It hit him faster than the strike of a cobra. The back of his foster mother's hand smacked across Neal Caffrey's face, the diamond in her ring tearing into his soft cheek. He stumbled back, holding a hand up to the bleeding cut and not saying a single word as Janice began to berate him.

"All I ask is for you to do what you're told!" she screamed at him. "You should be grateful that I took you in, you fucking little bitch! I don't need or wantyour damn smart-ass comments!"

As Janice continued, Neal mentally rolled his eyes. What he'd done hadn't even been too big – his foster mother was blowing this way out of proportion. He'd only taken a small box of paints from a small store, but he'd taken the money from Janice's wallet. It wasn't that he was stealing it - when he'd showed up there a month ago, she'd taken his entire life savings – a measly four hundred dollars – and he'd been taking a little here and there to pay for art supplies. He liked to make recreations of paintings and statues and such in a warehouse a few blocks away. His friend Mozzie paid for the place so that it wouldn't look suspicious for Neal.

Neal thought of Mozzie, the man who had found him when he was five, living on the streets after his mother's death and his father's leaving. Neal had tried to pick the balding man's pocket, but Mozzie caught him. Neal remembered being terrified that Mozzie was going to turn him in to the police – what he didn't know was that Mozzie didn't trust any law enforcement. Mozzie had actually taken Neal back to Wednesday, one of his nicer safe houses, and given him something to eat. After that, Neal had been under Mozzie's wing for a while, and Mozzie taught him how to steal and pick pockets better, and had also encouraged him to continue with his artwork. Even then, it had been amazing for his age. Neal had always been good at paying attention to the details.

But then, when Neal was seven, he had slipped on ice while picking a man's pocket, and this man was actually an undercover police officer. The man had taken him back to the station, with the intent of helping him look for his parents, assuming he must've been lost. He'd soon figured out Neal's situation with his parents, and had handed him over to the foster care. Since then, Neal had been able to see Mozzie several times, trying to get away or forging a painting for Mozzie, but somehow he always ended up back in another foster home. Now, in eight years, he'd been in twenty-nine different homes. Sometimes it was because he ran away from the home and when found he was moved, but most times it was because the foster parents just found him too much trouble. His last foster father had found out about his thieving and had thrown him back. Since then, Neal had tried much harder keeping his art a secret.

Neal zoned back in to what Janice was saying, just in time for her to say, "You know what? I don't need this shit anymore." she grabbed him by the neck and started guiding him out the door of the apartment. Neal went along willingly, knowing exactly what was coming and not even caring anymore...

"You're going back to the center."

~WC~

Six months earlier

"I want a child."

Peter Burke looked up from his FBI case files at his wife, Elizabeth. He'd heard this before.

"El…" he said, not knowing how to continue.

"I know what you're going to say," Elizabeth hurried to say. "But I know that I can't give birth to someone, so what if we…I don't know…adopted someone?" she looked at her husband hopefully.

Peter blinked, a bit surprised. El had never talked about wanting to adopt before, but it made sense. She'd always wanted to raise children, have a family. She wasn't able to have children, but if she adopted someone…

Peter smiled, knowing that it would make El happy to have someone to care for, even if they weren't her biological child. "Alright, hon," he said. "Whatever makes you happy."