Title: Ouroboros
Rating: PG
Fandom:
Criminal Minds
Universe: Moments in Time (Part 2)
Characters/Pairing:
tentativeRossi/Prentiss, JJ/Hotch, Morgan/Garcia
Genre:
Science Fiction/Drama/Humor
Summary:
Emily Prentiss has come unstuck in time. AU.
Prompt: From mingsmommy: time traveling BAU to solve crimes throughout time.

*

The Snake That Eats Its Own Tail, Forever and Ever. I know where I came from—but where did all you zombies come from?

The Unmarried Mother

*

Emily Prentiss woke up to a headache.

It would have been a far less terrifying experience if she had absolutely any idea of where she was, or how she had gotten there.

The room was a pale white, with electronic equipment that she vaguely recognized as being of a medical origin, though some of it looked far more complicated than she remembered. Some of the equipment was hooked up to her – a heart-rate monitor, something that looked like an IV.

She was in a hospital.

Further examination of the "where" did not give sufficient clues as to the "why."

There was a framed list on the nearest wall to her, its contents baffling:

Never Do Yesterday What Should Be Done Tomorrow
If At Last You Do Succeed, Never Try Again
A Stitch In Time Saves Nine Billion
A Paradox May Be Paradoctored
It Is Earlier When You Think
Ancestors Are Just People
Even Jove Nods

It seemed familiar, though she couldn't quite place it.

'Heinlein,' a voice said, jarring her from her investigation. 'He was an Agent. Right up until he accidentally got himself sucked into a black hole.'

'Robert Heinlein got himself sucked into a black hole?' she asked blankly of the man standing in front of her. He was in his early fifties if she wasn't mistaken, but then, gene-treatment therapy had screwed up any perception of age she'd had. He seemed a little cock-sure, though part of her knew that he had the skill to back up whatever claims his behavior was making.

'It was a little more complicated than that,' he shrugged. 'There was some dolphin saving attempts going on, and Bradbury got a little too involved, but...he's stuck in the Middle Ages, last I heard. If we try to get him back, chances are, there'll be some kind of universe-destroying paradox. He's a king, though, so I don't think he minds.'

The words the man spoke seemed to fit together to form a semantically accurate sentence, but the content of that sentence, she still couldn't quite wrap her head around. He was talking about black holes and paradoxes and dolphins as though they were common-place. She must have gone insane.

But then, the framed list was Heinlein, so she must have had some vestiges of sanity remaining.

'Where am I?' she asked the man, who gave her a small smile.

'That's a very difficult question to answer,' he said. 'Technically speaking, you aren't anywhere – or anywhen, for that matter. We're suspended in a bubble outside of space and time.'

'Okay,' she amended. 'How about we start with something a little more to the point, like – what the hell is going on?'

He nodded. 'A valid question. What's the last thing you remember?'

She racked her brains, trying to unblur the memories that seemed like nothing more than a garbled mess in her mind. 'Um...there was a raid. We were trying to stop him from setting off the device...' She trailed off. She was in hospital, which meant that obviously, their attempts had failed.

The man confirmed this. 'But don't feel bad,' he said, in what was clearly an attempt to cheer her up. 'There's no such thing as free will, so no matter what you did, you were going to fail. What I did, was make sure you got out of there alive.'

Raising an eyebrow, she asked him, 'So what did you do? Rip me from the timestream?'

'Something like that,' he said, without the slightest hint that he was even kidding. Of course, he'd spent the last five minutes talking about various time travel-related topics, so her guess wasn't entirely unfounded, either. A childhood of watching sci-fi and reading Vonnegut had given her the basics of what she needed to know.

'So I can't go back?'

He shook his head. 'According to the Births, Deaths and Marriages database of 2048, you died in that terrorist attack. The only reason you didn't actually die, was because I pulled you out of there.'

'Yeah?' she asked, curious. 'And why did you do that?'

He didn't have an answer for that one, just giving her another one of those knowing smiles.

She figured she's have time for questioning him of his motives later. She couldn't return to her own time, which, she was surprised to find, didn't bother her as much as she thought it would have. She had no family left, and her work had been the only thing tethering her to the mortal coil.

'So what now?' she asked, adding, with a look towards the heart-rate monitor. 'Assuming they ever let me out of this hospital room, am I doomed to a life of making sure the hourglasses are functioning properly?'

'We have technicians to do that,' he told her. 'And it's a little more complex than hourglasses. I'd explain it to you, but I honestly have no clue. Never took the Advanced classes.'

And that brought her to the crux of matters. She had been pulled out of the timestream – which did kind of miff her a little, but really, what could she do? – and evidently, her career options for the future, no pun intended, were somewhat limited.

'That's it?' he asked her. 'None of that "this can't be happening it's all a lie, you need to take me back" crap?'

'What do you want from me? I know what a drug trip looks like, and it isn't that. I know what it looks like when someone's lying, and you're not lying. I know that scientists were getting close to a working theory of time travel, and it makes sense that at some point in the timeline, it's already been invented. "Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." I observe – observed – things for a living, Mr. I Don't Even Know What Your Name Is, and trust me when I say that I've gotten weirder stuff than this free with my breakfast cereal.' She stopped suddenly when she realized he was starting to laugh at her.

'You'll do fine,' he said with a grin. 'And it's Rossi. David Rossi.'

'I'm still drugged up, aren't I?' she asked, with a sudden realization. Not the kind of drug trip she was used to, but still, technically a drug trip. She had been aware of the IV, and yet it had taken her until that moment to notice that it had been actually pumping stuff into her. No wonder she was acting strange. She figured that her reactions would be a little less all over the place later on. 'Well in that case, Rossi David Rossi, tell me exactly what I'm expected to be doing around here.'

'Technically speaking,' he told her, 'We're an offshoot of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, albeit one created several hundred years after your employ. Either way, it means you've been reassigned.'

She raised an eyebrow. Reassigned to the Knights Temporal, just like that.

It was a hell of a way to end the week.

*

They let her out of hospital two days later, at which point she was given a room key, and directed towards the residential area of the sprawling Temporal Outpost. She had two hours to "settle in," before she was expected at her orientation. She'd questioned how exactly she was supposed to know how long two hours was if they were situated outside of time and space. Rossi had given her a look that quite clearly said "smart-ass" and explained that this particular outpost ran on Earth Time; 60 seconds to the minute, 60 minutes to the hour, 24 hours to the day, without getting into any of that complicated tidal wave stuff.

It made sense, of course. For a species that had lived with the concept of time for so long, it wouldn't be right to just take it away. It would be like living life without the color blue. Inconceivable.

Two hours was a long time to settle in, considering she didn't actually own anything. Even the clothes she'd been wearing at the point of her removal from the timestream had been decontaminated which apparently really meant that they'd been tossed into an incinerator. In addition to that, her savings fund had been emptied out, and distributed to various charities upon her death, so she didn't even have several thousand years worth of accrued interest to buy any belongings she might need.

The room was painted a pale blue, the furniture simple and functional, yet at the same time, incredibly depressing. There was a single bed, folded sheets sitting at the end of it, a nightstand, a sturdy-looking wooden table with accompanying chair, and a small, empty bookshelf. There were two other doors in the room, one leading to a small bathroom, the other to a wardrobe which held two plain black suits. She didn't want to know how they'd figured out her size – after time travel, tailoring seemed like something of a cakewalk.

In lieu of anything else to do, she sat on the end of the bed, and slipped off the plain shoes that they'd given her upon her release from the hospital. She sat there, just thinking, for several minutes. Now that the drugs had worn off, things seemed a little bit more melancholy. She'd spent her childhood moving from place to place, and come the day she took her first step out into the real world, the only thing she'd wanted to do was stay in the one place. Now, that seemed like something of a given. The only other options, apart from being an Agent, was to submit to a mind-wipe, upon which she would be deposited at a random point in history, nonethewiser as to her mysterious encounter with the fantastic. Her other option was to apply to be a Gatekeeper – someone who kept guard at a specific point in time – and even then, she'd have to undergo the temporal training. She still had a while to decide.

Lost in thought, it was several moments before she realized that someone was knocking on her door. She wasn't quite sure who it could be – the only person apart from her doctor that she knew, was Rossi, and he had a scheduling conflict. "A meeting with the wicked witch of the west," he had told her. Something she wasn't quite sure what to make of.

She opened the door to a platinum-blonde woman with purple streaks, and a tall, dark-skinned man with a smile on his face.

'Hi.' The woman thrust her hand in Emily's direction. 'Penelope Garcia. This hunk of chocolate bliss is Derek Morgan. Rossi said you might need some company. Spencer wanted to be here, but he's busy setting up your orientation.'

She didn't have time to ask who Spencer was, and found herself stepping back to let the two in.

'Wow.' Derek gave a low whistle at the room. 'I'd forgotten how bland these rooms are when you first move in.'

'I think we need to have a decorating day,' chimed in Penelope enthusiastically. 'A little bit of color, here and there...I can put together an entertainment system for you from some of the scraps we've got in the junk room. Cable TV from every single time period known to man. You'll never have to TiVo again.'

'That's really not necessary...' Emily began, somewhat hesitantly. She was grateful that they were thinking of her, but she really didn't feel she deserved the attention.

'Of course it's necessary,' Garcia sighed. 'Do you know how many people have gotten cabin fever in their first few weeks here? We work together as a team to make sure everybody stays sane.' She gave a maniacal grin.

Penelope and Derek told their own stories; Penelope was from the 2300s, recruited after she'd hacked the server of the local Time Office. Derek was from the 1960s, pulled from the timestream by Rossi after taking a bullet in a gang war. The thought that Rossi had been doing this for so long disconcerted Emily a little, and she wasn't sure why.

Before long, it was time for her orientation. Derek bid them farewell, promising that they would talk later about what color she wanted the walls painted, and whether or not she liked the carpet as it was. He left before she could argue the point any further. Penelope, apparently, was assisting Spencer in the orientation – he was the one with theory-smarts, she was the one with the technical-smarts, apparently. Emily felt herself stop blinking as the techie jovially explained how they'd put together their first time machine under the tutelage of Einstein.

There was no time to ask further questions about that, though. Penelope led her into the briefing room, where a tall, skinny man stood next to a whiteboard, pen in his hand.

'This is Spencer Reid,' Penelope introduced her. 'He collects Ph. D.s in his spare time. You're up to twelve, now, right, Reid?'

'Thirteen,' he said with a small, slightly embarrassed smile. 'I finished my Epistemology dissertation last week.'

Penelope gave him a light punch on the arm. 'And you didn't tell me? Reid, I'm hurt. How can I be an Oracle if you keep things in the dark?'

He gave a small shrug. 'After number two, it doesn't seem like so much of a big deal.'

'Well, it's still at least twelve more than the rest of us,' Emily commented, which elicited an emphatic "thank-you" from Penelope.

She took a seat at a desk in the front row of the room, hyper-vigilant of the fact that she felt like she was in college all over again.

'Okay, so you're from 2048?' Reid question her, examining the file in front of him. It probably had everything in there from her birth-date to her favorite breakfast cereal. Such was government recordkeeping. 'Level of education?'

'Your file doesn't tell you that?' she asked, somewhat amused.

'I like to get a personal spin on it,' he shrugged. 'That way I can tell what point we need to start on.'

'Okay...' she said slowly. 'I um...have a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology. I minored in Linguistics...I did a few Critical Analysis of Classic Literature classes.'

Reid nodded. 'Anything in Theoretical Physics? Philosophy?'

'A couple of Philosophy classes,' she remembered, "couple" being the operative word. She'd dropped out of Philosophy to do Introductory Russian instead. 'But no hard sciences.' She thought for a second, before adding, 'I have seen every single episode of Doctor Who, if that counts.'

'Not every single,' Penelope piped up. 'There was another reboot that you missed by a hundred years. Good stuff.'

'Alright then.' Reid turned to the whiteboard and drew two things; a circle, and what looked like a tree. 'You probably already know the basics, if you're interested in science-fiction, but I'll break it down anyway.' He stepped back, allowing her to see the board. 'In 2048, before the concept of time travel as an actual possibility had entered the public realm, there were two main theories of how travel back and forth along the timestream could have worked.'

He tapped the tree-like object with his pen, smudging the black ink slightly. Emily suppressed a smirk at the fact that he was discussing time travel using a relatively primitive piece of equipment.

'This, I'll call the Alternate Universes theory. The theory that every decision we make, there's a chance we could have made a different decision, and the additional possibility that in an alternate universe, we did make that different decision. Every decision made, the tree gets another branch, to the point where there are almost an infinite number of alternate universes. Every time someone goes back in time and changes the past, a new universe is created.'

He turned slightly, moving her attention to the circle. 'This type is what we'll call a Predestination Paradox, or a Closed Time Loop. It encompasses the notion that every decision we make was predetermined, and any attempt to go back in time and change the past will only cause the event that one is trying to prevent. Ouroboros. This has all happened before, and this will all happen again.'

'And you guys use the Closed Time Loop theory,' she queried, remembering some of the things Rossi had mentioned in her drug-induced haze.

'That's correct,' nodded Reid, adding with a weak smile, 'Which means there's no such thing as free will, but don't tell anyone that.'

She gave a hollow laugh that echoed the emptiness she felt at the thought.

He continued the lesson, which was, for the most part, a basic "do's and don'ts" (mostly don'ts) of time travel. It was an hour or so later before he actually got to the point of the reason why they travelled through time, gratuitous tourism aside.

'You worked law enforcement for ten years, right?' he asked, to which she answered in the affirmative. 'In that time, how many cases that you're aware of went unsolved?'

She shook her head in something approaching gloom. 'Hundreds. Probably thousands.' Her head shot up at the sudden realization of what he was getting at. 'Wait. You guys go back in time to solve all of these cases?' she asked, incredulous.

'"The time is out of joint; O cursed spite, That ever I was born to set it right,"' he quoted, with some enthusiasm. Emily just shook her head.

*

She ran into Rossi as she left the room, mind overflowing with what Reid and Garcia had collectively taught her. It was a lot to sink in. The older agent wasn't alone – he was in the process of talking to a tall, dark haired man, and a shorter blond woman. The moment she came into view, though, he broke off from the conversation.

'Emily,' he greeted her. 'How did it go?'

'Very...overwhelming,' she settled on.

Rossi nodded. 'It gets that way sometimes. This is Aaron Hotchner and Jennifer Jareau, by the way. They're recently reassigned Gatekeepers. I saw them a week ago, it's been two years for them.' He was jovial about something, but Emily wasn't quite sure what. She instead settled on shaking the hands of the two former Gatekeepers.

'We'll be joining you on active duty once we're recleared,' explained Jareau. 'But if they send me back to the 11th century again, I will start another war.'

Emily wasn't quite sure whether or not she was supposed to laugh, but didn't have time to make a decision. Aaron and Jennifer made their exit, the closeness they exhibited making Emily sure of the fact there was something more than mere partnership going on there.

'So what now?' she asked Rossi.

'Well,' he said. 'I managed to weasel my way off the Probation list, and at the very least there are half a dozen Time Units available.'

She processed his words, eyebrows narrowing.

'Pick a year,' he said. 'We'll call it a training exercise.'