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Visiting Hours

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He was back again.

It wasn't anything new to them; he came over at least once a week, every should have been grateful that he didn't take advantage of the fact that the courts had granted him an extra day every other week.

Maybe the fact hadn't registered in his mind yet? They were never quite sure how aware he was of everything going on around him; as far as they had seen over the past few years of his visits, almost nothing seemed to get a response from him.

He would just sit at their computer, looking up websites that had Red making a mental note to himself to delete the browsing history for the day once he was gone. If he wasn't on the computer, he was just in the corner, sometimes sitting in a chair, sometimes simply standing there – like a mannequin. If it weren't for the deep, raspy breathing that followed him wherever he went, they probably would have mistaken him for an actual mannequin – he was that still. Everything about him made them uneasy, and they wanted nothing more than for these visits to stop.

But, even if they had the ability to keep him from coming, they knew they wouldn't be able to take advantage of it.

As much as they hated having him over for the day, they loved Dennis just as much, and Dennis loved whenever his father was able to come to their house and spend the day with him; even if the man barely seemed to acknowledge his son with more than a stare or an occasional squeeze of his hand.

So, for the sake of the little boy in their care, Red and Art make themselves grin and bear it whenever he comes to visit for the day.

They don't try to interact with him, save for the standard "Hello" when he arrives and "Good day (or night, depending on how long he stays that particular day)" when he leaves.

They just try to ignore his presence as best they can, while still obeying the rules set up by the court; at least one of them had to be in the room with him and Dennis at all times, meaning they could never fully get it out of their heads that he was right there.

Those days pass slow – the few hours he spent with them feeling like days on their own.

While Dennis talks to – not with, the man never responds to anything his son tells him, other than looking down at him when he first starts his tale – his father, and attempts to get him to join in on a board game or watching television or reading a storybook, Red and Art each take their turn watching the father and son duo.

Whoever isn't with Dennis and his father (or just with the man himself, when Dennis leaves the room for whatever reason – Red and Art both dread those moments more than anything else) takes the time to do whatever needs to be done; whether that task involves running an errand or making a meal for everyone. They switch with each task, neither wanting to force the other to be alone with Roy for longer than is absolutely necessary.

The meals on those days are quieter than usual, as both Red and Art avoid asking each other any direct questions, partially to avoid making it clear that they were purposefully doing their best to ignore the presence of the tall, gangly man sitting across the table. The only questions were directed towards Dennis, and even then, they were rather simple questions; usually questions regarding school or something else the boy had done that day.

Likewise, Dennis was the only one who spoke when not either asking a question or being directly spoken to. He was also the only one who spoke directly to Roy, never seeming to be bothered by the fact that his father barely even acknowledged what he was talking about, much less give any sort of response.

Roy always leaves right after dinner, which is also the only time he actually interacts with his son's caretakers, in the form of handing his mostly-uneaten plate to whoever has the task of cleaning the dishes for that evening's meal.

They always thank him for that; no matter how much they dread him coming over, they do their best to remember their manners; partly because that was how they had been brought up, and partly because they wanted to set a good example for Dennis.

After the dishes are brought into the kitchen to be washed, it all goes very quickly. The three of them walk into the living room with Roy – Dennis leading his father by the hand with a smile, while Red and Art follow close behind, doing their best to hide their relief, and their guilt.

Before his father steps out the door, Dennis tells the man "Goodbye" and says how he can't wait until he can visit again, wrapping his arms around his waist. Roy just stares at the door for a moment before finally lifting one hand and placing it stiffly – but carefully – on Dennis's head.

The blue-haired boy beams at this bit of "affection" and tilts his head up – the hand doesn't move, so now his face his being covered by his father's palm – to give one final message before they have to part ways. "Love you, too, Dad."

The man looks down at his son, and for just a moment, Red and Art both wonder if maybe they saw the corner of his mouth twitch upwards, just slightly and just for a fraction of a moment.

After that, Roy takes his hand off Dennis's face and, without any more acknowledgements of the younger men, walks outside to where the car is waiting to take him "home" until his next scheduled visit.

Dennis stands by the window, watching and waving as the car drives away with his father sitting in the backseat. Once the car is out of view, the young boy looks over at Red and Art and asks if they think one day his dad could live with them for good.

Red doesn't say anything, but keeps himself from swallowing the lump in his throat as he nods his head.

Art does his best to keep his voice from trembling as he says, "Maybe, someday."

The boy seems pleased with this answer, smiling as he announces that he's going to play in their room before darting off.

When their ward is gone, the two men look at each other in silence. At the moment, it's hard to tell which is more prevalent in their minds: the relief that Roy is gone for the day, or the guilt of lying to the sweet little boy who was like family to both of them.