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30 December 2005 @ 11:02 pm
Numb3rs Fic: Hanukkah 2004 - The Empty Chair  
Written for numb3rsflashfic Challenge #4 - Holiday

Title: Hanukkah 2004 - The Empty Chair
Series/Universe: The Hanukkah Series
Pairing/Characters: Charlie, Alan, Don
Rating: PG13
Spoilers: UP, Sacrifice
Summary: The Eppes men face their first Hanukkah without Margaret
Notes/Warnings: Read the disclaimer on my LJ

Other comments are housed at numb3rsflashfic.

Alan pulled the lid off the box in front of him and pulled out the family's menorah.

That was as far as he got.

When Charlie came home, he found the opened box and the menorah still on the dining room table.

In silent understanding, he began to unpack the box and set up the house for the holidays. Once he was done, he put the empty box back in the garage.

Alan said nothing when he came back downstairs later - nothing needed to be said between them.

Charlie made sandwiches and they ate in near silence, closing out their day in peaceful companionship.

"I wanted to let you know," Charlie said quietly as they brought their dishes into the kitchen. "I'm taking some extra time off from work for the holidays. Friday's my last day, then with winter break and all, I'll have the rest of the month off."

Alan opened his mouth to protest, but stopped himself and just nodded.

This wasn't just his first Hanukkah without his wife; it was Charlie's first without his mother.


Charlie had warned his father that there might be a delivery or two, but he wasn't prepared for the crates that arrived on Thursday morning.

"We were told we should set up the larger unit in your..." the appliance delivery man checked his paperwork, "game room?"

"Sure, I guess," Alan said, a bit bewildered.

"The paperwork says the other one should just be unpacked and left anywhere that's convenient for you. Apparently it's going to another residence later?"

Alan shook his head in confusion. "I have no idea. This is all my son's doing and he's at school right now."

"Ah, a college student," the man nodded.

"No, actually he's a college professor."

The man ducked his head in embarrassment. "My mistake."

Alan just smiled at him. "Trust me, if you saw how my son dresses, you'd be asking me if I was sure he wasn't still a student!" He glanced at the smaller crate and gestured towards the garage. "The door to the garage is open so you can leave the smaller unit in there."

"Thank you. We'll get this all done and be out of your way as quickly as possible."

Alan headed into the game room and found a place had been cleared and a piece of notepaper taped to the wall with 'Place larger freezer here' written on it.

"What are you up to, Charlie?" he muttered to himself.


When Charlie came home, he thanked his father for taking care of the freezers, but said no more about them.

He spent almost an hour after dinner cleaning out the refrigerator - throwing away anything even remotely old and completely emptying two full shelves.

Friday morning's delivery made sense of Charlie's actions. Alan signed for a dozen bags of groceries and the deliveryman gave him the items for the freezer, refrigerator and pantry separately so he could put them away more easily.

When he got home, Charlie checked the items against his list and was frustrated to find that not everything had arrived.

"Dad, do you have any idea where I can buy poppy seeds around here?"

Alan raised an eyebrow. "Poppy seeds? Are you planning on using your knowledge of chemistry to go into business or something?"

Charlie looked at him, puzzled.

"Poppy seeds? As in opium poppies?"

Charlie rolled his eyes. "Dad, the opiates aren't derived from the poppy seeds, they come from the plant itself."

"And where do you think you get opium poppy plants? From seeds!" Alan made a flustered noise. "It was supposed to be a joke, Charlie. I don't know what you want poppy seeds for, but you can buy them at the gourmet shop on Raymond Avenue."

Charlie nodded. "Thanks."

He was gone for over an hour, but when he returned he had a lot more than poppy seeds in his bag.

"You planning on doing some cooking?" Alan asked, seeing the ingredients Charlie had purchased.

"Yes," was the full extent of his reply.


Charlie distracted by math in the kitchen was a nightmare.

Charlie focused in the kitchen could work magic.

He spent three days straight, cooking and baking, sealing up his output in vacuum packed plastic bags, which he then put into the two freezers.

Alan let him be, sensing this was a solitary activity for a reason.

Charlie prepared dinner each night as well, but it would always be their normal fare - never be anything he'd cooked that day.

With Charlie obsessed in the kitchen and Don stuck working a case, Alan felt somewhat adrift not having anything to do.

He'd wander through the house for a while each morning, then find some excuse to go out and run errands, unwilling to admit that the familiar aromas coming from the kitchen made him heartsick inside.

Thankfully, his friend Stan rescued him and dragged him in to help out at the food bank he volunteered at. It felt good to be helping again and Alan resolved to do more charitable work in the new year to come.

He returned home in time for dinner and found Charlie crashed on the couch, the kitchen a mess of dirty pots and pans.

Charlie stirred when he heard his father moving around the room.

"You're back," he said sleepily. "Dinner will be ready in about ten minutes, okay?"

"It's okay," Alan said, waving him back down. "I can make something for myself. You go back to sleep. You look beat."

"I'm fine." Charlie got up and headed for the kitchen. "How does split pea soup and bread sound?"

"Sounds fine," Alan said, watching Charlie rub his neck as he walked away. "You want a hand with those dishes later?"

"No thanks," Charlie's voice wafted out of the kitchen. "I can take care of them all."


The next morning when Alan came down to make coffee, he saw that the kitchen was spotless.

Charlie didn't come down for breakfast until well past ten and even then he seemed tired and out of sorts.

Alan took away his coffee before he could drink any of it and sent him back to bed.

He came back downstairs several hours later, curls damp from the shower, looking much better.

"Can I have some coffee now or are you going to send me to my room again?" he joked.

"Ha! Nice one," Alan laughed. "I was right though, you obviously needed more sleep."

Charlie nodded. "Yeah, I kind of haven't been sleeping well the last few days."

Alan looked at his youngest son and could see the grief lingering just beneath the surface of his placid expression.

"It's the cooking," he said quietly. "Spending all that time with her recipe books this weekend had to be hard."

Charlie looked away for a moment then faced his father with a weak smile. "I'm fine. And I apologize if my cooking bothered you. It hadn't occurred to me that it might have made you think of her too. I'm sorry."

Alan laid a hand on his son's shoulder. "Don't be. It did make me think of her, but then I realized I'd missed having the smell of her cooking in the house. It kind of brought a piece of her back for the holidays in a way. So cook all you want, I'm sure she'd be happy to know at least one of us was trying to keep her favorite dishes going."

Charlie nodded his head in appreciation. "Thanks. I hoped you'd feel that way."

"I'd enjoy it more if I ever got to eat any of this cooking," Alan teased, trying to lighten the mood. "Any chance of that happening soon?"

Charlie grinned. "Hanukkah starts at sundown so I'd say the probability is very high. Is Don going to be able to make it?"

Alan sighed. "I'm not sure Don even knows the answer to that question."


Charlie was almost finished setting the table when his father came downstairs.

"Was that Don on the phone?"

"Yes. He's in the car and should be here in a few minutes."

Alan nodded. "He might actually make it by sundown. That would be a minor miracle in itself, considering traffic."

"Well, I know he said was going to try to leave at lunchtime, but I guess new leads kept popping up in his case so he couldn't get away."

Alan ran a finger thoughtfully over the special occasion tablecloth beneath the family's good china. Charlie had not only remembered which one to use, he'd taken the time to iron it nicely first.

"You know Charlie, there are a lot of traditional tasks your mother used to handle this time of year. I don't know..."

"Dad," Charlie stopped him with a hand on his arm. "I'm just cooking. I'm not trying to take her place in every way. You're still the head of the household. I'm not trying to..."

"I didn't mean it like that," Alan interrupted him. "I just..." He paused for a moment. "It's going to be hard for all of us without her." He looked up to face his son. "I just wanted you to know I'm fine with handling the rest of her duties, that's all."

Charlie nodded and smiled. "Sounds like Don's here," he said, listening to the sound of a car outside. "Just in time too."

Don burst through the door a few seconds later, his jacket half off him already. "Am I late? I tried to get here on time." He shrugged his jacket the rest of the way off and tossed it aside, looking at his father and Charlie expectantly.

"You're right on time," Alan assured him. "Why don't you catch your breath first, then we'll light the menorah?"

"I’m good. Are you guys ready?"

Charlie and Alan looked at each other. "Ready as we'll ever be," Alan said sadly.


They made it through the lighting of the menorah and the prayers without tears, even though Alan's voice cracked a little towards the end.

They sat for a while afterwards, finally allowing themselves the chance to share their memories of holidays past. While talking about her was hard, each man knew to ignore her absence and pretend it didn't matter would be even worse.

When Charlie excused himself to work on dinner, Don followed him into the kitchen.

"Did you set the table or did Dad?" he asked.

"I did, why? Did I forget something?"

"You set four places at the table. Is someone else coming? I thought this was going to be just family."

"It is just family, Don," Charlie said quietly. "I set a place for Mom as well."


"What? Is that such a bad thing? To remember her with such a small gesture?" Charlie was starting to get defensive and Don put up his hands to stop him.

"I'm not saying that. I'm just wondering if it's going to be harder on Dad to stare at her empty chair all night."

Charlie frowned. "You're right, I hadn't thought of it that way."

Don thought for a moment. "Hey, do we have another blue tablecloth? Doesn't have to be a good one, in fact it'd be better if you guys didn't care much about it."

"Sure, there's one in the linen closet that used to cover a side table. Why?"

"You'll see."


When Charlie carried the plate of latkes out to the table, he saw Don bring in a large plant whose pot had been wrapped up in the blue tablecloth.

Don placed the plant on the chair where their mother used to sit, then took his own place at the table.

"It's her present," Don explained. "She always wanted to grow star jasmine along the fence, but never got around to planting any. The nursery suggested we plant one now and see how well it winters. If it does well enough I can plant the whole fence in the spring."

"That's very thoughtful of you, Don," Alan said kindly. "I’m sure she'd like that." He looked over at the plant and smiled. "It's lovely even without flowers on it."

"She loved the scent, I remember that," Charlie mused. "It'll be nice to have it in the yard when they're in bloom."

The table fell silent for a while during dinner until Alan cleared his throat and finally asked the question he'd been wondering about all week. "So Charlie, what's with the freezers?"

"Freezers?" Don asked.

Charlie groaned. "Dad, you spoiled the surprise!" He looked over at Don. "I got a big freezer for the house and a smaller freezer for your apartment. I spent a couple days cooking up a bunch of Mom's best dishes and freezing them, so now we'll all have something to eat to remind us of her, even when we get busy."

Don smiled, his expression betraying how touched he was. "That's really nice of you. Thank you."

"Of course, I'll have to keep cooking from time to time, but that's fine." Charlie shrugged. "I think I kind of liked spending time in the kitchen like that. It felt like she was there with me, you know?"

Don sighed quietly. "Yeah, buddy. I know."


When dinner was over, Charlie excused himself to go get dessert ready.

"Don't tell me you made donuts!" Don guessed and Charlie grinned at him.

"What better comfort food for someone in law enforcement?" He chuckled and started gathering up plates. "Still going in on season tickets for Hanukkah?" he asked.

"Of course! This family's got to have baseball!" Don joked. "It may not be a surprise gift, but it's a good one."

"What about the fourth seat?" Alan asked suddenly. Don and Charlie froze, dishes in their hands. "They only sell season tickets in pairs so we always get four tickets. What are we doing to do with the extra ticket?"

Don and Charlie looked at each other. "Well, Larry loves baseball..." Charlie offered.

"I know I wouldn't mind taking one of my team members from time to time," Don added.

"And Art and Stan both like baseball, don't they?" Charlie looked inquiringly at his father.

Alan smiled a little. "Yes, they do. I guess I shouldn't worry about it then."

The brothers exchanged a look and Don handed his dirty dishes to Charlie, who headed into the kitchen with them. Don pulled his chair closer to his father. "Dad, I know this isn't what you hoped for..."

Alan stopped him before he could go any further. "It never is. Life is like that, filled with unexpected events - some pleasant some... not so pleasant." He thought for a moment and chuckled a little. "I mean, who knew Charlie had it in him to not only duplicate all your mother's cooking, but to buy us freezers to store it all in?"

"He really bought freezers?"

"He did!" Alan said, finally smiling. "He ordered a pretty good sized freezer and had it installed in the game room. Yours is out in the garage. Buying appliances without even talking to me first? . I tell you, it's like he owns the place or something!"

"Yeah, try picturing that: Charlie Eppes - homeowner." Don laughed and his father did as well. "Why the game room, though? Why not the garage?" he asked.

"He said he doesn't want the noise in the garage while he's working."

Don laughed. "He's taken over the solarium, the garage and now the game room. Yeah Dad, I'm getting the idea that Chuck thinks he's the one in charge!"

"Heaven help us!" Alan joked.

"Dessert is served!"

Charlie brought the plate of donuts to the table with a flourish.

"They look great, Charlie," Alan said sincerely.

Don eyed them then asked. "Are they jelly donuts?"

"Of course," Charlie answered. "Took three stores to find the same brand of jelly Mom used to use, but I managed to get it."

Alan took a bite and smiled his approval to his son, who beamed then turned to his brother.

Don picked up one of the powdered sugar confections, careful to keep it away from his dark shirt, and gave it a look of scrutiny before taking a bite.

"Did I do okay?" Charlie asked, a little nervously. "How does it taste?"

A contented smile spread over Don's face.

"You did great, buddy," he said. "Tastes like home."

T.monkeyfun1 on December 31st, 2005 06:24 pm (UTC)
HA>... You're KILLING me... Charles in Charge!!! I LOVE you! Happy Hanukkah!
This was very tender! Very moving and loving. It's hard to spend that first major holiday without a missing family member.
You have such a flair for these men. I always get such immediate visuals of all of them when they are in your capable hands.
Thanks Emma! just Lovely!
Emma DeMarais: BlueEyeemmademarais on January 1st, 2006 02:44 pm (UTC)

I was hoping someone would enjoy that little in joke.

As far as I'm concerned *every* major holiday is hard once you've lost a loved one, but yes, the first one is very painful. I'm glad you liked this one.

Happy Hanukkah to you and yours...


Emma DeMarais