Author's Note: This one is special to me, guys. Any input is appreciated, as this is not yet finished. Story based on the outstanding song by Rob Thomas.

Graphic violence warning- small children.


"When The Heartache Ends"

Hutch stood numbly before the violent carnage, staring at the horrific scene through a form of disquieted tunnel vision. For a brief moment, as he took everything in, all fell silent.

The day had started like any other. First Hutch woke to the warm sunrays streaming in through his window, then he joined Starsky and the two grabbed breakfast on the way to the police station, then they spent some time on paperwork and follow-up calls, and then the partners took to the streets. Lunch hour passed by uneventfully, and the afternoon slowly peaked. Bay City was in the midst of a record-setting heat wave and the high temperatures were keeping most people indoors- an apparently, most criminals off the streets. Those that braved the triple-digit temperatures, like construction crews or the homeless, were starting to be brought into hospitals for emergency treatment of heat stroke. One elderly man had died, and the cloudless sky gave little hope that any relief would be felt soon.

Starsky and Hutch had been sweating it out in the idling Torino on the corner of 9th and Sunset when the call came through. The car was pumping out freon-chilled air as fast as it was able, warring with the hot sun that was piercing the car's glass windows. When 3 o'clock arrived, Hutch had been staring at the car's bright red hood, watching the quivering heat waves rise off the polished surface and wondering if an egg really would be able to fry upon it. With his head pressed against the driver's window, Starsky had been dozing in a heat-induced lethargy, however both detectives found themselves wide awake when the operator's shaky voice came over the air waves.

'Major accident… school bus involved… two civilian motorists DOA… every available unit…'

Hutch had known the scene would be bad, that much was obvious. In the silence after the call, the air had changed, taking a chill and an electric charge. There was too much emotion in the operator's feminine voice- this was something big, something devastating. The Torino seemed unstoppable as it cut through traffic, smoothly and mechanically, as if the car knew that this call was important- this was the one that mattered.

He saw the smoke first. Ominous wisps of sickly gray smoke climbed into the bluest of blue skies, like a growing crack in the peaceful atmosphere. The smoke was twisting and turning like a hooded viper in the sky, a flag to all that something terrible and irreversible had occurred below. It was calling to them before they were close enough to understand the depth of destruction lay beneath, coiled in it's tight and scaly grip. Mesmerized by the darkness as a mouse by the viper's rhythmic weaving, Hutch opened the car door and stood.

As his gaze traveled earthwards, Hutch saw the twisted skeleton of the bright yellow school bus and felt something within him shatter, then fall heavily into his stomach.

Later, he would realize that it had been his heart.

The mechanics of the wreck were unimportant at this point. All that mattered was what Hutch could see now, and that was complete chaos. Two cars were smashed beyond recognition amidst a scattering of sooty car parts, shreds of tire, deep black skid marks and lots and lots of glistening, shattered glass that strongly resembled tear drops. The third vehicle, the school bus, lay on it's side with it's nose embedded in the side of an unforgiving earthen ditch. The entire length of the bus was dented and twisted and dirty, and Hutch's throat closed when he realized that it must have rolled over the two cars before coming to a smoldering rest twenty feet from the road.

Starsky had made a noise then, but Hutch's hearing had yet to return. Numbness had blanketed his senses, leaving only that of sight, and at the moment, even that was overloaded. Motorists-come-onlookers were beginnings to gather at a respectful distance now, standing along the shimmering highway wearing awed expressions of hesitation. All traffic had come to a stop. For one loud, echoing heartbeat, nothing moved.

It was the screaming that physically shook Hutch back to the present. Not the screaming of small children, not yet, right now it was the screaming sirens of ambulances and fire trucks and police cars that shattered the paralysis clinging to Hutch. He was moving then, and Starsky was right beside him, as it had been every other time they were faced with joy and despair alike. His legs were numb and threatened to buckle at the knees mid-stride but he couldn't stop, too much was at stake right now. His breath was gone- hadn't he gone jogging every morning to prevent things like this? Where was that superhuman strength when he needed it?

And so he broke through the dream-barrier his mind had erected around the scene, just in case he was still back in the Torino, sleeping. Noises erupted violently, suddenly the sun was too bright and hot, and pain was palpable in the air. He was close enough now to smell the death here. He passed the first car quickly- the driver's face was embedded in the spider-webbing of the windshield and blood and brain matter were splattered both inside and out. No amount of hope or talent could spare this victim's life.

Hutch fell into the side of the second car, his hands coming up to catch him just in time. The door was pushed inside the car but he tried to pull it open anyway, to no avail. Blood smeared across the driver's side window but there was still a chance- there was always a chance- so Hutch bent his arm tightly and rammed his elbow through the glass. Time was racing, there was no time to think. The heavy scent of copper- it was too strong to be blood, there was just too much- filled his nostrils and snaked down his throat, jerking on his stomach. Hutch ducked his head and he plunged inside the car. He leaned over the length of the car's bench seat, trying to find the driver's neck, to feel for a pulse- and there was the man's head, severed from it's body on the passenger floorboard, staring up at him with lifeless gray eyes.

Hutch back-peddled. His stomach flip-flopped but there was no time to be repulsed, or saddened. There were others.

Hutch ran towards the bus.

He had lost Starsky. Hutch couldn't think anymore, couldn't keep track of his partner and his sanity at the same time. He had only one function, and that was getting in that school bus and salvaging as many lives as he could. He was running on instinct now- not a cop's instinct, but a human being's instinct, one that operated on the most basic levels. Hutch couldn't think about anything, couldn't remember one word of his years of police training… his body moved because his heart told it to.

Hutch launched himself at the exposed underbelly of the bus, scrambling upwards by way of exhaust pipes and sagging fuel lines, ignoring the searing heat and the unstableness of the dirty, groaning metal. Something sharp bit into him, slicing his forearm as he crawled on top of the side of the bus. The yellow metal was hot as it absorbed the sun's merciless rays, and his hands were seared instantly. Undaunted, Hutch made his way to a window and before he could change his mind, dropped inside the bus.

He landed heavily and allowed his knees to give out, his feet crunching upon glass and grass and dirt and debris. He was in the belly of the beast, in the depths of Hell. All around him children were writhing and crying and screaming and pulling against whatever bonds that held them trapped. There was so much to do, to do right now, that Hutch felt himself ache with confusion. He stood upright and swallowed, wincing slightly as his dry throat scraped against itself. Then, breathlessly, made his way to the closest child and hit his knees beside her bleeding head.

A voice, it must have been his because his throat began hurt so badly, said, "It's okay sweetheart, help's here now. Can you move your arms and legs?"

The little girl looked up at him with the largest brown eyes he had ever seen, and also the most pain-filled. "Yeah, my leg hurts real bad though." Her lips trembled as she spoke and a tear slipped down her ivory cheek.

Hutch's chest burned and his eyes stung. "Okay, just try to relax, I'll get you out of here," he murmured and scooped her broken body into his arms, holding her tightly against his aching chest as he rose to his feet.

A sudden commotion at the rear of the bus caught his attention, and Hutch turned to see the rescue crews removing the back window of the school bus. One of the firemen leaned in through the window and waved his arms.

"Over here, bring her over here!"

Hutch obeyed, because he couldn't think for himself any longer. He was forced to walk past more crying, bloody children before handing the girl off to the open arms of the paramedics. Without pause, he turned and went back for more.

His surroundings became a swirling mass of activity as more rescuers- some uniformed and some civilian- swarmed the bus and grabbed children. Hutch was aware that his hands were trembling, but when your entire body is trembling, your hands aren't really that noticeable any more. Hutch spotted a small child pinned under a broken bus seat, pushing weakly against the heavy mass of cushion and metal. Hutch dropped to his knees next to the small boy, his unblinking eyes taking in the damage.

The boy's legs were crushed, Hutch was certain of it. Blood was everywhere, but it was impossible to tell how much had belonged to this little boy in particular. "Can you feel your toes?" Hutch asked the boy gently. His hand landed softly upon the boy's dirty forehead.

Tear-streaks glistened in the sunlight as the little boy shook his head. Grasped tightly between his tiny pink fingers was the handle of a plastic Scooby Doo lunchbox. Shards of glass lay haphazardly atop his bowl-cut hairstyle.

"I need help over here!" Hutch yelled, and the effort took all his strength, despite the weak results.

Within seconds a fireman was at his side and somehow, the two of them lifted the heavy bench seat off the little boy. The fireman snatched the little boy, and his lunchbox, and left Hutch standing there lost as he carried the boy to safety. Hutch felt the numbness in his muscles now, threatening to shut him down completely but he pushed it down where he could deal with it later. There were still others.

The next child he found was a little blonde girl. Her pigtails had been bloodied and were sticking to her head, staining the pink bows there. Her head was down and she was sobbing into her lap as she lay slumped against the broken window behind her.

"Come on sweetie, let's get you out of here," Hutch whispered, because that's all his raw throat would allow.

She raised her head to look at him with striking blue eyes and Hutch was taken aback by the amount of blood coating her chin and frilly dress. When she opened her mouth to speak, whatever tiny fragment of him that had been sheltered from this smothering heartbreak was obliterated.

All of her teeth had been knocked from her mouth and the blood was still pumping freely down her face.

Hutch's eyes dropped shut and he wished very very hard that all of this would be gone when he opened them again. Instead, he was once more looking into the liquid eyes of that six year-old girl with no teeth.

Someone bumped into him and he moved forward, using the momentum to scoop up the child. She clung to him as only small children can, with both hands wrapped around his neck and her heart pressed to his. He carried her to the line of waiting paramedics and passed her off, unconscious of the large blood spot now covering his shoulder. He turned to go back into the depths of this metal Hell when a hand grabbed him, pulling him back.

"That's it, man. There's no more. We're done."

Hutch wanted to collapse but more than that, he wanted to be alone. He wanted to be away from here. His cheeks felt heavy, like he would never smile again and at that moment, he didn't think he ever would. His chest was crushed and hollow and hurting- he had to get away from the smell of blood and pain and death. He had to get away.

Hutch stumbled out into the sunlight- it was still there, uncaring, unrelenting- and moved forwards. His eyes were blurry and he dared not try to clear them, didn't want to clear them. He had seen enough. More than enough. He would never stop seeing the images of those damaged little children. The Torino was shining in the distance, calling to him and promising of familiarity, but he chose not to go to it. Everything hurt, both inside and out, and not even the comfort of that solid car would help this time.

His eyes locked briefly with Starsky's. The brunet had seemingly put himself in charge of this whole operation, directing emergency vehicles and emergency personnel alike. Anger flared within Hutch. Bright blue tarps had been placed over the mangled cars, signaling the occupants were deceased, dead. The bodies he had seen so very close were covered up, hidden from view so as not to disturb anyone. Starsky was safe out here, he had not been at ground zero, not seen the broken and bleeding children trapped within what they had come to trust as a vehicle of safety. It wasn't fair, why did Hutch have to feel all this pain and not Starsky? Why did he have to be alone?

Then, Hutch watched as Starsky held back a hysterical mother trying to reach a white sheet strapped to a gurney. It wasn't the sheet, Hutch realized dumbly, it was the mangled body underneath it that had the woman screaming and beating his partner with clenched fists.

And then Hutch felt his mouth fill with bitter stomach bile and he turned and ran for the nearest bushes. How dare ever doubt Starsky like that, think Starsky had chosen the easy way out. How dare he ever hope that his partner felt pain. Hutch crashed to the ground beside a full-grown thistle and vomited harder than he ever had before in his many years as a police officer.

Tears dripped hotly from his eyes as he dug his hands into the dry soil in an effort to keep himself from falling face first into the mess he was still making. He was making incredibly embarrassing noises as he continued to vomit, spitting out the bitter substance as fast as it would fill his mouth. Looking down through blurry vision, he saw that his left forearm was streaked with dark, congealed blood. It didn't hurt though. His ribs ached, his lungs ached, his heart ached.

Everything else was still numb.

Hutch waited for his partner to come to him, to lay a hand on his back and scrape him up off the ground- but this was the real world, and Starsky was still needed where he was.

So Hutch sat alone with misery as his company, staring at the overgrown, spiny weed beside him, and noticed for the first time just how beautiful a purple thistle bloom could be.