A/N: This is being written under some basic premises and general facts – you can find them at the end of this chapter if you're curious, but you can understand the story without them.

This is an A/U, but a relatively realistic AU that fits in with information given to us by the man himself: Jeff Eastin.

Dear the man,

I don't own WC or anything really related to it but I do accept gifts, be it merchandise, photos or…perhaps for my birthday, Matt himself

Enjoy.

WCWCWCWCWCWCWC

Becoming Neal.

Neal has known for quite some time, since he was about fifteen, that there are very few ways to exist in America.

Not in the philosophical way of course (because the different ways of life are nearly endless), but in the way one exists on paper. The way in which one becomes official.

Or unofficial, as it may be.

See, an individual living in the United States isn't just born from thin air at the ripe legal age of eighteen – a paper trail starts at the moment of birth as nurses and mothers catalogue information about you. Name: Neal Patterson. Date: March 17, 1981. Time: 3:27a.m. Seven pounds five ounces, twenty-one inches. Father: George Patterson, Mother: Lynda Webber.

The information is registered. Printed.

Copied and stored.

A baby is born and shortly after an identity is created. Added to by doctor and hospital visits. School and incident reports by various governmental organizations. This is what makes building a foolproof identity difficult – it's impossible to step back in time and create an event that didn't happen.

The usual way around this is to absorb someone else's identity – to claim the name of someone who passed away or changed their name without recanting their old one properly. This way you didn't just appear at a certain age which is suspicious, but you have an actual past.

Of course, that isn't always good either – depending on the identity you take. You'd better hope the person you chose has a decent record and no debt, or you'll just be going through the same process soon enough to escape police or creditors. You also have to be careful registering a new SSN with a name that may already have one assigned.

This was involves money, patience, mail drops and (sometimes) a good street connection or, at the very least, some intelligence and knowledge of the system.

Another way to come into existence is to forge the papers yourself. This too required either a connection or some intelligence and some amount of talent.

First thing is first, however; it always starts with a name.

He'd heard somewhere that, when lying about your name, it was best to retain your first given name.

Lying was always easier when it was based on truth and much, much easier to remember in a pinch.

Both his mother and father had taught him that, in a roundabout way. His mother while trying to protect his childhood after his father had left and his father by, well, doing all that he had done.

He felt a pull in his stomach, thinking of his mother. Her smiling face. Soft. Caring.

Neal ran a palm over his face, focussing back on the task at hand: Choosing a name for himself.

Neal realised most people would just choose a name – any name. It was often the simplest part of the entire endeavour, however not for him. For Neal, choosing a name was the beginning of his new life. It was the very basic building block that all other things would be built upon and therefore had to be perfect.

Or maybe it was just a way of delaying the inevitable, trying to hold out for the unlikely.

Even as his mind flitted towards the idea Neal pushed himself away from it. His dad had left him and his mother almost fourteen years ago, taking with him all the money. His father wasn't coming back – even if he had miraculously heard about his mom passing and Neal being stuck in care. Furthermore, Neal didn't want him to come back. He didn't care for the man – he was dirty. Cruel. Evil, even, considering the harassment Neal and his mother had been subjected to after he had fled.

No, Neal didn't want his father to come back.

Ever.

He didn't.

Neal spent a lot of time at the local public and university library, to which he was no stranger; He had spent many hours there, even before all this.

Sometimes he was greeted by name.

Sometimes he was greeted with a new book – usually about a painter, sculptor or new technique.

He knew sometimes they even talked about him with each other – could tell by the looks on their faces.

The shared smiles.

By the time he had finished grade nine he'd been well on his way to being valedictorian.

That had been his goal.

His dream.

Now it was this.

It may have taken awhile, but after a fair bit of research on last names – commonality, heritage and even geographic tendencies – he finally chose a name that suited and sounded, well, good.

Rolled off the tongue – smooth and charming.

Just like him.

It was a hot, dry evening in Los Angeles when fifteen year old Neal Patterson finally decided to become Neal Caffrey. He liked the sound of the name – that way it rolled off his tongue in imagined introductions. The barely-there connection to what would eventually be his old life was also laughable – a private inside joke for Neal and Neal alone. He even liked the Irish connotations it held – after all, who didn't want to be Irish at least one day of the year?

He got to work the next morning.

Oddly, one of the easiest things to forge is probably a birth certificate, if only because there are (or were) very few security features; none of them foolproof. In fact, Neal knew from his reading that there were hundreds of thousands of different types of birth certificates in use across the country.

That's why a birth certificate was the first piece of his new identity he forged.

He worked on it for weeks, producing several mediocre copies and then, at last, one he could be proud of – gratification being an accomplishment in itself as artists are always their own worst critics.

Later that same week, with the Santa Ana winds fanning nearby wildfires, Neal was moved to yet another foster home.

Knowing the routine Neal sat quietly and observed, becoming what (or who) he thought he should be in this new place.

Behind closed doors, however, he went back to the same thing he'd been doing for several months, since he'd first entered foster card; He went back to planning. Planning, because Neal knew you couldn't just fall off the grid – you had to erase yourself from it. Slowly. Thoroughly.

Completely.

That was to be the last foster home Neal stayed in, and he was there for only four more months.

0o0

His last night in the house was a quiet one. Sitting cross legged on an old mattress Neal picked up a small piece of paper in front of him. He ran his thumb over the top, watching with hawk-like eyes for the hundredth time that the ink did not smear, run or flake. The paper itself felt rough – patterned – but with soft fibres. It had a neat but worn crease down the centre that made it look as though it had spent at least a few years tucked neatly inside a wallet.

It had done no such thing.

Neal smiled, setting it gently back down in front of him on his bed. A warm breeze from the window moved the curtains. He picked up a card and ran a finger over the smooth plastic surface. Holding it between his index and middle finger he tapped it against his teeth, listening to the light tap-tapping that rang true to his ears, and put it back on the bed.

Before him lay an assortment of cards, all with an individual purpose.

A birth certificate supplying the basic proof of his new existence.

A social security card, entitling him to work and receive credit or open a bank account.

Lastly a driver's license, ascertaining that he could drive.

This one Neal found funny, because he knew he couldn't drive – wasn't even old enough. He knew that there were kids at school using fake ID's with only a fraction of the quality to get in to clubs, but he needed this to hold up.

This wasn't just sneaking in to a club. It was much, much more.

Together these cards also had a unified purpose – to offer him asylum from the life he currently existed in. Soon he would no longer be Neal Patterson.

He fell asleep by 3:00 a.m., just one hour shy of his sixteenth birthday.

Just two days shy of 'turning' eighteen.

WCWCWCWCWC

A/N: So what'd you all think? Should I continue or just let it stand? Anyone catch the barely-there inside joke?

R&R please – I live for love!

As promised, the facts, as I see them, are:

1) Neal created a new identity (Neal Caffrey) that began at the age of 18 – that is to say Neal may not have been 18 at the time of taking this identity (likely prior to his 18th, since he didn't finish school), however the identity he created was 18, presumably for legal purposes.

We know this because, as Peter pointed out, Neal Caffrey (the identity) before the age of 18 is a giant "gaping hole". Peter doesn't know anything about Neal's parentage, and didn't know that he hadn't completed high school. Thus, "Neal Caffrey" is an alias, yet one that Neal has had for approximately 12 years and of which all other aliases were built off of.

The premises, or character assumptions, as I see them are:

1) Neal, as the kind of person he is, wouldn't likely leave his mother willingly. That is to say, he wouldn't just abandon her without cause, indicating that either she left him or died.

2) Though Neal seems upset about his father and there are obviously some unresolved issues there, Neal refused to talk about his mother. In my books this says even bigger unresolved issues or emotions.

3) Mozzie knows something about Neal's past, which Peter could help with. Presumably finding someone, since we know he's so good at it (considering he found Kate when Neal could not).