A/N: For the Writers of the Silver Screen challenge on CCOAC. My chosen character was Prentiss and the movie was The Untouchables. Much to my initial dismay, Strauss was assigned to me. It was interesting writing her, but not something I feel compelled to do again after this story.

A/N II: This story was nominated for Best Unusual Pairing and Best Characterization of Erin Strauss for the Profiler's Choice Awards 2011.

Warnings: Anything from any of the already-aired Criminal Minds episodes is fair game with regards to subject matter and potential spoilers.

Everyone has their own way of protecting themselves.

Emily Prentiss chose to be like a duck in a rainstorm. She constructed a thick, Gore-tex-like armor. Nothing got in. Nothing got out. Like most waterproof fabrics, when it became saturated it was suffocating.

Erin Strauss chose to be like a porcupine. She covered herself in sharp barbs designed to deter and injure anyone who got too close. Actually, everyone who got close. She had left no bare, vulnerable areas when she constructed her quilled armor.

Emily began the construction of her armor when she was nine years old. After four years of being picked on, made fun of, and beat up, she decided she was done being hurt. She had tried various strategies: crying, coming up with clever retorts, getting angry, and asking the other kids to stop. None of those had worked. It was as though her reaction encouraged their torment. The armor she constructed was impervious to their taunts and never let her hurt show through.

Erin began the construction of her armor when she was eighteen. Her father shook his head and laughed when she said she wanted to go into law enforcement. You're too soft, he had said, you'll never make it in that boy's club. He had told her that she was better off getting her MRS degree than her BS degree in college. She bristled at his suggestion and in response built a set of armor that could be used for both defense and offense.

You're beautiful. When John whispered those words, Emily's armor slipped off as easily as her bra and panties. She was fifteen and she had been told she was smart, funny, polite, and well bred, but never beautiful. Emily understood: she was tall and gangly, her black hair refused to pick a side in the curly or straight debate, and her nose was too big for the rest of her face. John did more than tell her, he showed her with kisses and caresses that made her stomach hurt in a warm, exciting way. With her armor discarded in the pile of clothes next to the bed, Emily gave herself to John.

Trust me. Those words caused Erin to lay her quills down. She was at the FBI Academy and had been working with her partner for the last month on their practicum of leading a team into a hostage situation. She and Ryan worked seamlessly together, their cumulative effort far greater than the sum of the parts. Both were bright, ambitious, and even before graduating from the Academy had their eyes on the title Assistant Director; he would head up the National Security Branch and she, the Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch. They couldn't agree who would be Director, so they thought it best to stop at A.D. With her quills flat against her skin, Erin let Ryan take point on the raid.

Emily's armor was in tatters. She had tried to reassemble it, but John's cold indifference after that night had already seeped into its pores. It didn't fit anymore; it kept slipping off. It offered no more protection and coverage than the paper-thin gown she wore as she sat on the doctor's exam table. She had vowed to never again let anyone touch her without her armor firmly in place. Matthew was the exception to that rule. Even though he knew all of Emily's secrets, Matthew made her feel like she was worthy of friendship. As Emily sat the doctor's cold office Matthew's hand was warm and comforting. He was her lifeline and without his grip, Emily knew she would simply be pulled under the waves of guilt, shame, and self-loathing that crashed on her shore.

Erin's quills lay broken on the floor around her. Ryan had changed the strategy of how to breach the entry without telling her. So she looked both helpless and confused when two of the other (male) cadets forged ahead through a secondary entrance. Erin was left standing on the outside while the hostage-takers were captured. Her father's words echoed in her mind. You're too soft. Erin reassembled her barbs making sure they were harder and sharper than before.