Windstar: I'm really sorry about how long it has been between the updates. My reasonings are these: College started back up again and between writing a paper and writing fanfiction, unfortunately the paper wins. One of my original works has been captivating a great deal of my attention as well. The biggest reason though, is that I was so completely dismayed with the idea of a flashback episode that I lost my groove for a while. I held off until I could see it and see if it would mess up the story line I constructed, and lo and behold - it did. Still, I've spent the past few days trying to figure out a way to still remain canonical and I've managed to come up with a few ideas that may work. I know, I know - I could just write this off as being an AU and go toot my horn elsewhere, but I'm doing my best here.

Things are going to take a bit longer because I'm trying to rework everything a bit. Obviously Mozzie and Alex are going to have a fiddle here and there, but I think in the end it'll work out. If you don't mind waiting, then I promise you I will finish this in due time.

Thanks very much, and please enjoy!

Chapter: Noticing a Change

Anyone who met Neal Caffrey would tell you a series of things that they could recall most fervently. Some would say that he was the best poker player that they'd ever come across. Some would say that he could play a mean game of backgammon. Games of chance always seemed rigged with him.

Caffrey could make any girl fall madly in love with him. He had sex with people indiscriminately. He was every woman's fantasy, and every man's worst nightmare. Essentially he was Don Juan in modern time, which of course made more then his fair share of people infuriated with him.

Over the next four years, Neal Caffrey would learn all that there was to know, and expand on his repertoire. Essentially, Nick Halden would become the man that everyone else would call Neal Caffrey. He would learn how to distinguish a forgery of someone-elses at first glance. He would spend hours and weeks upon one painting, simply memorizing it.

And it was here, that Neal Caffrey would be the most creative. He would carry with him the boyish imagination of Nick Halden, and before it was eventually faded away into a passing memory he would use it to do the most exciting of capers. In the following few chapters, it is those four years that are of most importance.

It is during those four years, that Nick Halden travelled almost exclusively with Alex and Mozzie, and it was during those four years that Neal Caffrey first started to solidify himself into the psyche of the boy. It is important to note though, that Nick was not schizophrenic, nor was he a sociopath. He wasn't delusional nor was he insane.

Nick knew exactly what was happening around him at all times. He knew that he was not, in fact, truly, a man named Neal Caffrey. He was aware that that was not real. He was also aware of the fact that he was lying to almost everyone that was involved in his life whenever he introduced himself as Neal Caffrey.

If there was any form of psychosis that could be associated with Nick Halden, was that he was a pathological liar, plain and simple. He was compulsively driven to lie in order to take care of his own skin. He would lie with no sense of consequence, or at least that was what people would see when they looked at him.

They would see someone who was incapable of telling the truth, but that wasn't the case. The case was this: Nick sought only take care of himself and to take care those associated with him. What it meant to take care of himself though, included, and was not limited to – his mental status.

Nick was terrified of the world around him. After Jennifer's deaths, after his parents' deaths, things had shifted. The world was not the same as it used to be. He was not alright with exclaiming to the world that he was not okay. In his mind he was trapped, paradoxically he was not capable of escaping the lies he'd created to keep his squishy insides safe. He'd effectively caged himself in his own head.

Nick lied to the world because he knew that he couldn't stay behind forever. He knew that sooner or later everything would move on without him. Because he wasn't ready for that though, he created Neal to take up the slack. When no one was looking he'd think back on the problems that he'd faced and he would try to sort through them.

After a while though, denial was key. After a while, he was simply used to the lies and he pushed all of his memories to the back of his head. He refused to consider them. He refused to contemplate them. His dreams and his problems became nightmares and that was it.

They could not be a real and existing pain if he didn't consider them, and if he conjured up the persona of suave and cool Neal Caffrey – then he couldn't consider it. Neal Caffrey had no problems. He was completely care free. Life was perfect for Neal, and as long as he focused on that simple fact, then he wasn't going to be allowed to consider the thought that he was in pain or that his heart was torn out of his chest.

And it was in this way, that Nick Halden existed. The reason that Nick Halden, and therefore (by extension) Neal Caffrey, became a conman - was because the more personas he had, the less his heart and his soul could be traumatized any longer. Nick Halden didn't want to think about the past, and so he made sure that his past wasn't something to concern himself with.

As long as he was immersed in the "character" of Neal Caffrey, he couldn't be hurt. He was merely an actor, living a very realistic life. Or at least, that's what he told himself. And it was that very fact – the fact that Neal Caffrey didn't exist and was merely a fake character that he had created so that he could tolerate his own existence – that Alexandra Hunter hated the most about him.

The first week after the deaths of Maire and Thomas Halden, Neal Caffrey hadn't staked his claim on the world. Nick Halden was there, in shock, and grieving. It was a healthy thing for him to do – and while Alex wasn't happy about the fact that he was hurting at least it was the right thing for him to do.

He was terribly quiet for a while though, his head downcast and his face pale. His hands would shake terribly, and he'd have difficulty concentrating on things. The only thing that seemed to make him focus was when he was working on something. Alex encouraged him to do so, and his mind was endlessly focused on trying to recall anything other then his experiences in the past.

He went through four sketchbooks in the first nine days, and through it all he had a vacant expression on his face that made everyone worried about him. When he did talk, they were short words and they didn't seem to hold much meaning or merit to them – they were empty fillers that did nothing to make him feel better about anything that he did or didn't do. They just were there.

Then, he surprised everyone by announcing quite clearly – "Hey, lets get a dog."

"A dog?" Alex blinked at that suggestion in confusion, not quite knowing where it came from. Mozzie stared at him with a pinched look that made it seem like he was having difficulty digesting something particularly painful.

"Yeah, a really big one – or a puppy. One or the other." Mozzie poured himself another shot and knocked it back without comment, and then gave Alex a look that made it clear he expected her to handle this bout of irrationality.

"If we're getting a dog, it's a puppy." Only she didn't seem to particularly mind the suggestion, and Mozzie was forced to stare at them in stunned shock with no idea how to keep this situation from growing out of control.

"Do you realize that a dog in Manhattan is more work then anything else in the world? You can't even legally bring a dog into this place!"

"Well we're leaving in a bit anyway right? When we get to San Diego, lets get a dog!" He was starting to get real excited about the idea, and it was the first time he was showing any form of interest in something since his parents had died. Neither were too keen to shoot him down about it, and only Mozzie seemed against the idea in the first place.

"No, absolutely not. We're not getting a dog."

"I think it should be a Labrador, or a golden retriever or something."

"Aren't they the same thing?" Alex asked curiously, and Nick tilted his head – considering.

"No, but I think they're close…"

"Hello? Is anyone listening to me?" And clearly, they weren't.

They deliberated for hours over what type of dog to get, and how much money they would need to raise, and what gender, and what color, and where they'd keep it. When Mozzie protested, they ignored him, and focused only on the task at hand. The finally decided on a yellow lab named Sunshine, and decided that the moment they arrived in San Diego they'd head out to find their own Sunshine to bring home.

The trip was a long while in coming though, because despite Mozzie's beliefs – the police continued to look for clues on what had happened to Nick Halden for quite some time. His picture was posted on subways and bus stops. There were contact information's listed and there were countless attempts to locate him. The final straw was brought about when he turned around and saw his friend's face on a milk carton.

It was bordering on the obsessive, and he never understood why it was that Nick had become the topic of so much intrigue. What he would not discover until many years later, was that Emrys had made up his mind the moment he saw the newspaper clipping, to find Nick Halden.

He had spearheaded the movement and had organized the search parties. He had done everything he could to locate his former friend in hopes that he would still be alright. Emma and Conner O'Reiley arrived from Ireland the moment that they heard the news. They met with Emrys and searched for their nephew together.

Had Mozzie known that Nick's Irish relatives were looking endlessly for him, perhaps history would have turned out differently. As it stood though, he didn't know that they were there. All he did know, was that the constant signs were making it terribly difficult for them to sneak the teenager out of the state and he was running short on time. He needed to conduct his business in San Diego sooner rather then later, and his window of opportunity was closing rather fast.

He arrived back at the apartment where Alex and Neal were suffering through a long bout of boredom brought on by their self-imposed house arrest. Neal had gone through two sketchbooks already and was looking like he was going to start complaining if he had to spend time on another. The discussion of a dog at least had gotten him out of a funk, for the most part, and it served Moz as evidence that he needed to stop thinking about the past and move on. They needed to get out now and give him other things to think about.

"So here's how this is going to work." The kids glanced at him with raised eyebrows. "Alex and you are going to dye your hair, and you're going to start wearing glasses. I have new clothes for you both." He produced hair dye and accessories, and the two managed to not complain too much.

They made a project out of it, and he watched in amusement as Alex dyed Nick's hair platinum blonde, and he died hers black. His glasses didn't make him look good, but they did make him look less like – Nick. He stared at himself for a long time in the mirror, and laughed.

"Stand back world, introducing Elliot Masters." Alex started laughing hysterically at that, but her amusement fell quiet when Mozzie approached her with scissors and told her to cut her hair.

Anger was swift and hatred was loud. She loved her hair and didn't want it cut. He wasn't interested in her complaints though, and so with a great amount of coaxing, she allowed Nick to chop her precious locks down until she was given a sinful bob that made her hateful and woeful all at the same time.

Mozzie told them to pack their bags, and be ready to leave in twenty minutes, and they did as they were told. There was an almost steady pace of excitement climbing in them both. They were eager to get out of the city, and they were even more eager at the prospect of the life they were going to have in San Diego.

Alex had never been there before, but she was excited about the prospects. Most of all though; she couldn't wait to track down their Sunshine and bring her home. It was all they could talk about when Mozzie wasn't listening. The dog idea was ingenious and it kept Nick excited and active and thinking of the world and all of its grand designs.

It was in this time of in between that they discussed Alex's history as a thief and why it was that she did what she did. Alex surprised herself by being so honest with Nick, and he proved to be a worthy listener. He sat on baited breath as she told him the story of how she came to be.

Her family had never loved her, and they made it known that they believed her to be the scourge of the earth. Her father had been an out of work drunkard, and he was a conspiracy theorist of the worst kind. He would beat her and her mother and her mother was relentless in her disparaging remarks towards her.

During the times that her father was sober, however, he would speak to her about an amber music box. It was of Russian design, and inside it was apparently a code that unlocked a secret that could change the lives of countless people. He filled her head with fantasies surrounding the music box, and she was enamored with the prospect of tracking it down and being able to discover what the code was.

"I've always wanted to find it. I don't know why, but I suppose I wanted to know if it was worth it...he lost his job because of his obsession with the music box that everyone kept telling him didn't exist. I ended up hear because of it…I suppose I just wanted to know if it was worth it." She sighed and shook her head. "It probably isn't. After I ran away I started stealing for a living, and I got an eye for things. I kept an ear to the ground just in case I heard anything, but no one has heard anything about any amber music box."

"If you ever do find it…" Nick told her in those moments of confidence. "I'll help you get it, then we'll open it and figure it out together." She smiled at him, and nodded.

"I'll hold you to that someday."

"I know." And she would.

Mozzie announced that they were leaving, and they noticed he even donned a disguise for this venture – a new pair of glasses and an old jacket of sorts. He looked the same as usual, but the kids went along with it – mainly because they'd grown used to his idiosyncrasies over the time they'd gotten to know him. They were, by now, used to his strange behavior.

As they were about to leave, he paused for a moment, and glanced around the apartment (hide-out). "Want to say a farewell?" Nick prompted, and Alex grinned. It seemed like he was starting to move on, and she was more then happy for it.

"Change is certain. Peace is followed by disturbances; departure of evil men by their return. Such recurrences should not constitute occasions for sadness but realities for awareness, so that one may be happy in the interim." Alex watched her friend's face as the words were spoken, and it was then that she saw it.

Her heart clenched painfully in her chest as she looked at Nick's features. Talk of sadness and peace…and changes…his eyes flashed, his body tensed, his features locked down. He was changing, right before her eyes, and for a moment – it scared her.