Disclaimer: Disappointingly not mine.

A/N: Written for KH Drabble Challenge #211 – 'apology'.

Sons of the Fathers

© Scribbler, December 2009.

"Quit spazzing, man."

Max took a breath and let it out through his nose. It didn't help, but let him formulate a non-snappish response. "I can't help it, Peej. I want everything to be perfect."

PJ's look was understanding. Shame hissed out of Max like air from a balloon. PJ didn't have a snappish bone in his body. He'd been stressing too, but wasn't having a meltdown like Max – impressive when you considered his dad had gone over to the dark side and left him to deal with the ensuing disgrace and humiliation. It took guts to face each day when people judged you by your parent's mistakes, watching for signs and waiting for you to fall like him, but Max had never heard PJ complain.

Then again, it wasn't much easier facing each day being judged by your parent's achievements. Unlike PJ, however, Max complained. A lot. And struggled. A lot. When your dad worked with the freaking Keyblade Master you had to do a lot to measure up.

Not for the first time, Max was grateful for his best friend and the calming clarity PJ brought just by being himself.

"Is my tie crooked?"

"Perfect. Same as the last time you asked." PJ raised his eyebrows. "Thirty seconds ago."

Max flushed. "Sorry."

"No problem." PJ glanced in the mirror and his features scrunched into a mask of concern. "Do these epaulettes make me look fat?"

"Dude, you did not just ask me that."

"What? What?"

"Roxanne can ask me that kind of question. You? Not so much."

PJ considered. "Point taken. When's she gonna get here, anyhow?"

Max adjusted his tie one last time. "She went straight to the parade grounds with the archery division. We'll hook up after the ceremony. I can't wait to introduce her to my dad."

True, some might consider it weird, introducing your girlfriend to your father two years after you started going out, but it had been that long since Max's dad came home. He'd promised to, but somehow saving other worlds always got in the way of being in this one.

But not today. Max had a solemn oath his father wouldn't miss this.

"Unbelievable." PJ shook his head. "Graduation, man. We survived!"

"Yeah." With honours. Max couldn't wait for the Valedictorian's Address, when he'd stand before all those people – students, teachers, parents, dignitaries – and they'd see he was more than just Son of Goofy. Moreover, he couldn't wait to see the pride on his father's face. That was why he'd joined the Royal Military Academy, after all. "We did it."

The grounds were already filling when they took their seats on stage. Max had a perfect view of the reserved seats in the front row. Two had embossed crowns for the king and queen. True, his majesty hadn't attended the last few ceremonies, but this year would be different. This year was special.

Even when the queen's entourage arrived and she took her place alone, Max was confident. His dad wouldn't let him down.

Even when the headmaster's speech began, and the front row still had gaps, his conviction didn't waver. So his father was running a little late. No biggie.

It was harder to stay buoyant when his turn came. He approached the podium slowly, giving his dad time to pop in at the last moment. Roxanne smiled encouragingly. PJ gave him a thumbs-up. Max only had eyes for one of the four empty seats. The queen was looking at him with sympathy, but he stayed rooted on that seat for every syllable of every word he spoke, as though he could somehow broadcast the words across space and time if he concentrated hard enough.

"I'm sure he had good reasons," Roxanne said afterwards, lacing her fingers with his and giving them a comforting squeeze.

"Yeah, man," PJ added loyally, but Max didn't miss the embarrassed edge to his voice. "He wouldn't have missed this for the world. You know that."

For the world? Max almost laughed at the wording.

The queen sought Max out. Her lady-in-waiting stood by wearing an expression that made Max's toes curl. This was supposed to be his day of triumph, not pity.

"The Captain sends his apologies," the queen said sadly. "Circumstances were out of his control." She touched the tangled clasp of Max and Roxanne's hands, and her tone softened. Suddenly she was Auntie Minnie, who used to play tag in the rose garden and gave him a specially carved sword and shield to play with on his seventh birthday. "He's doing great work, Max."

"I understand, ma'am."

PJ couldn't meet Max's gaze, obviously guilty his father's actions had kept Max's from seeing this most important of events. "Sorry, man."

"It's not your fault, Peej." Max's eyes stung, but he straightened his spine and smoothed his expression. He wasn't a kid anymore. He hadn't been for a long time. If nothing else, today proved that much. "Some things just aren't meant to be."