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Always Questions, Never Answers

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Mal barely remembered the ride home. He parked his truck and walked to the door in a fog. He paused, hand on the door knob. How was he going to tell the rest of the family? He could barely process it himself. Jake was gone, missing without a trace, and Mal didn't know what to make of it. But he had to tell them. They would find out eventually anyways. He pushed the door open, and followed the sound of voices to the kitchen.

There they were. Rose, Tinny, Kathleen, Des. All sitting around the table, smiling and chatting over cups of tea. Rose looked up at the sound of his footsteps, smile freezing as she took note of his expression. She stood up and quickly closed the distance between them.

"Mal honey," she said, placing her hand on his arm, "what's wrong?" She looked over his shoulder to see an empty hallway. He felt her hand tighten ever so slightly on his arm. "Where's Jake?"

"I don't know," he answered quietly.

Rose looked at him in confusion, "what do you mean? Is he okay?"

By now the others had caught on and were all looking at him, waiting.

He swallowed, "I mean I don't know where he is. Neither do the cops. His car is at the docks, but there is no sign of Jake."

At the table Des and Tinny looked at each other and Kathleen tightened the grip on her mug, her knuckles shining white.

Rose took a step back, but maintained eye contact, "Becker?" she asked hesitantly.

Malachy shook his head, "No sign of him either. A witness places them both at the docks, but doesn't know what happened shortly after that."

"Well what do they have?" Tinny asked anxiously.

Mal crossed the room and took an empty seat, "a bag of shell casings," he said softly. He watched as Tinny's eyes grew larger and Des sat up straighter in his chair.

"Shell casings?" the young man asked, "shell casings from what?"

"From automatic rifles. And there were a lot of them. Leslie showed me."

If Kathleen squeezed that mug any harder it would shatter.

Rose had come to sit next to him. "Blood?" she asked softly, not being able to find a way kinder way to ask

Mal shook his head, "Nothing. Just a pile of shell casings."

He looked up at his family, surrounding the table, his face communicating the hopelessness he felt. There was not more evidence, no more leads.

All they could do for now was wait.

Morning came, but new information did not. Leslie stopped by in the early hours. Her face showed unmistakable evidence of tears hastily brushed away as she told Mal and Rose what they had already assumed – no more news. Not a trace of Mal's son.

She said that she and Hood had been at the docks for most of the night. She had spent the remainder of it at her desk, combing through every piece of evidence for a third, forth time.

There was only one witness, Taylor Gossard who would have been unreliable even if he had been conscious. All he could tell them is that Jake had been there.

Mal handed her a cup of coffee as he refilled his own (his fourth) and tried for the thousandth time in that sleepless night to come up with any theory, any lead.

They sipped their coffee in silence before Leslie told him softly that Jake had offered to move to Ottawa with her, should she accept the job. He held her tight while she cried, mugs of coffee forgotten on the counter. He hoped she didn't notice the few tears that escaped and leaked into her hair.

Tinny and Des had emerged long enough to grab an apple a piece before rushing to the office. He didn't know where they were going to start, but he knew that they wouldn't get far.

Kathleen came down, wan and tired, softly telling them that she was heading out to open the bar.

The newspaper came, with a mention of Jake's disappearance buried in page 3. It was followed shortly after by a frantic Walter who wanted to know what had happened to his best friend. Mal didn't have a good answer for him.

Within another day, nearly all the escaped convicts had been returned to HMP. The notable exceptions to this of course being Becker and Crocker.

With all of the convicts taken care of and the 48-hour window having passed, the focus turned to Jake. The next day's newspaper came with his face plastered on the front page, with a plea asking for any information and a warning he may be a hostage of Maurice Becker. Leslie's doing no doubt. Mal and Rose had joined Des in the office and on the streets, running down every informant they had ever encountered. Nobody knew anything.

That night Mal called Christian, asked him to come home. He wanted him to hear it before he saw it on the news, as the story had already moved from the city newspaper to the provincial news. It was only a matter of time before it went national.

The next morning the door to the office swung open and Mal turned to find his oldest son in the doorway.

He cursed himself for almost getting his hopes up, but switched gears quickly when Christian caught sight of the board behind him. The smile slid of his son's face and his greeting petered off. When he caught his father's eyes again his gaze was full of fear.

Mal glanced back at the board. It was covered in convicted criminals, pictures of an abandoned familiar car, and piles of shell casings, newspaper clippings, and Jake. He turned back to see his oldest at his shoulder, eyes glued to the board.

"What is this," he asked, his eyes roaming the board from picture to picture, always returning to the cluster of Jake in the center.

"Christian," Mal started, turning his son away from the board to face him, "Jake's missing."

Chris inhaled sharply and glanced back at the board, "How long?" he asked.

Mal sighed wearily, also turning back to the board, "almost four days now."

"Do you have any leads?"

"Not so far. All we know is that he was last seen with Maurice Becker, who made it very clear that he wanted Jake dead, and has already made a few attempts to do so."

"So what you're saying is that this is a very fine mess that Buttons has gotten himself into," Christian said with forced levity.

"That's certainly one way to put it," Mall responded wearily.

"Where do you want me to start?"

At first, the work seemed to stave off the worry. It felt like they were racing against a clock and as soon as they won, Jake would be home. Christian combed through paperwork and surveillance footage, Walter pulled every string he could find. Tinny spent every spare moment working her way through the police database while Des frantically searched for any sort of digital trail, any mention of Jake Doyle in the vastness of the internet. Mal and Rose continued on with leads and contacts, peaking though every door. Leslie was doing the same on her end, and stopped by often to compare notes.

But slowly the days turned into weeks, and the weeks into months.

Eventually, the normal routines resumed. Christian went back to Toronto, the visits from Leslie began less frequent, and the remaining employees of Doyle and Doyle Investigations began picking up cases again. But in the downtime, Mal still thought about his son. He often returned to that night, running through the moment in Becker's hideout after they had found Tinny. Tinny had told them that Becker had Crocker at the docks, and Jake had run off just like he always did. Just a shout over his shoulder and a casual promise to meet them back at the house.

But Jake never made it home, and Mal had never had a chance to say goodbye.

He would run through it over and over again as he stared at the board. Some nights he grimly wondered if he kept it up as some sort of grim memorial to a son he would never see again or as a reminder of a time he had failed. Failed to do what he had always strived to do. Protect his family, protect his children.

Most nights he admonished himself for being so pessimistic.

Other nights he followed the dark thoughts with a bottle of whiskey.

As two months stretched into a third, Mal decided it was time to close up the office. As it was they were hardly there. They had unofficially returned to their former home office as no one could quite stand to be in the office that had once been the very center of their lives. But then again, Jake had always been a central part of all their lives.

The process of packing up the office was a solemn one. There was hardly a sound – a rarity with any number of Doyles around. Each time he cleared out a drawer, he was hit by a rush of memories. The ring on the desk from all of the whiskey glasses that had sat there. The numerous handcuff keys Jake had kept stashed around the office for all of those times he somehow ended up in his own cuffs. His books and magazines scattered haphazardly around the office, both in and out of the area considered his apartment. A sweater of Leslie's found behind the bathroom door.

The memories and reminders were overwhelming. All the times Jake had gotten himself in a jam. All the times he had managed to get himself hurt. All the times he nearly died. And now the time he did.

Mal shook that thought out of his head. No, Jake wasn't dead. There was no proof of it.

But there's no proof that he's alive either, said the nagging negative voice in his head.

As they began to spread the sheets over the furniture, regrets clouded Malachy's mind. He should have been a better father. He was always so hard on the boy, never showed enough compassion. He doubted that Jake knew just how much his father loved him, because Mal knew that he had never really shown it. But it was too late now.

It was getting late. Their help began to filter out until it was just Mal and Rose left. There were only a few more things to be covered, so Mal told Rose to head downstairs and order them drinks, he would finish up and be right behind her. After Rose gave him a peck on the cheek and shut the door behind her, Mal picked up the last sheet. He brought it over to Jake's desk – the spot everyone had been avoiding all day. With a heavy sigh he set down the sheet and laid his hand on the top of the desk. With a sad smile he noticed Jake's signature leather jacket hanging haphazardly over the back of the chair. He picked it up and ran his hand over the cool leather. Suddenly his vision clouded as his eyes filled with tears. His grasp tightened on the jacket and he was squeezing it so hard that he worried it might disintegrate. He sank down into the desk chair as the sobs racked his body. He allowed himself to cry in a way that he hadn't in all the months that his son had been gone.

And in the dark abandoned office, he wept over a worn leather jacket for a son he was sure he would never get to see again.