Title: Next of Kin. Part 3, Oregon series

Author: FraidyCat

Genre: Drama, Angst; This time I mean it.

Time line: 6 mos. from Last Time

Summary: For anyone out there who has ever had a brother…

Disclaimer: Don't own 'em – but wanna cuddle 'em.

Chapter 1

The three Eppes men argued over the call.

"Whaddya mean, out? You're not even looking at the screen half the time, Charlie!"

Charlie quickly placed his lap top on the table in front of him. "I have to enter this data. You're the one who asked me to do this! Besides, Dad saw it, too."

"I have to agree with your brother, Don…"

"No, now, watch…" Don sat up straighter on his end of the couch. "Here comes the instant replay. Don't watch the tag, guys, watch the second baseman's foot. He's not on the bag. The tag is no good."

Alan put on his glasses and leaned forward in the chair, peering at the television. As the video played, he let out a snort of disgust. "Did we have a bet on that?"

Don laughed. "You know the rule. No bets until Charlie turns off the PC." He looked over at his brother on the other end of the couch, grinning madly at the computer back on his lap. "Thanks for doing this, by the way."

Charlie picked up one the files stacked between them. "No, this is great. I can't believe how well this data is formulating itself into the existing algorithim we already used. Beta testing to the max." He put down the folder and began typing again, then looked momentarily at his brother. "You don't think there's some kind of network for financial fraud out there, selling a pirate copy of my application?"

Don wasn't sure Charlie was serious, so he just shook his head, changed the subject. "I hate commercials. Except during the Super Bowl."

A ringtone sounded and all three men automatically reached for their cell phones, Don to his belt clip, Charlie and Alan to the table between the couch and the chair. Alan placed his back on table. "Looks like you win, Charlie."

Charlie smiled and flipped open the cell, pushing himself off the couch. He checked the caller display and frowned, placed the phone to his ear as he walked toward the kitchen and away from the noise of the ballgame. "Hello," Don heard, and tried to get Charlie's attention. He wanted another beer, as long as Charlie was going to the kitchen. "Speaking." Charlie was cupping one hand over his other ear, trying to hear better as he disappeared. "Who is this, again?" His brother didn't turn around to see him waving, and Don decided to wait for the next break in the game.

"What have you got him working on?" asked Alan, eyes still on the screen.

"It's a pretty major fianancial…situation…Merrick wouldn't even let us give him all the data."

Alan tore his eyes away from the screen. "But his security clearance is higher than yours!"

Don rubbed a hand over his eyes. "I wish you would quit saying that. The only thing he's missing is names. We have a code system set up for those. Merrick doesn't want any leaks, to the press. He's pretty manic about this one…NO! NO! That did NOT just happen!"

Alan got his eyes back to the screen in time to see the triple play. "I really wish he would turn that thing off so we could start betting. Your brother would never leak to the press, or anyone else."

"I'm not saying he would, Dad. Not my call. Merrick is really taking this personally. Called us in on Sunday, cancelled all leave, put two teams on it…"

Alan lifted an eyebrow. "Do you even know everything? Or are there codes between levels of FBI involvement?"

Don frowned. "Hard to say. I've never seen the Director this involved on the investigation level. Something's up."

The next set of commercials was half over before Don remembered his beer. He stood and stretched, grabbed the empty from the floor. "Want anything, Dad?"

"No, thank you, son, I'm fine." Alan eyed the empty bottle. "Two more of those, and you're not driving home."

"Dad…"

"I'm serious, Don."

"So I'll make this one last four innings," Don said, and walked into the kitchen.

At the doorway, he saw Charlie sitting at the kitchen table. His cell phone was lying on the table, and he was looking at it as if it were alive, and some sort of threat to him. He was pale. His hands lay limply in his lap. His breathing was so shallow, Don couldn't even swear to it that he was breathing. His beer forgotten, Don pulled out the chair opposite his brother. "Charlie? What is it?"

He was a little surprised that Charlie reacted right away, but the younger man lifted his eyes from the cell phone long enough to look at Don. "I have to go," he said.

Don felt an almost inexplicable tightening in his own chest as he measured the pain shining in the dark eyes on his. "Where? Who was that?"

"The manager. At the Marina."

The Marina. That could only mean Lost Creek Marina in Southern Oregon, where Charlie's friends Sam and Jenna lived and worked. Charlie had spent several weeks with them last year, and a few months ago he and Don had taken a vacation — of sorts — with them together. His throat began to close a little. "What happened?"

Charlie's eyes were back on the phone, and he spoke as though he were reading from its text display. "Winterizing boats, for storage. Sam works long hours in October, doing that. Jenna took his lunch, they were there together, while he was…he was…he was 'bleeding a line.'" He looked briefly at Don. "I don't know what that means." Back to the phone. "Explosion." Back to Don. "Explosion."

Don reached a hand across the table, but Charlie didn't respond to it. "Tell me," he whispered.

Charlie's eyes wandered around the kitchen, and he shrugged. "Can't. Sam was blown off the boat, under the dock…it was a long time before some other boaters at the dock got him out, and Jenna was hit with shrapnel, Mike thinks. He doesn't know much. It just happened, a few hours ago, and they won't tell him, at the hospital." His eyes finally got back to Don. "Privacy laws."

"Then why did he call you?"

"He had to take their employment paperwork to the hospital, for an emergency contact. It's me. They listed each other, and me. The hospital wants me to come."

Don pulled back in his hand. His fingers drummed the table in front of him. "Buddy, it'll be okay. Have you called the airlines?"

Charlie stood up. "No. I'm just going. I'll have to connect to something in San Francisco anyway."

Don stood as well, stepped around the end of the table to touch his brother's arm. "Go upstairs and pack. I'll see what I can find out, and then I'll take you to the airport." Charlie nodded, but didn't move. "I wish I could go with you, but Merrick…"

His brother stepped back from his touch. "No, that's not necessary," he said. "I'll only be a few days, I'm sure. They probably just want me to sign something."

"Right, absolutely." Don turned away so that Charlie wouldn't see his face. He grabbed his cell, flipped it open. "Go and get some stuff together. I'll call Larry, too, if you want, so he can let the school know?"

Charlie finally started for the stairs. His voice was very small, and Don almost didn't hear it over the rush of blood in his own ears. "Okay."