In flashbacks to previous episodes, Elle's downward spiral is shown – her shooting by the Fisher King, her behavior in the serial rape case from "Aftermath," her reaction to the release of rapist William Lee, and her comments to Hotch: "I'm supposed to believe that you've got my back? The last time you sent me home, Hotch, you got me shot." The last scene shows Elle seeking out Lee, and shooting him in cold blood.
At FBI headquarters in Quantico, Hotch finishes a report as Elle enters his office. He places William Lee's case file in front of Elle and asks her to close the door and sit down. He explains the Bureau's internal investigation of Elle has concluded and her story of self-defense was accepted. Hotch tells her that he, as her supervising agent, has ordered a full psychological evaluation. They argue about the necessity of the evaluation, Elle accuses Hotch of believing she's lying, and Hotch tells her bluntly that she is the only one who really knows what happened that night. "And I think that you've got to be honest with yourself since you've got to live with it for the rest of your life." Elle is defensive, and accuses Hotch of "prosecuting" her and treating her like an unsub. He tells her not to be late for her evaluation, which starts in one hour.
In Ozona, Texas, two boys, Henry and Simon, stand in a playground in the woods and tell a story to some younger children – a horror story about a 6-year-old boy who was attacked in those woods. As the story goes on, the scene changes to show a young boy wearing a baseball cap running for his life through the trees. Suddenly, the story changes, and they tell of an old man who catches the boy – an old man with bloody fangs, who tortures and eats the boy. Matthew, a smaller boy, asks who the old man is, and Henry points to an old house visible on a hilltop nearby. "The old man, he watches us all the time, from that big old house on the hill. The one that's…haunted." And the old man is watching for his next victim. The boy in the baseball cap keeps looking behind him and running.
A photograph of the boy running through the woods shows up on the screen in the BAU conference room – but the boy is dead, his head bloody. His name is Nicholas Faye, and he was beaten to death 13 hours ago – the second boy in Ozona to be found dead. The same offender killed them – an unsub who is hunting children.
Walking through the BAU offices, Hotch is stopped by an agent who tells him that Elle never showed up for her scheduled psych evaluation. Even though she's left three messages for her, Elle isn't calling back. Hotch goes to Gideon's office to fill him in on the situation. Gideon believes that Elle let emotion get in her way, and advises Hotch not to let the same thing happen to him. "She's innocent until proven guilty." Gideon will take the team to Texas and Hotch will remain in Quantico and try to find Elle and bring her in.
Hotch waits in a car outside Elle's apartment building and dials her on her cell phone. Elle's phone rings as she leaves the building carrying an overnight bag. She looks at the screen, and then dumps the phone in a nearby trash can before getting into her car. Hotch follows her.
On the BAU jet, Reid mentions to Morgan and JJ that Elle was cleared in the shooting of William Lee. Both Morgan and JJ are skeptical, but Gideon reminds them to focus on the case at hand rather than wondering where Elle and Hotch are. JJ hands out autopsy reports that show the unsub acted with rage, but seemed to have no sexual motivation, which is rare when the victims are this young. Reid comments most killers prey upon certain types of victims to carry out revenge fantasies, such as Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer. Morgan theorizes the killer is taking revenge on the type of person who victimized him in the past – such as an older brother or a bully. This theory is disproved when JJ receives notification there is another victim - an 11-year-old girl. They discuss how to keep all the children in Ozona safe from this unsub, perhaps by enforcing a curfew. JJ admits the only thing that scared her as a child was the woods around her small town. "The only thing that I was afraid of was the dark," says Morgan. "Some of us still are," adds Reid.
Gideon and Chief Jones go to the scene of Nicholas Faye's death. The scene is deep in the woods, and there was no sign of a struggle. The chief tells Gideon all of the parents in this small town are terrified – more children have died in the past two months than in the past 10 years. Gideon believes the child knew his killer or he wouldn't have gone this deep into the woods with him. The killer is methodical and organized, and probably stashed his weapon before bringing the boy there. But the unsub also attacks in moments of rage – the profile is confusing.
Reid and Morgan go to the scene of the girl's death, which is just a quarter of a mile from the other scene. When the deputy remarks she was bludgeoned to death in the same manner as the boys, the coroner corrects him, explaining that many of the girl's injuries were post-mortem. "He's getting more brazen," remarks Reid. He's spending more time with the victims after death and feels safe doing so. No one goes walking in the forest, the coroner tells them. Morgan notices a hunting sign on a nearby tree, and wonders if the killer is a hunter because he would then be very familiar with the area.
Local guidance counselor James Charles addresses a group of local parents, and advises them to keep their children very close during these times. Gideon and Reid stand by to help parents understand the reason for new precautions. At the same time, Morgan and JJ talk to the children, telling them about the "buddy system" and advising them to always stick together. In the parents' meeting, Nicholas Faye's mother asks Gideon if they've found the baseball cap her son was wearing the day he was killed. A mandatory curfew is set for 5:00 pm.
At the "haunted house on the hilltop," Henry and Simon dare a younger boy, Matthew, to run up on the front porch and ring the doorbell – a kind of rite of passage in the small town. If he runs quickly, "Old Man Finnegan" won't be able to catch him. The two boys promise to wait for him, but as Matthew approaches the front door, Henry and Simon run into the woods. The house is overgrown and scary, with a wind chime made out of bones hanging on the porch. Someone inside the house is watching Matthew's approach.
Gideon calls Hotch, who is still following Elle. Gideon is worried because it appears as though Elle is running, but Hotch is not sure. He tells Gideon he will keep him informed. Gideon enters the squad room of the small Ozona police station and sees James Charles telling his son, Jeffrey, to wait for him in the other room. The team presents a profile to the officers of the unsub who, they warn, could strike again at any time. Morgan asks them to look for someone who is shy, trusted, and physically fit. As Morgan speaks, a pregnant woman trailing a small child enters the police station to say that her son, Matthew, never came home from school. The chief mobilizes the officers immediately for a search.
JJ notices how the woman is reacting, left alone in the middle of a bustling squad room with Reid and Morgan searching out likely areas in the woods to search for the boy. She gets her a chair and asks some questions about Matthew. Her small son is quiet and stares at the floor. Gideon notices the boy and crouches down next to him, asking if he's got a secret. The boy finally tells him his brother was "just going to ring the doorbell and run – the haunted house on the hill." Charles tells Gideon about Finnegan's place – a local ghost story about a man who watches kids from the window. "Hunts 'em, skins 'em, eats 'em. Pretty standard," remarks the chief. Morgan tells them fables are often sparked by truth.
Elle arrives at the cemetery where her father is buried. She looks down at his grave and whispers, "I'm sorry, Dad." Then she notices Hotch behind her. Hotch tells her he's listening and she begins to open up. She talks about how she wanted so much to be a member of the team, but when she really needed the team, she was alone. She should have been able to feel safe in her own home, just like the women in Ohio who were raped in their own homes. "So does that justify taking the law into your own hands?" asks Hotch. Elle asks him why he thinks she did, and he points out that she's asking her dead father, a police officer, for forgiveness. He wonders where they go from there.
Police and the BAU arrive at Finnegan's house well after dark. Morgan and Jones go to the front as Gideon and Reid go around back to search the out-buildings. The front door is unlocked, and Morgan and Jones search through the darkened, cluttered home but find no one. Reid and Gideon methodically go through the out-buildings, and Reid turns around suddenly to be faced with a deer carcass. The electricity in the house is out, but Morgan notices the daily papers have all been brought inside, including today's paper. Reid and Gideon notice movement near an old water heater outside, and find Matthew crouched behind it.
Later, Reid sits in the dark living room of the Finnegan home, talking with Garcia on his cell phone. She describes the home as the "Bates Motel of Ozona, Texas." She teases him about the spooky house, knowing that he's inside alone, and she finally confirms all reports of disappearances connected with the house turned out to be false alarms except for one: Finnegan's wife was reported missing 50 years ago and was never found. This isn't making Reid less nervous. "Garcia," he rebukes, "I'm sitting here in the dark alone, thanks." "While you're waiting for a potential murderer to come home?" she responds. Reid hangs up, and looks around nervously. He turns suddenly and recoils from Morgan, who makes fun of him for being afraid of the dark.
Searching through the house, the team finds a well-stocked gun locker and wonders why Finnegan didn't hunt the children with a gun. They also find backpacks belonging to two of the victims, which Finnegan may have kept as trophies of his kills.
In the woods surrounding the house, other officers are still searching for the missing boy when the deputy drives up and tells them the boy had been found. One of the officers springs a bear trap under the leaves and, looking down, finds the body of Old Man Finnegan. The coroner tells them that he's been dead for a week, before the third killing took place, and he had been deliberately covered with leaves to conceal the body. Gideon wonders who has been living in his house if Finnegan has been dead for a week.
Back at the Finnegan house, Morgan searches through the now-lighted living room as Reid looks through Finnegan's journals. He learns Finnegan's missing wife, the basis for all the rumors surrounding the house, actually ran off with another man and Finnegan never recovered. Gideon brings them into the kitchen where he found many food trays that had been delivered by the church – each one is dated after Finnegan died. The unsub ate everything on the trays except for bowls of creamed spinach. These he duct-taped shut before throwing them out. Gideon determines the unsub is ritualized and methodical. His cell phone rings and leaves the room to speak with Hotch.
Reid tries to talk to Morgan about Elle, and tells Morgan he went to her hotel room to talk with her in Ohio, but she'd been drinking. Morgan brushes him off. Later, JJ, Reid and Morgan sit in Finnegan's house, and eat together. Morgan asks JJ why she is afraid of the woods and she starts spinning a tale about murders at a kids' camp in the woods when she was young. Morgan and Reid are completely taken in, until she admits she made it up: she doesn't know why she's afraid of the woods.
Garcia calls Morgan to tell him she has pulled two sets of fingerprints from the food trays: one of a child and one of an adult. She is coordinating with the coroner's office to find out which of the child victims is a match, but the adult set belongs to James Charles, the guidance counselor who has been helping them. The team heads off to Charles' house, knowing they've found the unsub.
Local police have cordoned off the street outside Charles' house, but can't believe he could be the unsub. Morgan and Reid rattle off the details of the profile that match Charles exactly: he was born and raised on Ozona and knows the area, he works with children, is highly organized and slight in stature, and he injected himself into the investigation. The chief tells the team Charles' wife walked out on him and his son, Jeffrey, six months ago. Charles leaves his house and approaches his truck while holding a small duffel bag. Morgan and Reid challenge him, but he turns to run. Officers surround him and Morgan tackles him to the ground. Morgan opens the duffel bag and finds a red baseball cap just like the one Nicholas Faye was wearing when he was murdered.
Mr. Charles is in an interrogation room at the Ozona Police Station. Morgan enters and offers to take some time off of Charles' sentence if he confesses to everything, but Charles denies ever being in Finnegan's house. Charles explains he was the one who delivered the food trays, and that is why they found his fingerprints on them. Outside the room, Gideon and Chief Jones are watching Morgan interrogate Charles. Morgan shows him the baseball cap and asks him how his life has been going for the past six months, anything to get a rise out of Charles. He starts talking about possible reasons for his wife's abandonment and accuses Charles of impotence. Charles reacts violently, and tells Morgan he is finished talking to him. Garcia calls and advises Gideon that the set of child's fingerprints she found did not match any of the victims. He tells her to look for other possible victims in the surrounding area.
JJ calls Mr. Charles' son's school to organize Jeffrey's transfer to child services. When the school tells her that Jeffrey never arrived that morning, and that his father claimed Jeffrey was sick, the team is afraid Jeffrey might be his father's latest victim. Gideon calls Morgan and apprises him of the situation. Morgan now confronts Charles, and asks him if he killed all these children just to work up to the victim he most wanted to kill – his own son.
Reid, JJ, and the local police search the Charles' house. JJ finds a photograph of Jeffrey wearing the red baseball cap, and Reid finds an epi-pen and a refrigerator full of milk products that have been duct-taped shut. When he tells Gideon, Gideon enters the room and takes over the interrogation. Gideon tries to relax Charles and pours him a cup of coffee while asking if he'd like milk in it. When Charles says "please," Gideon realizes he isn't allergic to milk, but his son is. "How long have you known?" Gideon asks. "Known what?" "That your son is a murderer." Charles offers to confess, but Gideon explains he knows Jeffrey is the murderer. He has learned milk products are dangerous to him so he wrapped the bowls of creamed spinach with duct tape in Finnegan's house. Charles breaks down in tears, and explains he found the red baseball cap in his son's drawer that morning.
Jeffrey waits at the bus stop as Tracy Bell gets off the bus. Simon and Henry take off together, leaving her alone, so Jeffrey offers to walk home with her. Jeffrey is carrying his baseball bat, and tells her he knows a short cut.
The chief interrupts Gideon to tell him Tracy has been reported missing. The police are dispatched to Fuller Road to try to trace her steps.
Jeffrey has led Tracy to the playground in the woods. She is tired and wants to go home, and complains her backpack is heavy. Jeffrey snatches the bag from her back and throws it onto the ground. He knocks her down and swings at her with the bat, but she kicks him in the knee and runs off. Jeffrey runs after her through the woods.
The team meets up at Fuller Road at the bus stop. Morgan believes Jeffrey came to resent all the time his father spent with other children, and took out his rage at his mother's abandonment on the other children. He even learned how to blend in from the FBI's own advice: the buddy system. He knows no one will think twice about two kids walking together. They decide to go to the playground.
Jeffrey looks through the woods for Tracy, and offers to take her home now. She runs.
Arriving at the park, Reid finds Tracy's backpack and they split up to look for the two kids.
Tracy is tired and stops, and hides behind a large tree. Jeffrey finds her and takes another swing with the bat, but she scrambles away, screaming. The team can hear her screams through the woods and zeros in on her location as Jeffrey continues to swing the bat. Gideon arrives first, and grabs Jeffrey, pulling the bat out of his grasp. Jeffrey struggles as JJ comforts Tracy.
Gideon and Jeffrey are seated in the back of a police car, and Gideon asks the boy why he hurt the children. "Because I wanted to," snarls Jeffrey. Jeffrey's father puts his hand against the car window, opposite his son's hand, and stares at him through the window as the car drives off.
JJ is sleeping aboard the BAU jet, but Reid is still feeling guilty, thinking of Elle. "I should have said something," he remarks to Morgan, who is wearing earphones. Morgan takes time to listen this time. Reid feels he should have told someone on the team – he'd talked to Elle that night and knew something was wrong. "I should have told someone," he repeats. Morgan tells him not to blame himself, that he was just trying to help a friend, and Elle made her own choices. Reid is clearly not convinced as he turns away.
On the phone with Hotch, Gideon is surprised to learn Elle has refused to admit anything, and he tells Hotch that he is doing the right thing. At Quantico, Elle walks into Hotch's office as he hangs up the phone. Elle places her gun belt and ID on Hotch's desk, still insisting she didn't do anything wrong. She tells him the sound of her phone ringing – a call from the Bureau – used to make her excited, but now it paralyzes her. She would not change a thing that happened that night in Ohio with William Lee. Elle leaves with the words: "You know, when I first joined the team, I couldn't figure out why you never ever smile. Now I think I'm actually going to miss that." After she walks out, Hotch responds, "I'm going to miss you, too."
[recap written by highwaykind and phf3947]