******

August 20, 2006

She was the one. He hid out in his truck, watched her from a distance, observing every aspect of her perfect life. Just last week, she told her husband she was pregnant with their first child.

She had chosen the same restaurant he was eating at to tell her husband the good news. He sat just two tables from them, his meal interrupted by the couple’s sheer happiness. He eyed them bitterly, pushing his prime-rib steak away from him. He had no appetite anymore.

It first crossed his mind when he came home to the empty house that night. He would watch her – from afar, of course – and when the time was right, he would take her. He would wait until she was ready to deliver, kidnap her and cut the baby out.

Eight months later, her face was plastered all over Virginia. No one could turn on their TV without seeing a picture of the missing woman. She was huddled in the corner of the bedroom, eyes focused on the wall in front of her. It was dark blue, bordered by cartoon dinosaurs. It was obvious that her captor had a little boy – so what did he want with hers? A matching changing table and crib with Winnie the Pooh were on the opposite side of her – similar to the theme of her own baby’s nursery.

The floor around her was covered in dried blood, indicating that she wasn’t the first victim. She shook her head at the thought of referring to herself as a victim. She was an FBI agent, former CIA, trained combatant, sharpshooter – certainly not a victim.

Her throat still stung from screaming, and her head was pleasantly fuzzy. At first, she screamed until her lungs burned, but it only made the pain worse. She couldn’t remember when she stopped being scared, but it was gone now. Instead she was just tired and cold and ready to die. The only thing that was keeping her alive was her baby. Her baby deserved a life – a life better than hers, filled with people who loved him and ensured his happiness. His safety. She had to fight. For Connor.

She struggled against the rope that was holding her, wincing when she felt it cut into her wrist. You can do this, she thought, even if you can’t, you have to try. She struggled against the ropes again, ignoring the pain. Nothing. Sweat and tears mixed on her face, her eye still swollen shut from where he had punched her out. It made her easier to kidnap.

He’ll kill you. He’ll kill your baby.

She took a deep breath, clearing her mind and relaxing against her restraints. She needed to try something else. She remembered the technique she learned in the academy – if you relax your muscles, the rope will become looser. She wiggled her hands gently, then more aggressively the looser the rope got. “Come on, come on,” she muttered, her eyes on the door. He could come back at any moment.

She breathed a sigh of relief when her hands were freed, working on the rope tied around her ankles. With shaking hands, she pulled at the rope’s knots until her ankles were free. Now was her chance. She bolted towards the door, pulling it open and sticking her head out to check the hallway. Clear.

She ran out of the room, pausing at the end of the hall when she realized that she didn’t know her way around the house. She heard his footsteps and jumped, her heart beating faster the louder they got. She opened the first door she laid her eyes on – a basement. She turned around and heard him rounding the corner.

She held her breath, for fear not only that he heard her, but also that if he did, it would be her last. Out of options, she headed for the basement and closed the door quietly behind her. It was only a matter of time before he realized she got away.

She looked around the basement, her breath catching in her throat. She was trapped. There were no windows, no doors. Her only option now was to fight her way out, and she wasn’t in any position to take him down. His footsteps grew louder and she whirled around, staring at the door leading to the upper level of the house.

He swung open the door and grinned at the woman, needle in one hand and scalpel in the other. He approached the wide-eyed and terrified young woman, grabbing and twisting her arm when she tried to hit him.

“You should relax. The needle goes in much easier.” He jabbed the needle in her arm watched her hit the ground and slowly slip into unconsciousness, lifting her shirt and cutting into her abdomen.

Present Day

Jill Doyle approached the body, sliding her gloves on with a satisfying snap. The body of the woman looked like a mannequin, the ribcage and intestines sticking out. She sat against the wall of her bedroom, her lifeless eyes staring at the medical examiner and her uterus cradled in her hands.

It looked as if a special effects team had worked overtime for some horror movie set, but that smell could only come from a dead body. Some cases took a while to decide if foul play was involved, but this was murder all the way.

Pictures of her friends and family were scattered on the floor and Jill saw the discoloration on the walls from where they previously hung. Furniture was knocked over and her laptop lay on the floor in front of her bed. It was obvious she put up a fight, but it wasn’t enough.

She focused on the victim, kneeling next to a uniformed officer to get a closer look at her – the fourth one altogether. “Molly told me it was bad, but…” She stopped mid-sentence, feeling a hand on her shoulder. She looked up to see the Assistant Director Kimberly Faulkner behind her. They were bringing in the top dogs now, it had to be serious. “COD: single gunshot to the head.”

“What’s with the uterus?” Kimberly asked, her hand covering her nose to mask the smell - unsuccessfully. She’d been with the FBI for twenty years and the smell of the bodies was something she could never get used to.

“It was cut out,” Jill answered. “Just like the others.” She looked up at Kimberly, her face showing exactly what Jill was thinking. “The Masked Butcher is back.” She focused her attention on the victim again as she spoke, “I think it’s time.”

******

It was 2:13 in the morning, and something or someone was banging around downstairs. Skylar Morgan jolted awake, her breathing stilled. She slowly grabbed her gun from her bedside table’s drawer, throwing the covers from her and standing up.

She moved towards the door, her mind shutting down. The banging got louder – it was coming from the living room. She froze when she heard the TV turn on. Scrubs. She quickly turned the corner, her gun pointed at the intruder.

“Jesus, Skylar. Put that thing down, will you?” He took a handful of chips, stuffing them in his mouth before laughing at something Dr. Cox had said. “God, he’s such a prick.”

She sighed at the man sitting on her couch, lowering her weapon and putting it on the coffee table beside her. “Why are you here, Aiden?” She rolled her eyes when she got no response - he was too enamored with the show. She grabbed the remote from him, turning off the TV.

“Hey!” Aiden protested, his face mimicking one of a child who just had their favorite toy taken away from them. “He was just about to punch Kelso!”

“What are you doing here?” Skylar’s voice was laced with frustration, her arms crossed over her chest. She looked at the clock hung on the wall across from the couple. It had taken fifteen minutes for her to get him to focus – it was like she was dealing with a child sometimes. Still, he somehow managed to balance precariously between being a complete pain in her ass and her only friend. “It’s 2:30 in the morning. You should be at home in bed.”

Aiden shrugged, stuffing another handful of chips in his mouth. “Jus’go’of’ork.” At the baffled look on Skylar’s face, he swallowed the chips and repeated himself. “I just got off work.” He threw a file folder on the coffee table and pointed at it.

Skylar stared at the folder for a minute before picking it up and opening it. Pictures of young girls murdered in their homes, slaughtered like animals with their uteruses cut out. She looked at Aiden confusedly, her hands shaking. “What do you want me to do with this?”

“Faulkner wants you back.” He explained, leaning back against the couch and throwing his feet on the coffee table. “She thought I’d be a little more convincing than she would, which…” He chuckled at the thought of Skylar Morgan taking orders from anyone, especially him.

Skylar shook her head, staring blankly at Aiden before turning around and motioning towards the front door. “The fact that you even thought about asking me…”

“I know.” Aiden stood up, reaching out to grab Skylar’s arms. “I wouldn’t ask you if this wasn’t important.” He looked her in the eyes, his hands rubbing her arms gently, comfortingly. “People are dying, Sky. The fourth one this month.”

“I can’t.” Her voice was barely audible, and she swallowed the lump in her throat. She pulled away from Aiden and wiped furiously at her newly wet cheeks.

Aiden took the folder from Skylar’s hands, taking a picture of the latest victim and pointing to her. “Paige Adkins.” He said simply, watching for Skylar’s reaction. Just because she wasn’t an agent anymore didn’t mean she stopped caring for the innocent lives that were taken.

“She had friends, a family that deserve justice. Come on, Sky. You have the chance to give them what no one ever gave us. Don’t tell me you don’t want to take it.”

After staring at him for another moment, she spoke. “What do you have so far?”

******

April DuPont smashed the window with her elbow, the glass shattering inside the living room of the house. She took a minute to admire her handiwork before crawling through the window, wincing in pain as she contorted her body to fit through. She looked around the stranger’s house. How cozy, She thought, her eyes traveling to a framed picture of a young couple. She picked up the photo, smiling sadly at what could’ve been.

“Who are you?”

April turned around quickly and came face to face with the woman in the photo. Her long red hair was pulled back in a ponytail and April could tell by her outfit that she had just been jogging. She pulled the gun from behind her, pointing it at the woman. She sat at the kitchen table so she wouldn’t get blood on the sofa. She knew from experience that it’s a bitch to clean out. “Bandages and a sewing kit.” She paused before adding, “Oh, and some vodka.”

The woman stood in shock, staring at April’s gun.

April sighed exasperatedly, rolling her eyes. “Please.” April flashed a fake smile at the woman.

Nothing.

She waved the gun at her, a silent order to move faster. The woman ran to get the supplies, coming back with her hands full a few seconds later. She cautiously sat down across from April, ignoring the fact that the gun was still trained on her. “What happened?” She managed to squeak out as she watched April.

April slowly pulled her shirt over her head, throwing it on the floor beside her. She took a swig of the vodka before pouring it on her wound. She bit her tongue to stop herself from screaming in pain. “Sweetie, I’m not here to chat.” She grabbed the needle and thread from the sewing kit and began to stitch her stab wound.

“A-are you gonna kill me?”

As April finished sewing her wound, she sighed and slowly stood, wincing in pain. “Well, you’ve seen my face. I can’t very well have you go to the police, now, can I?” The woman’s promises to keep quiet were seemingly unheard. April pointed the gun at the woman’s head before she pulled the trigger. She watched the woman crumble to the ground in a lifeless heap. “They always go to the police.” She pulled out her phone from her jeans pocket and dialed his number.

******

She had a look in her eyes that made the rest of them want to run. Her long brown hair fell in her face, her curls framing her chiseled face as she did a once-over of everyone in the room. She leaned against her desk, her hand resting on her piece – a Glock 19 – causing them all to stare cautiously at her. These were the agents she chose to be on her team.

She focused her attention on one student in particular – her nametag read Hamilton – and pulled her gun out, pointing it at her with her finger on the trigger.

Hamilton stared at her, her eyes wide and her breath caught in her throat. She suddenly found herself with goosebumps in the too-hot classroom. Her hands trembling, she stared at the woman in front of her, waiting for her to pull the trigger. Instead, she lowered her gun and put it back in its holster.

“You’re dead.” She stated simply, motioning for Hamilton to put her weapon down. “When you hesitate, you’re giving the killer the upper hand. It’s a cruel world out there. The only way to survive is to be even crueler.”

She paused, letting her words sink in. “My name is Skylar. You may address me as Morgan, Skylar, Ma’am, or Agent Morgan. You may not, under any circumstances, refer to me as Sky.”

She turned to the screen behind her, revealing the bodies of the victims. “You’re here to bring justice to these four girls. I’m here to help you.” She turned back around and pointed to a young man – Dupree. “What pattern do you see?”

“They’re all missing their uteruses.” Dupree supplied, his focus on the screen in front of him.

“And they all have a similar look; skinny, Caucasian, long brown hair, early forties. Probably surrogates for a woman in his life. An ex-girlfriend or wife.” Another student – Taylor – added.

“Good.” Skylar praised them, handing all three of them their own pieces. “Now put those brains together, because you two are going out in the field. Another victim was found. You’re going to the crime scene. Taylor, a man with information is upstairs. He wants to talk to an agent about someone who he thinks is responsible for the killings.”

The three newbies looked terrified of going off on their own, a feeling Skylar remembered all too well. She tried to smile reassuringly at them, but it came out as more of a grimace. She was never good at easing peoples’ minds. “You’ll be fine.”

*****

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