Windstar: Back again I guess, this one is a pre-series. It will eventually lead to present day time, it just might take a few chapters to get there. It's told mainly from Alex's perspective, but it is focused on the development of who exactly Neal Caffrey is.

Summery: The greatest con that Neal Caffrey pulled, was convincing the world that Nick Halden was an alibi, and that Neal Caffrey was a real person. The creation of Neal and how he came to be, as seen from the eyes of a friend.

Chapter One: Nick Halden

September 7, 1995

She had first met Thomas Halden when she was just a two-bit art thief that was desperate for some cash and an easy lay. Ultimately she only got one of those two things, Thom was already married and had a kid of his own. He was twice her age, rough around the edges, and possessed a heart of gold.

She hadn't seen that when she first met him. In fact, all she'd seen was the wedding band around his hand and suddenly she had the urge to see how she could make out with a harmless amount of flirting. It wasn't completely harmless though, because in the middle of her big brown eyed routine, a highly amused laugh slid in from behind her.

She turned around and blinked at the kid that had to be around fourteen or fifteen. Big blue eyes and wavy dark hair with a lady killer smile had her blinking in stunned surprise. She hardly expected to see a kid hanging around these parts, let alone one that looked like he stepped off the cover of the year's youngest top model.

"I think she likes you dad." The kid said with all the amusement of someone who just walked out of a comedy club. Her mouth dropped and she glanced back at Thom who's formerly gruff exterior melted away into someone that looked vaguely like a parent. Whatever that was supposed to mean.

"Get back to work." He intoned blandly, motioning to the kid who could help but laugh even harder.

"Wait till I tell mom." The kid was laughing even harder now, and she felt her face begin to burn from embarrassment.

"Nick, work, now." The boy mock saluted and then trotted away, but his infectious giggles could be heard despite that. "You have a painting you need fenced?" The man asked her calmly, and she dipped her head. He was back to business and she knew full well that her chances were dwindling by the second.

"Look I'm sorry about-"

"Nicky's got his head in the clouds half the time."

"Do not!" A loud yell came from the back, and the man swiftly responded without much care.

"Work!" Another bout of laughter, and she just knew this was a bad idea. "Let me see the painting, I'll price it for you and get your money out your way." She nodded and pulled the canvas from its protective case. She'd heard good things about Halden, and she wasn't disappointed when he came up with a fair deal. They made their transaction, and she glanced towards the back of the shop. She wasn't one to question parenting methods, but she was certain that somewhere in the criminal rule book there was a line about having underage kids tote around while deals were going down.

"Cute kid." Was all she said about it though, and Thom shrugged noncommittedly.

"Takes after his mother; brilliant, beautiful, and with an ego the size of Everest. Wouldn't hurt him to take it down a few notches." She could see that. He certainly seemed to be full of himself, but it wasn't hard to see why. "The two of them will be the death of me." The gruff exterior melted away and there was a fond look of just pure amusement on his face. It wasn't hard, even for her, to see that he honestly loved his family.

She took the money that he offered and she left without another word. There was nothing for her here. Walking about the streets she thought about the cash that she now had and she considered what it was she was going to do with it. She had the strongest urge to just go find someone who wouldn't mind giving her a hit of something, and at this moment she didn't particularly care what.

She felt foolish and completely ridiculous and it made her feel insanely bitter. How dare that little brat laugh at her? Anger overcame her and she grit her teeth. She'd never been so embarrassed in her life. She moved as fast as she could down the street, her fingers feeling the strong urge for something to hold. She reached into her purse to pull out the pack of cigarettes that she had in there.

She froze though, when she realized that her wallet was no longer in her possession. A swift flush of terror ran over her, and she whipped about to head back towards Thomas Halden when she came face to face with the laughing teenager from the store.

He was holding up her wallet with a look of immense amusement on his face, and his eyes were rolling over the ID that was there with a look that made it clear he thought that he was perfect in every little way. She had never felt more anger over anything else in her life though – and a part of her was grudgingly impressed that a fifteen year old brat had pick pocketed her.

"Alexandra Hunter." Only he could probably say her name like it was a way to seduce someone. Every 'r' was rolled and he dropped his voice so it was sultry and soothing. A part of her wanted to hate him even more for it, another part of her felt her heart flutter and that in turn made her furious because why the hell would anyone want to be wooed by a kid?

"What do you want Nicky?" He scowled at the use of the nickname she'd heard his father give him, and shook his head. Passing the wallet back to her, he held up a piece of paper

"It's Nick, and my father told me to give this to you. He said that if you don't have a place to stay then me ma makes a good dinner and we have a guest room not being used."

"Your mom?" She didn't know if she should be insulted or amused. He shrugged.

"I think me ma like's it when people flirt with him, who knows why." He shrugged evenly. "Or maybe me da just don't like seeing pretty girls going out to get in trouble when they could be stayin' in and doin' jus' fine." The accent was different from Thomas's. That she realized quickly enough, and she questioned him on it. He just shrugged. "Me ma's Irish, not like the folks around here though, she's really from Ireland."

"Your dad says you take after her, shouldn't you have red hair then?" He frowned slightly.

"Dark hair is a dominant trait. I have her eyes though." He motioned towards the bright blues that she'd noticed earlier, for a moment she found herself entranced by them.

"Just how old are you anyway?" She couldn't recall any fourteen year old talking about genetics in the past, but then again she had a hard time remembering any fourteen year old she talked to in the past.

"Nineteen." He replied easily, tilting his head with a mocking expression. She rolled her eyes.

"Hardly."

"You're not twenty-seven either though." He pointed out, and she nodded despite herself.

"So what are you, really?" She asked with an honestly open expression.

"Seventeen." He shrugged, and then raised two fingers. "Scouts honor."

"You were a boyscout?" She found the idea oddly amusing.

"Eagle scout." He winked. "Can't you tell by my impressive manners? Now my dear lady, would you like help across the street." He gallantly made a show of stepping back and offering her his arm.

"If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were flirting with me." She laughed as she took his arm.

"Why would I bother, I know you like older men." She scowled at him, but he winked up at her. "Don't worry, your secret's safe with me. I won't tell anyone."

"You're a real brat you know that?" He shrugged.

"Sure, but who's going to believe you if you told anyone? I'm an angel. But tell you what, if you want me to flirt, I will." He flashed her a brilliant smile and not for the first time she felt her heart flutter.

"Sorry kiddo, I prefer my men to be above the age of legal consent before I go about deciding whether or not to have sex with them." He grinned at her and sighed dramatically as he led her back towards the shop.

"Your loss."

Alexandra Hunter found herself to be oddly amused by the young boy. She allowed him to bring her back to the shop where Thomas was still working. He was on the phone and he barely glanced in their direction as they walked inside. Nick led her through the main room and out the back door.

A staircase moved up to a new level, and she followed the bright-eyed boy as he led with a huge smile and almost a skip in his step. For some reason, she didn't particularly mind though, the kid was actually rather fun to be around.

"So how do I know you're not some creeper?" She asked him coyly, and the kid turned to look at her with raised eyebrows.

"You were hitting on my dad, if anyone's the creeper isn't it you?" She scowled slightly and crossed her arms over her chest. He just beamed at her with all the enthusiasm in the world. "I can't wait for you to meet mom, she's great!"

"So everyone keeps saying." She nodded back towards Thomas who was still doing his own work down stairs. They reached a level floor and she looked around, there were sounds coming from a room down the hall and all other doors were closed.

Some paintings hung on the walls and there were even a few photographs here and there. She leaned close to look at one. She recognized Blue-Eyes easily enough. He wasn't that much younger in the photo. Thomas was standing behind him with his hand on his shoulder. There was pride in the man's eyes. Behind the other shoulder could only be the kid's irish mother.

Her red hair was flowing down past her shoulders and she had she had the same eyes that her son had. It was actually surprising to see the similarities that Nick had to his parents. It was the first time she was certain she saw someone with an honest to goodness pure fifty/fifty split. He shared his facial structure with his mother, and he certainly had her eyes, but he was definitely half of his father's child. His body shape was very much like his father's. He had his hair, and his smile. That big toothy grin and –

Alex couldn't help it. She started laughing. Tears came to her eyes, and Nick glanced towards her in confusion. When he saw what she was looking at he scowled furiously and grabbed her hand to pull her away. "It's not funny." He insisted, scowling as he brought one hand to poke at his front teeth in vain.

"How long did that last?" She asked curiously, although she had to admit she was insanely pleased with the fact that he'd seemed to have gotten braces at some point (even though that gap had been absolutely adorable).

"Too long." He growled in frustration. "Brittany Nicole wouldn't be my friend because of it." He gave her a mournful sigh, and she laughed at that.

"Brittany Nicole?"

"Second grade, she had a shiny red bicycle and pigtails."

"I can see why this was such a travesty for you." He nodded.

"Indeed. I didn't get my bike until I was in third grade, but when I did – it was much cooler." He was all smiles again, and she found herself grinning with him.

"What bike was it?" She asked curiously.

"A blue Cuneo. It was the best bike I ever owned." He paused at a door at the end of the hall and he glanced towards her, his face sobering slightly. "Umm…please don't be surprised."

"Surprised by what?" Alex frowned, but he was already walking into the room. She hesitated, but when she heard herself get introduced, she followed him in.

Her eyes widened slightly and her heart filled with pain all of a sudden. She couldn't recall the last time that she had felt so sad for anyone other then herself. In her mind she recalled the photo on the wall with the beautiful family smiling with delight to the camera. The woman looked so strong and healthy there, now though…now she looked anything but.

There was a bandanna around her head to cover the fact that she didn't have any hair. Her skin looked grayish almost, and there was just a general exhaustion and weakness that came from her body. She glanced towards Nick in confusion, but he wasn't looking at her.

"How are ye doin' today ma?" The accent that she'd heard earlier was coming out in full now, and she wondered slightly if that was for his mother's benefit. The woman looked honestly pleased at her son's attention to her.

"Ah'm doin' well a chroi." She smiled to him, though even Alex could tell that she must have been in some form of pain, because she looked simply exhausted as she did so. "Welcome to our home Miss. Hunter." The young woman looked at the mother and felt her voice catch in her throat. The words were kindly spoken, and the lilt on them were even more so meaningful to her.

"T-thank you for having me." She said, her heart breaking in her chest.

"Will ya be spending the night dear?" The woman glanced from Alex to Nick, and her son beamed slightly.

"I guess so, she doesn't have any where else – right?" He gave her a knowing look and the thief scowled ever so slightly. She didn't have a chance to cut in before the mother started speaking again.

"Show her to the guest room a chroi, she looks like she could use a rest. Ah'll be sure to let ye know when dinner is ready alright dearie?"

"Yes, ma'am." Nick's hand slipped into hers and she felt herself fight terribly hard to bring herself back to a sense of calm. They left the kitchen, and she followed him silently down the hall. He opened a door and stepped inside. He motioned her in, and she followed him sadly.

"There's a bathroom that connects over there." His accent had died down just a little, it was still there, just not as present as it used to be. "So you can take a shower or something if you like."

"Nick…" She felt compelled to ask, and yet she couldn't seem to get the words out.

"Lung cancer. She's not eligible for any sort of donation. Probably two more years at best." He glanced towards her; the lines were well versed. She supposed he'd had to answer the question quite often enough. "I guess that's why me ma doesn't mind if someone flirts with Dad. She just wants him to be happy…if he finds someone else he'll be happy…I guess." She reached out to touch his shoulder, and he turned to her.

"Want a hug kiddo?" She asked with a half hearted smile. He grinned stupidly, and she almost regretted asking, but damn if he hadn't looked so heart broken at that moment. He reached over and pulled her close to him. She felt her breath leave her for a brief moment and a feeling of relaxation started to tingle in her boots.

Surprise lifted up from her innards. She hadn't expected the hug to be so inexplicably nice. Yet she wasn't letting go. His head rested on her shoulder, and she realized that the kid was probably still growing. They'd be around the same height when he stopped. He might even be a bit taller. She'd need to wear heels around him in the future-which was another pause for thought.

Who said that she would be sticking around that long? It was only going to lead in disappointment; especially after what she saw down the hall. If she got close to this family, she was only going to get hurt later on.

What she couldn't underThomd though, was why it was that she wasn't releasing the kid. For a brief moment she felt good though. She wasn't used to giving just hugs to people. She wasn't used to being with someone or even near someone simply because she wanted to. The kid was a sweet guy though, and she wasn't entirely sure that she didn't want to be near him at all.

She heard a brief giggle, and she glance down at the teenager who was grinning up at her with a wicked smile. "You sure you don't like underage guys?" Rolling her eyes she let him go and stepped back.

"I feel like taking a shower, am I safe, or are you a peeping tom?" He took on a look of pure innocence and clasped a hand over his heart as though he was wounded.

"My lady, I would never!" She laughed and shook her head. He slipped out of the room and closed the door behind him. She couldn't help the smile that crossed her face though as she thought of the honest to goodness gentle heart that she knew was inside of him.

Maybe it wouldn't be too bad to stick around for a little while.