SEQ CHAPTER h r 1A TATTERED HEART

D.M. Evans

Disclaimer - I don't own any of them (except Romulus and he earns me no cash either). Mr. Whedon does. I'm just borrowing them for a while.

Rating - R for sexual situations and some violence.

Spoilers - None. Set S3 between Amends and Helpless

Feedback- Yes please,

Summary - Someone is tearing the hearts out of sleeping victims, Faith, Buffy and the rest of the gang have to get to the bottom of it before the killer claims one of their own.

Author's Note #1 - Written for Argante for the Back to High School. Requirements are at the end.

Author's Note #2 - The poetry quoted is from Emily Dickinson's A poor torn heart, a tattered heart.

"Gotta go." Faith kissed the wing of her lover's shoulder blade. "It's almost dark."

He rolled up on one arm, his long raven hair spilling down over his mahogany skin. "Yeah, my shift will start at the Bronze soon. Will I see you tomorrow?"

Faith looked at him. She usually didn't come back for seconds but with Rom she was already on thirds. He was incredibly sexy. He was damn good in bed, and, best of all, he didn't want more than just sex. She didn't have to worry about unnecessary attachments. "Sure, Rom. I'll see you at the end of your shift if I can."

"Hope to see you there."

Faith started off across Sunnydale. She figured that Buffy and her friends would still be at the school. At least Sunnydale High was easier to penetrate than the public school she went to with its metal detectors and security guards. No one seemed to take security seriously here, not at the school, not on the streets, like there was some perverse veil of innocence in place. Her hunch was right, at least about Giles being in his office. No one else seemed to be around but she snuck in trying to see if they might be hiding in the stacks.

She knew Angel would come up through them somehow during the day, probably through the sewers into the school basement. Of course, she doubted she could find Angel without Buffy attached like a ninety-pound growth. Sure enough she spotted them in the stacks, making out. Faith crept down the aisle behind them and eased out some books. She reached through and grabbed Buffy's shoulder.

Buffy shrieked, jumping, nearly plowing Angel into the book shelves. Laughing loudly, Faith fell back just in case Buffy lashed out. Buffy's face appeared in the little space Faith had made in the books. "Faith! That wasn't funny."

"The hell it wasn't." She snorted, coming out of the stacks.

"You're lucky. The last time Xander did that, he almost lost an arm." Angel grinned, heading for the tables.

"How's it go? It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye?" Faith leapt the railing, her dark hair fluttering.

Giles eyed them all sourly. "Are you children done?" He turned his acetylene-blue gaze on Angel in particular. The vampire had the good grace to look embarrassed.

"Where's the rest of the crew?" Faith tossed herself into a chair.

"Willow and Oz are here somewhere." Giles plucked off his glasses for a cleaning. He kept his eyes steadfastly off the stacks.

"Xander and Cordy are in detention." Buffy flopped down on one of the hard uncomfortable chairs.

Faith smirked. "I can see Xander there but what did Queen C do?"

"Yelled at Mrs. Cortez for interrupting her talking to Harmony in English class," Willow offered, bouncing out of the stacks. Oz followed her, toting three books.

"How dare a teacher try to teach while Cordy is pontificating," Buffy said, then looked nervous at the use of the huge word, as if maybe she had gotten it wrong.

"Have we found anything new about those people who died three days ago?" Faith asked.

"I got the books you wanted, Giles, to look for clues." Willow patted the pile Oz was carrying.

Faith was a little amazed at the short musician's ability to forgive Willow's indiscretion with Xander. Faith would probably have handled it like Cordy did, only with more bloodied noses. Go to hell and don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

"It's not that I'm expecting much from the books. We don't have enough to go on. Dead victims no signs of violence except for blood on the mouth. It would help if the coroners' reports were available." Giles shot Willow a sidelong look.

The red-head was already setting up her laptop. "Might want to head for your office for some tea, Giles. This won't take long."

Giles had that pinched look on his face but he obeyed. Faith knew he didn't like to be around when they broke the law. Deniable plausibility, Faith got that.

"You are the dumbest man who's every walked the face of the earth," Cordelia said, sailing into the library, bringing an arctic blast with her.

"Kill me for trying to have a plan for the future." Xander's gaze was so sharp it could have decapitated Cordelia.

"Driving across the county and seeing the sights is not a plan. It's a vacation." Cordy sat at the table.

"Yeah, so what's your big plan, Ms. 'I'm getting by on my looks and daddy's money'?" Xander's fists clenched and unclenched.

"I'm going to be an actress." Cordelia tossed her hair over her shoulder with a long exaggerated movement.

Angel glanced up at that, a bewildered expression on his face. "Have you been in any plays here at school?"

Faith had been wondering that herself. She couldn't imagine Queen C keeping silent about anything.

"No, but can you see them passing on this?" Cordy waved a hand over her body, oblivious to the eye rolls of her friends.

"Didn't you panic at the school talent show?" Giles peeked out of his office, obviously listening to them intently. Faith was shocked that his clothing didn't spontaneously catch fire from the heat of Queen's C's gaze.

"I'm in," Willow interjected triumphantly and the tone of the room changed, becoming more serious. "And hey, the autopsy reports are up." Willow leaned closer to the screen. "Oh, ewww!"

Buffy got up, looking over Willow's shoulder. "What?"

"The heart is missing on the first victim." Willow clicked a few buttons as Giles filtered back into the room. She shuddered. "On the other two as well."

"How?" Faith asked. "There was no signs of violence, right?"

Willow pushed back from her computer, whiter than normal as Buffy jumped back to give her space. "It says that it appears the killer reached in through the victims' mouths."

"Yuck." Buffy shuddered and even Faith felt queasy. "How is that done? I mean, really?" Buffy went over to Xander and took a hold of his dark hair, cocking his head back. "Open up, Xander."

He eyed her sourly. "Why am I always the practice dummy?"

"I would have thought that was obvious," Cordy sniffed and Faith saw Angel trying to hide a grin.

Buffy pinned Xander down, pressing her hand to his mouth. "You can't really even get past the teeth without knocking them out and there was no signs of that were there, Will?"

Willow squinted at the screen. "The teeth were intact."

"I'm pretty sure I couldn't get my hand in Xander's mouth, let alone reach all the way into his chest." Buffy contorted behind him, trying to figure out what angle an arm would have to be in to rip out someone's heart from the inside.

"And Xander has a big mouth," Angel smirked.

"Hey." Xander tried to pop up and Buffy planted him.

"Buffy raises a valid point. It would be difficult for a human arm to reach down someone's throat and tear out a heart." Giles leaned over Willow, taking an illicit glance at the screen.

"No matter how often we threaten it," Faith muttered.

Giles shot her his patented pinched look. "It says the esophagus was ruptured and the heart most likely extracted through that tear. There were no nice even cuts suggesting a knife was used. The coroner is surmising that fingernails did the damage. It also appears that there are no signs of drugs or alcohol was in the victims' systems and there was bleeding, suggesting they were still alive."

Buffy cringed as Cordelia looked a little faint. "Giles, spare us the gory details."

"Man, that has to be a horrible way to go." Faith tried to stop the shiver racing through her. She didn't want to telegraph that she was wigged out. "What sort of thing does that?"

"I don't know off hand," Giles admitted, straightening up. He looked disappointed.

"Nor do I," Angel said. "A lot of demons like to eat the heart. Even vampires like to drink straight from it. It used to be Dru's favorite..." He trailed off with a mortified expression at his admission.

"Try not to over share so much." Buffy's voice cracked like a whip and Angel recoiled from it.

"At any rate, I don't know many demons that would extract the heart through the mouth. That's the hard way of doing it," the vampire replied.

"I'm sure you'd know," Xander snapped and Willow kicked him under the table.

"So now what?" Oz asked, startling Faith. He had been so quiet, as per usual, that she forgot he was around.

"I'll start compiling information on demons that take hearts," Giles said. "I might want to have a look at mages who could be interested in using hearts in spells."

"I could help with that," Willow said, brightly. "We all could. That's a lot of the book thing for one person."

"Not me," Cordy said. "It's Friday night. It was bad enough that I had detention. I'm not spending my Friday just hanging out here."

"I'm sure you can spare a little time before modeling your latest in hooker-ware at the Bronze," Xander said, and Cordy kicked the same ankle Willow had.

"I can only help for a while before I have to go to the Bronze myself," Oz said.

"Got a gig?" Xander asked. "Man, I need an excuse like that."

"You could always join the swim team again and say you have practice." Buffy grinned.

"I knew you liked me in that Speedo." Xander beamed, oblivious to the eye rolls.

"How about me and you, B?" Faith touched the stake she had in her jacket, itching for action. "We still going on patrol or are you two?" She nodded at Angel, feeling a little jealous, not just of Buffy having a hot guy - because Faith could have as many hot guys as she wanted - but more so of the time Buffy spent with the others. For once in her life, Faith had something in common with someone that didn't hinge on tragedy like she had with those losers in the one Ala-Teen program she had sat in on. Her favorite teacher had talked her into it but it was a bad idea.

Faith enjoyed patrolling with Buffy. She even liked going to B's house. Mrs. Summers made her feel at home, even if she kind of got the impression Joyce wanted her to shoulder all the danger and let Buffy retire. Faith was okay with that in a lot of ways. She lived for the slaying. It was the one thing in her life that made sense, that gave her purpose. Still, it would be nice to come home to a mom that loved and cared about her instead of one who'd give her ten bucks to get lost for most of the night so she wouldn't have to see her turning tricks for drink and drugs.

"Why don't you and Buffy patrol," Angel said. "I'm going to look at a few places for some demons who won't be likely to talk to Slayers. I can meet you at the Bronze after ten."

"Come on, B. We've got a lot of land to cover." Faith headed to the door, enthusiasm rippling through her. She grabbed Buffy's wrist and pulled her along. Faith let go when the other Slayer wasn't moving fast enough.

Buffy followed more sedately. She was oddly silent for a while as she walked. Faith quickly grew bored with that and with the quiet night. There was a strange stillness to the air. "Deep thoughts, B?"

"Just thinking about these killings." Buffy tightened her pony tail. "No signs of violence, no signs of a break in, just an open window somewhere in the house."

"Well, it is winter. If you can call it that." Faith was more than a little amused at the sweaters and jackets the Scoobies wore. "I mean, you guys think it's cold when it's sixty degrees out."

Buffy wrinkled her nose at her. "That is cold."

Faith laughed. "B, at this point, I'd be up to my ass in grey snow and ice back in Boston. Be thankful you ain't patrolling there. My point is, you don't need the air conditioning on at this point but it's warm enough to have a window open. An intruder could get in that way easily."

"Good point." Buffy turned, hearing something but it was just a raccoon in a dumpster. "I'm just weirded out by the reaching down the throat and tearing out the heart."

"Yeah, that's pretty nasty." Faith suppressed a shudder.

"I used to think back when it was just me and Merrick that vampires were the nastiest things ever. Since coming here, vampires are beginning to look tame." Buffy shoved her hands deep in the pockets of her jacket.

"Still deadly enough," Faith muttered, thinking on her Watcher. She missed her Watcher badly. The older woman was the first person to believe Faith had a future beyond a drop-out teen-aged mom living on welfare in a trailer park. She was the only person who ever really cared about Faith. The dark- haired Slayer rubbed her eyes before Buffy could see the tears in them.

"Yeah. I just wish they were the scariest thing out here," Buffy said in a soft voice. "But they aren't."

Both girls settled into an uneasy silence as they entered one of the cemeteries. The hush lasted for what seemed like forever but Faith was willing to wager it was less than ten minutes.

"You seemed awfully chipper back at the library." Buffy favored her with a sly smile. Faith could see she was burrowing for details as to why.

"Found me someone who not only gives me that low down tickle but he's good enough to keep around for seconds."

"I get the picture," Buffy said blushing, and Faith grinned. Her sister Slayer could be such a prude.

"Yeah, guess it's not fair of me to be talking about all the hot sex when you and Angel can't get it on." Faith pistoned her fist at Buffy for emphasis. "That has to suck."

"You have no idea." Buffy wilted. "I just wish I knew where this is...how long is someone supposed to pay for their past?'

"Some people won't ever let you up," Faith said, sounding like she knew exactly what she was talking about.

The silence made a come back, stretching through a fruitless night of patrolling. They didn't even see any bad boy teens out vandalizing stuff, let alone a vampire or anything remotely demonic. They eventually headed around toe the Bronze to meet up with Angel.

He didn't appear to be around. Faith saw Cordy on the dance floor with a boy she didn't know. He looked a little older, maybe from the college. There was no surprise that Willow was up at the stage watching Oz. Xander was nowhere to be seen but Faith figured without her and Buffy there as buffers between him and Willow, he had been banished so Oz didn't think there was any on-going hanky-panky. Faith wondered if he was still stuck with Giles doing the book-thing, the only one with no plans for a Friday night.

Faith spotted Rom working the bar and she couldn't help smiling at him. She wouldn't do anything girlie like wave or anything. Still, Buffy caught the sappy smile and followed her gaze to her lover who had plaited his waist length hair into a thick braid tied with a leather band and beads.

Buffy leaned in conspiratorially. "Is that your boyfriend?" She widened her eyes and exaggerated a 'wow.'

Faith knew boyfriend was ascribing more emotion than was there but it sounded better than fuck buddy. Besides Rom felt special. "Romulus Robicheaux. He's originally from Louisiana or Oklahoma or both...I wasn't really paying attention." Faith shrugged. When Rom had been telling her about himself, she had been busy dry humping him and hadn't cared. "He's a Seminole Indian."

Buffy's brow creased. "Aren't they from Florida?"

"Not all of them, I guess." Faith shrugged. "Do I look like I passed history or whatever the class that stuff would have been in?"

Buffy made a hands up gesture. "Isn't he a little old for you?"

Faith chuckled, cuffing Buffy on the shoulder. "Rom's like twenty-five. You'd need to add a zero to make him as old as your man."

Buffy ran a hand through her hair, some of which had escaped the tail it was in. "You have a point. Speaking of my man, do you see him anywhere around here?"

"No. Why don't you look for him. I'm going to snag a coke. You want something?" She wondered if she could get Rom to dump a little rum or Jack Daniels into her coke but figured he wouldn't risk his job over an under-aged girl he had only banged a few times.

"How about a root beer?" Buffy pushed off through the crowd.

Faith went to the bar and Rom smiled wickedly at her.

"What's your pleasure?" He swung his braid back over his shoulder.

"You covered with butterscotch schnapps but I'll settle for a root beet and a coke." Faith dug a few tattered dollars out of her pocket. She should have had Buffy pony up some dough before she left. "Maybe just the coke. I'm running a little low on funds."

Rom poured both drinks and leaned close. "On the house," he whispered.

She kissed his cheek. "Thanks, Rom."

"You and your friend having fun?" He wiped the bar top.

"Just hanging out. We'll be meeting a few other friends here. See you later." Faith felt another twinge of jealousy. Buffy could talk openly with her friends about what she did with her time. Not that Faith had any burning desire to tell Rom about Slaying. She liked to keep it simple between her and her men but it might be nice to have someone to lean on. Even surrounded with people in the know, she felt alone. She wasn't really part of the group and with Buffy there she probably never would be, no matter how well-intentioned everyone was.

She found Buffy with Willow by the time she got the sodas in hand. Angel was with them and he didn't look particularly happy. "Crapped out?" Faith set the drinks down and squeezed in between Willow and Angel just to watch Buffy's reaction. She knew the blond would rather she sat between her and Willow and be as far from Angel as she could be.

"I'm afraid so," Angel said. "There's no one talking about the killings other than to assure me they didn't do it, which generally wasn't a worry with the demons I was questioning."

"We didn't even find anyone to question," Buffy said over Devon's vocals.

Faith didn't care much for the Dingos but she'd never say so. "We walked half of Sunnydale and didn't see hide or hair of anything even remotely evil. Buffy almost slayed a raccoon if that counts." She smirked and Buffy eyed her sourly.

"So now what?" Willow asked distractedly, her eyes never leaving Oz.

"I guess we keep chipping away until something breaks loose," Angel replied.

"Like always." Buffy sighed.

Faith wasn't sure she liked the plan, a little to inactive for her tastes but she didn't have any better ideas. They needed a better idea fast but until then she was content to watch Rom work, looking forward to when they could be alone.