removing all remaining effects of morning drowsiness. Panic filled her senses as she tried to situate herself in time. Today was Friday meaning Squall was long gone to work! She had been home alone since 8! What in the world was going on down there? She got to her feet, ignoring the slight nauseous sensation and her ever growing migraine. She opened the bedroom door only to be welcomed by a strong odor of burnt aluminum... And a distant sound of coughing in a familiar voice.
"Squall?" she called out.
"Rin! " he replied between two coughs. His voice came from the kitchen.
She entered to witness a disastrous sight. All windows were wide open in order to evacuate the smoke. Nearly all cabinets and drawers were open. The counters were covered in a mix countless bottles of condiments and sauces. On the floor, in the middle of the room, lay the burning remnants of the aluminum pan which, she supposed, formerly contained whatever Squall had planned to cook.
And there he sat wearing her baby blue apron, with a very irritated expression on his face.
The alarm stopped abruptly, plunging the house in dead silence. Squall and Rinoa stared at each other.
Rinoa couldn't stand it anymore. She leaned onto the table and laughed out loud. Squall groaned at her amusement before smiling weakly.
"I tried to cook you something." he sheepishly said.
"Oh I can see that!" she said between two bursts of laughter.
"I put the temperature in Celsius instead of Fahrenheit... I had every ingredient dosed perfectly too... It was Potato Gratin Dauphinoise. your favorite..."
At this point, Rinoa's laughter had subdued. Squall looked genuinely disappointed. She knelt down next to where he was sitting and held him in a tight hug.
"Squall! Please, don't be so hard on yourself! You made the effort and for this I'm truly grateful. I mean, you did take the time off work just to take care of me and that's more than I could ever ask for... Besides, I don't think I ever laughed this hard in my whole entire life!"
She began to chuckle and he let out another groan.
"Glad I could make you feel better," he said as he rolled his eyes.
She pulled back and faced him. "Thank you, Squall."
He reddened and glanced away. That was a thing about Rinoa, she was way too forgiving. It was part of the little things he had gotten used to.
"It's nothing, really. Whenever you you need me to destroy the kitchen, I'll be there for you." He smiled.