Rating – R (for violence, adult themes)

Summary –Just days before the start of a big trial, Chief Robert Ironside is apparently betrayed when close friend and colleague Sergeant Ed Brown vanishes with vital evidence.

A/N - Set between the end of Season 4 (Walls Are Waiting) and the beginning of Season 5 (The Priest Killer).

A/N II - And great thanks to both Julie_o and Realmlife for the betaing - thank you :)



Darkest Before Dawn

It was late.

Or maybe it was early. There seemed to be no difference.

Chief Robert Ironside was sitting in his wheelchair in the attic office at Police Headquarters, an office that was also his home. He looked out of the window to the dimly lit, misty streets of San Francisco that stretched before him into darkness.

On the outside, it seemed peaceful there tonight, although in the distance was the faint sound of a siren to prove that below the surface it was the same as any other city, threatening, violent and dangerous.

He had been staring out to the city for hours, watching the lights of the cars as they moved and the steady, neon glow of the streetlights.

Robert Ironside never slept well, not after the shooting that had taken away the use of his legs. He never seemed to need as much sleep as before, when he had been active and on his feet all day, working. But it had been a long time since he'd been able to get no sleep at all, for the second night in a row.

The events of the previous two days played through his head again and again, and he was left wishing he'd done things differently. It was foolish; he was not a man given to regret, and the sense of loss was something that Ironside was used to. He'd spent years without the use of his legs, locked in his wheeled prison, force to rely on his friends to help him. But now he'd lost something else, something he had, in his arrogance, expected to keep forever.

His own hand-picked team of Mark, Ed and Eve would never be the same again, irrevocably broken by murder, torment, hope and betrayal. And he would have to come to terms with his own part in its destruction. How could it not be his fault? They were his staff; they were his closest friends, his only family and, ultimately, their safety was his responsibility. His decisions had taken them down this path, so he had no one to blame but himself.

Beside him on the desk, untouched since he'd poured it a few hours ago, sat a large glass of bourbon. Ironside picked it up and swallowed the whole thing in one long gulp, feeling the warming burn of the alcohol against the cold. He 'd won, it was true, but along the way he'd also lost something very precious. Wasn't there something he could have done? Wasn't there some other way for this to have ended?

He closed his eyes, thinking back to the very start of this nightmare. How had he let the situation get so out of hand?

Chapter 1

An Unexpected Change of Plan

They were late.

Chief Robert Ironside sat and glared at the small mountain of papers on his table, and the half-finished cup of cold coffee that sat nearby. He didn't like it when people were late. Especially not his people! He thought he'd trained them better than that.

Over at the far table, surrounded by files and books, Mark Sanger sat holding the phone to his ear, an anxious look on his face.

'Ed's still not answering the car phone,' Mark said, replacing the handset with a click and a sigh.

Ironside turned a thunderous scowl to his aide, who looked back with a forced neutral expression but was clearly bracing himself for the oncoming tirade. This time, the Chief restrained himself. It wasn't Mark's fault, and though he wanted to let rip, he didn't. He would save it all up for Ed and Eve when they got back from wherever it was that they had gone. Mark, acknowledging the effort, smiled.

'Hey Chief, they can't be far,' he said. 'They know the score.'

Ironside grunted in reply.

'Relax, man!'

Ironside gave Mark a dark look, but the other man just grinned back more widely. It was good to have Mark around as part of his team, and the Chief had never regretted his decision to offer him a job.

Mark Sanger knew how to handle most situations; he was once a small-time hustler who had grown up on the streets and in jail; fighting life and prejudice at his colour. He had finally risen to the challenge and had become Ironside's "legs" after the sniper had crippled him, becoming a vital part of the Chief's life.

And Ironside trusted Mark implicitly; he trusted him in the same way he trusted his other two team members, Officer Eve Whitfield and Sergeant Ed Brown, even if their time keeping today was severely suspect!

Ironside glanced back up at the clock for about the tenth time. Eve and Ed were well over an hour late.

They should have been back at the office by now. Even if they had stopped off to collect some lunch, they still should have been back. Ironside and Ed were due over at Commissioner Randall's office within the hour, and he wanted Eve there as well.

Ironside scowled down at the papers in front of him, angry at being kept waiting.

He needed them on hand! And they knew it!

Today, of all days, was not a good day to be late. In less than two days, at nine o'clock sharp, the McDonald case was going to court and everything had to be perfect.

With a low sigh, Ironside lifted one of the papers on his desk, trying to concentrate.

The McDonald case… The Chief wasn't going to let McDonald get away, not after finally finding a way in. Charles McDonald was one of the highest profile Syndicate figures they'd managed to catch in years. Cold, calculating, efficient and ruthless, McDonald hadn't made a mistake in over two decades. And then, a few months ago he'd made one tiny slip. Everything began to unravel and Ironside was there to collect all the evidence he needed; drugs, firearms, papers, the works!

The Chief was in a position to make sure he was in the forefront of the case, such was the advantage of being a Special Consultant for the Commissioner. Originally, it had been a Narcotics bust, so Ironside and his assistants had been working closely with Lieutenant Burwell, who'd been pleased to have Ironside's help.

The case was watertight; Ironside had made absolutely sure of it, from witnesses to evidence. And, for all the last-minute jitters that the whole Department was having, Ironside was confident that McDonald would be found guilty. The evidence was overwhelming, once they had found a way in. It would take a miracle to get McDonald off, and Ironside was going to make sure that those were in damn short supply.

For the next five minutes, Ironside flicked through the papers on his desk, rearranging files and trying not to look at the clock.

Just when the Chief had almost given up any hope of making his appointment with the Commissioner, there was the sound of the elevator, and Ironside noticed Mark looking nervously towards the door. The Chief himself didn't move, just continued to read the files. He wasn't going to show his two errant staff members how anxious he was!

There were footsteps in the corridor and the door opened. Ironside still didn't look up, instead he let the footsteps come closer, giving off an air of indifference.

The sound stopped and there was a pause. In his mind, Ironside was thinking up some choice phrases to open the conversation, starting with "where the flamin' Hell have you pair been!".

'Hello, Chief.'

Ironside looked up in surprise. That was not the voice he'd expected. It wasn't Ed or Eve. It was Lieutenant Carl Reese. Carl was a close friend in the force, they had worked together on and off for many years, before Carl had moved to Homicide.

He stared at the other man in surprise for a few moments.

'Hello Carl,' he said. 'I didn't expect to see you today. Nice of you to come by for a visit.'

Reese dropped his gaze to the ground.

'It's… well, it's not a social call, Chief,' he replied after a few moments of strained silence. He was fidgeting with a slender folder that was tucked under one arm, flicking the corner of it was a thumbnail. Ironside frowned. It wasn't like Carl to be so anxious.

'Got something for me from Homicide?' Ironside asked. 'Not that I don't want to help, you understand, but I am a bit busy today.'

Reese shook his head, still fidgeting with the file.

'It's not from Homicide,' he admitted. He didn't say anything else, and Ironside's frown grew deeper. He didn't like these sorts of guessing games, and Carl knew it. But instead of being angry, which was usually his first reaction to anything, a sudden and irrational alarm took hold of him. Whatever was contained in that folder was trouble!

Lieutenant Reese followed the Chief's gaze to the file. Then he took a step towards the desk, but still he didn't hand it over, he stalled just as he was about to. Ironside had never seen the other man so acutely uncomfortable before in all the years they had known each other. He looked as if he had just been thrown to the lions with a half-pound of tenderised steak tied round his neck.

'Well, what is it, Carl? I think you'd just better tell me and get it over with!' Ironside said curtly.


The man stopped, seemingly unable to get the words out, and Ironside's anxiety grew sharper.

'I want it straight and to the point, Carl,' he said in a gruff voice. 'Don't mess me around. What is it?'

'Really, Chief, I don't know how to say this.'

'I had noticed that! The facts, Carl! Start there.'

Lieutenant Reese nodded, and his face became set.

'At 12-15 this afternoon, Sergeant Ed Brown walked into the Property Office with a requisition order for some of the evidence from the McDonald case.'

Ironside's heart sank with inexplicable fear. He knew it was fear, though he wasn't sure why he should have been afraid. But he did know that Sergeant Ed Brown shouldn't have been anywhere near the Property Office, and certainly not for anything to do with the McDonald evidence. He should have been chasing up some leads over the other side of the Bay, with Eve. That's where Ironside had sent them this morning, and that's where he'd said he had been.

But the Chief stifled all the other clamouring questions, and just asked the one that seemed to matter most.

'And…?' he demanded.

There was an "and" and that was the whole problem, Ironside could read it on Carl's face.

'And at 12-18 he walked out of the office with the thirty kilograms of heroin. He hasn't been seen since. He's vanished.'