Aral always spends his school vacations with his grandparents. His father is off with his corps, and Aral's glad of it, honestly. He is. It gives him more time to become good enough before he has to go home and be measured against an impossible scale and be found wanting, yet again.
His grandparents meet him at the door. Aral salutes his Grandfather as always, because Father would have his hide if he disrespected a superior officer, and Grandfather accepts it, as always. Grandmother gives him a warm hug. Aral accepts it, as always.
"You have the room next to Padma again," Grandmother says, inviting him inside and to comment if he now wants to be away from babies, if he's decided he's too old to play games with his cousin.
Aral is never going to be too old for that. Padma's the only one that's easy. Everyone else is much too hard. Grandfather always watches him carefully and Grandmother always makes a big show over how she doesn't. He's Aral and he's their beloved grandson and he doesn't have to chase ghosts and prove himself better.
And if they keep pretending, maybe someday one of them might believe it.