It's after Georgia, when things aren't quite making sense any more. They get called to South Dakota, to a set of mass graves and fresh corpses, blood still drying, and Reid just-- can't make sense of it. Their main suspect, twenty-three-year-old Sam Winchester, is nowhere to be found (no one's seen him in months, but he was a good boy, smart-- brilliant, really, got into Stanford on test results alone). He turns in his resignation to Hotch (Hotch will take it, Gideon won't, and even though Garcia tries to make it get lost in the system, it eventually goes through.)
He carries iron nails in his pockets.
Emily's voice is calming, the cadence of her Latin (penultimate-antepenultimate stress- footed here, hard [k]-) follows him into his dreams. She brushes a tired hand over his forehead, and he sleeps.
In Spencer's dreams, there are no monsters.
In the morning, they drive for miles and miles (530 miles, all told). Spencer's found a pattern (suicides and suspicious deaths in Minnesota, every seven years, from the same college) and Emily and Derek agree with him-- it's time to be on the move again. They start from Kearney, Nebraska (it's got the best research library in the state, and the University's happy to have Dr. Reid lecturing on physics for a term-- Physics of Stuff (the lab requires a blowtorch)-- and Emily and Derek read and research and help the local FBI office when they're needed) and drive the nine hours to the small town that is the home of Blackstock College. On the way out, they stop to see Ellen-- she doesn't have a file on Blackstock, but it's a small college in a small town, so there's not been much press. Emily thanks her, and they drive on.
They find a motel near the center of town. Spencer's not sure how long the hunt will be, so he and Emily unpack the car while they both pretend that Derek's not outside calling Hotch (everything's fine, Hotch. Reid is-- we'll come back when we can. There's a pattern here.) It had been a surprise that Derek, out of the three of them, was the one to keep in touch with Hotch.
It looks like some sort of possession, Reid had said, so they sketch Devil's Traps on the floor in chalk, hang herbs over the doorway. And just in case it isn't (could be ghosts- phouka- fairies-) they keep cold iron close and wear silver.
The three of them walk over to the college the next morning, taking the bridge across a lively stream. It's near enough to the hotel to walk, and the crisp spring weather keeps them moving briskly.
They still have their FBI credentials (consultant, not SSA, Reid remembers to say), which gets them inside the college library. Amazingly enough, there's a book in the collection with the title Ghosts of Blackstock-- written by a former professor of the college, and published in 1985. Spencer spends a few minutes with the book, fingers flying down the pages. When he finds what he's looking for, he pauses in his reading, and looks up at Emily and Derek.
"The suicide is always a girl, and she's always a classics major. The pattern was only broken once-- there should have been a suicide in 1974, but no one at the college died-- but there were two deaths in 1981. What's odd about them is that many-- if not all, it's not clear-- of the women who committed suicide were pregnant."
"That is odd," Emily says, waiting for Spencer to expand, to give the numbers.
"I know! Suicide rates in pregnant women are incredibly low-- 1.9 per every million births-- although that number is slightly higher among unmarried women, which all of our suicides were. The other man who dies, and it's always a man, is also always a classics major. With the man, the deaths are split between murder, suicide, and unknown causes-- there's a lot more variation. I bet that if we looked closer, had more information, we could find a pattern in their deaths as well."
They find out what they can about the author, Professor Carter-- namely, that he died in 2003, and that his daughter, now Professor Janet Lane, does, in fact, teach at Blackstock.
Garcia didn't cry when he called anymore, but she always tried to find out where he was, so that she could send him something. After everything, after Georgia, she knows that Reid's just trying to find his way back to them.
When Morgan and Prentiss left two months after Reid's last call (he was in Nebraska, he'd said, staying with an old friend of his mother's), she knew they were going to find him.
Professor Janet Lane teaches Literature, the same subject that her father did, and invites them in for tea when they show up at her office. She's a pretty woman, in her late 40's, her long brown hair bound back.
"My father wrote that book as a sort of curiosity. He was always collecting stories about our ghosts-- I actually contributed to that book, when I was an undergraduate here. One of the girls on my hall was a sleepwalker, and she threw books out the window, like the Ericson ghost was meant to do. It seems almost silly, now."
"Professor Lane," says Emily, "can you tell us anything else about that ghost? The girl who died in 1897?"
"There's not much that didn't make it into the book-- there used to be a collection of her belongings in the library. They moved them to the city museum a few years ago, when they renovated the library, but I don't think they were ever on display there. To be honest, I always found it a bit creepy, showing off the clothing and books of a dead girl. And please, call me Janet."
"You said you did your undergraduate work here?" asks Morgan. "That must have been in what, the 1970's?"
"I graduated from here in 1975," replies Janet. "I did my graduate work at Cornell, but came back here to teach. I though that Minnesota was better than New York for raising my daughter, and my parents are here."
Spencer picks up the thread from Emily and Derek: "So you must have been here in 1974. Do you remember anything strange happening on campus that year?"
Janet takes a closer look at the three of them-- Emily, quiet and patient; Derek, sympathetic and determined; Spencer, full of restless energy, pacing around her office. They don't look like the writers they presented themselves as. "You've figured out the pattern, haven't you," she says calmly.
"You know about the suicides?" Emily seems surprised.
Janet makes a sound that could almost be a laugh. "I've lived here almost my entire life-- it's something you almost can't help noticing. On the other hand, colleges are really more transient than many people realize. Students often aren't here for more than four or five years, and only tenured professors end up staying for much longer." She looks down at her hands, the gold of her wedding ring shining dully in the afternoon sun.
"Besides," she says, looking up, "I should have been the girl that died that year."
Prentiss and Morgan didn't resign. When they were ready to leave (when they knew where Reid was), they went to Hotch.
Hotch listened to them, approved their request for a leave of absence. He knew that it would make the team weaker for the moment (down three, not one, and Gideon's starting to withdraw again), but that, as soon as they can talk Reid around, they'll be back.
He also sent them with a badge for Reid. It says Consultant, not Agent, but he knew that Reid would understand that it's really an invitation back.
They leave Professor Lane's office with significantly more information than they had thought they would. They go in search of her husband, Thomas Lane, who owns a bookstore in town.
Lane's Books is a two-story building squashed between a diner and a real-estate firm. The bottom story is full of first editions and classics, and Spencer just stands and basks for a moment.
"My wife will tell you that the diner next door has the best fries in the world," says a voice from up the stairs. It belongs to a tall man whose curly blond hair has just started to grey. "It's just that you looked hungry, and I'd rather you didn't eat the books."
"We're, ah, looking for Thomas Lane?" Reid can hear the question mark at the end of the statement, and almost winces at how uncertain he sounds.
"That would be me. What can I do for you?" Thomas smiles easily. "Looking for a rare book? A recommendation for the second-best fries in the world?"
"Your wife sent us over," says Emily. "We have some questions about Professor Medeous."
The smile vanishes from Thomas's face. "Hell," he says. "I knew you'd turn up sometime."
Ellen wasn't really sure what to do when the FBI agent showed up. Oh, she knew what she usually did (Oh, no, sir, I've never seen that man before in my life, but I'll let you know if he shows up.), but this one seems somehow different.
For one thing, he was skinny as a twig and looked about twenty. She wasn't sure if she should toss him out for being underaged or feed him one of the Roadhouse's (rarely-ordered) sandwiches. He made her nervous, especially the way he looked at her, like he was trying to remember where he knew her from.
Ellen wasn't sure why, but she went the sandwich-route. He looked surprised, then grateful. He didn't eat a lot of the sandwich, mostly pulled it apart, but some of it (the bread and the lettuce-- he leaves the tuna on the plate) managed to disappear.
Eventually, he said to her, "You knew my mother? Diana Reid?" His face clicked in her mind, and the fed-- Reid-- his hands were shaking, but he was looking up at her--
"Oh my god, you're Spencer Reid."
Thomas flips the "Open" sing to "Closed," and tapes a back in ten minutes note to shop's door. He leads the three of them to the back office, offers them chairs. He pulls an orange from a sack lunch, and starts peeling it, almost as a nervous gesture.
Thomas's story is almost stranger than Janet's.
"Janet and I met during Janet's first year at Blackstock-- I yelled at her in the library, and dated one of her roommates. I had already been at the college for three years at that point. I changed majors half a million times-- politics, classics, English-- Medeous was my advisor." He sounds hateful when he says her name.
"There was a, uh, group of us. We were all classics majors. Medeous took special interest in us, said that we were talented. She'd take us on retreats, ask about our lives, things like that. At the beginning, I didn't really think anything of it."
Derek nods, sympathetic. Thomas catches his expression, and explains: "I mean, it was never inappropriate-- just a professor taking interest in her students-- but things changed. We used to go riding, on campus, and I fell off my horse. Medeous helped me. I was grateful, at the time.
"I found out later that-- God, this sounds ridiculous-- that Medeous was the fairy queen and in exchange for her help, I was going to be tithed to hell. The only way to get out of it was really unthinkable, so I had resigned myself to dying unless I could convince a girl to-- it wasn't something I really considered seriously.
"Janet and I started dating during her third year. By early October, she was pregnant-- it was an accident, on both our parts, but I knew that-- well, only a pregnant woman could save me. I felt guilty, asking her to.
"I wouldn't have blamed Janet for having an abortion. We'd been together for a few months at that point, we'd known each other for years, but when you're 21, there's a big difference between 'dating' and 'wanting to raise a child together.'" Thomas closes his eyes.
"In the end, she decided to help. She couldn't use the baby to save me, and then get rid of it, so we stayed together, even after Medeous had left. Margaret is twenty-eight now-- she lives in Chicago. She doesn't know any of this."
Thomas is done peeling the orange, and offers them segments. Reid takes one, and asks, "Do you know where Medeous went, after she left Blackstock?"
Thomas smiles ruefully. "She only left for a few years. When Janet and I were in New York, while Janet was at Cornell, she came back. She had tenure at Blackstock-- she was a fantastic teacher, all things considered-- so it was easy for her to come back. We didn't find out until Janet heard from her father in late November, and by that time it was too late to do anything."
"The murder-suicide in '81," Derek states.
"Yes," Thomas confirms. "Although calling it a murder-suicide is really inaccurate. you could argue that June indirectly caused Tyler's death, but blaming her for it entirely-- saying she killed him-- is wrong. She couldn't help him, she couldn't deal with his death, so she walked out her window.
"By the time we made it back, Medeous was gone again-- she left at the end of fall term for her annual retreat, and didn't come back for winter."
"But the pattern continues, even after '81," Emily protests. "There was another in 1988, and again in 1995 and 2002."
Thomas just shakes his head. "We think it's something intrinsic in the college, now," he says. "And without Medeous here, watching over someone specific, it's much harder to predict. We try to talk to the counselors, have them keep an eye on the classics students as much as possible, but it's such a long time between. It's hard to talk to anyone about the pattern without sounding crazy-- I wouldn't have told you if it hadn't been Janet who sent you.
"That's all I know. We haven't lost anyone since 2002, and the pattern won't repeat again for another few years. I don't know if there's anything you can do about it, but thank you for coming."
When a man and a woman (they're FBI, too, she can see it in their stance and the way they scan the room) showed up at the Roadhouse looking for Reid, Ellen said what she almost said when Reid walked in months ago. "Sorry, never seen him before. But I'll let you know if I do."
They both looked tired, but her denial somehow seemed to make them more determined. "Ma'am, we know he's here," said the woman. "Please, we just want to talk to him. My name is Emily Prentiss, and this is Derek Morgan."
"He's a friend of ours," said the man. "We've been looking for him for a long time."
Against her better judgement-- and why does it always seem to disappear around Reid?-- she asked Jo to wait with them while she went to get Reid. As usual, he was in the back with Dean, hands in the air as they discussed the precise method by which one wards off an unfriendly brownie-- no, not the chocolate dessert. Reid's arguing for keeping them happy with a bowl of milk, but Dean just likes shooting things.
She hated to pull him away (his hands don't shake any more-- his dreams are quiet, he's been wearing t-shirts, sometimes, when it's really warm out, his eyes don't have hollows like bruises any more--), but she knew the pair waiting at the bar won't wait that long.
"Reid?" she said. "There are some people here looking for you-- Emily and Derek?"
Ellen was astonished to see him grin, full-force. He stood up and walked quickly back towards the bar, abandoning Dean, who looked at Ellen and shrugged.
Back in their hotel room that night, Spencer is pacing. Derek is standing by the door, in case Spencer bolts (they'd learned, after the first nightmare, once they were back on the road, that one of them needed to sleep with Spencer, calm him down so that he didn't go flying out into the night, because in his dreams the world is safe), and Emily sits on one of the beds.
"It's something that Thomas said-- tithed to Hell-- it sounds familiar. I know that I've heard the story that he told before, but not in that exact--" Spencer stops, blinks a few times, and recites:
"O I forbid you, maidens a’, that wear gowd on your hair, to come or gae by Carterhaugh, for young Tam Lin is there." The scots accent sounds odd in Spencer's American voice, but bring something to the words. "It's Child ballad 39-- it's called 'Tam Lin.'"
Emily starts. "Thomas Lane--"
"--and the heroine's name is Janet."
"So wait," says Derek, "you're telling me that they're acting out a ballad? Every seven years, they repeat this?"
Spencer stops pacing. He's excited, but it's the excitement of having solved a puzzle, a case. "The Child ballads are a collection of three hundred and five English and Scottish ballads collected by Francis Child in the 1800's. Tam Lin is the thirty-ninth, and one of the ballads with the most variation-- Child alone collected thirteen different versions. The basic plot remains the same: Tam Lin is taken in by the fairy queen, and promised as the fairies' tithe to hell at the end of seven years. The only way he can get out of it is by impregnating a woman and convincing her to free him from the fairy queen, which she does by holding on to him as he turns into a series of beasts."
"Thomas was right when he said that we couldn't do anything now-- the pattern won't repeat until 2009," says Emily. "But we know what we'll be looking for, then."
Spencer nods enthusiastically. "Even without Medeous to point out the victims of the curse-- this is a curse, not a possession-- we should be able to use the patterns of the previous victims to predict who will be targeted."
"And when that happens," Derek says, "we'll be ready."
They're both relieved to see Reid, happy and healthy. Surprisingly, he was just as happy to see them.
He's been here most of the time, he says. He's been studying (although he wouldn't say what), and helping Ellen out whenever she needs it. According to Reid, Ellen was a friend of his mother's. Morgan was not quite sure what to think of Ellen-- she was fiercely protective of Reid, along with everyone else in the grungy bar.
Morgan was fairly sure that he recognized two or three people from briefings (isn't that Dean Winchester? Isn't he supposed to be dead?), but for now, seeing Reid like this, he let it slide. It sounded like Reid was telling Prentiss all about some book he'd been reading. Morgan missed the title while he was taking a good slow look around the place, but it seems to be some sort of bestiary, judging by the creatures Reid's describing.
But then Reid ended his description with "--and then Dean and I shot them all." and Morgan jumped, hard.
They leave town the next morning, heading southeast on 35 until they hit 90-E, for the long drive back to Virginia.