Title: A Real Boy

Author: BuffyAngel68

Rating: FRT

Summary : Once again, Neal is a bit shaken by the message in the books chosen for him. For once, he volunteers a reason. Eventually.

Disclaimer: You know I don't own them and made no money off this work of fiction. Right?

As Neal cruised into Peter's office and placed books and assignments on his handler's desk, Peter gazed up from the paperwork he'd been focused on and leaned back in his chair.

"Morning."

"Hail and well met, sir Jiminy Cricket."

"You were supposed to read the book, not watch the Disney DVD."

"You wound me, Peter. I did both. The movie was a reward for getting through Collodi's grand work of darkness."

"Not exactly meant for kids, I'll grant you that."

"Major understatement. I had the animated image in my head when I started, I guess. There Pinocchio is a guileless kid who takes the wrong path and gets in trouble because he doesn't know any better. The book version, he's petulant and almost… actively, deliberately cruel. I mean, he kills the cricket, for God's sake."

Peter snorted faintly.

"Should I be worried about the greeting I got when you showed up today?"

"I'm no more Pinocchio than I am Tom Sawyer." Neal protested.

"Some."

Neal eventually nodded.

"I'll give you that."

Peter thought deeply for a few moments before he continued the discussion.

"You're positive I'm the bug? Sure, you could say I try to be your conscience, but there are other viable options, aren't there?"

"What, like Geppetto? You'd make a great dad, Peter, but…"

"I know, and I'm still working on that for you. Geppetto wasn't what I was thinking. Not exactly, anyway. I can't decide who I feel more like. It depends on the day and the situation. Damn, the best examples I can come up with are all from the Disney version, too."

"Like?"

"Some days I'm your partner in crime and we lead each other head on into trouble."

"Lampwick on Pleasure island."

"Other times I'm the taskmaster who makes you dance then does everything to be sure the valuable commodity stays in his cage."

Neal shivered lightly and lost a bit of color.

"Stromboli."

"Hey, I hate it, too… but not half as much as when I feel like Honest John."

"Not sure I get that one."

"He games the kid into something he knows is dangerous… holds out the big shiny carrot and smiles, knowing as long as he tells Pinocchio it's good for him, the kid'll do everything John says."

"Peter… come on. Okay, so helping you on cases isn't completely voluntary, but mostly… it is. I'm not a naïve child. I do it because I want to."

"Mostly. If you didn't have the sword over your head, suspended by a human hair, would you stay?"

Neal stared at his handler for a long time, his expression rapidly transitioning through myriad emotions, before he answered.

"I guess that leads us to the other book."

"I guess so. It's yours to keep, by the way."

"Thank you. Just so you know, I do get the intent. Hard not to."

"Little bunny runs away, Mama follows, doing whatever's necessary to bring him home. Yeah, not exactly subtle." Peter chuckled. "More El's way of putting it than mine, I think… but I have to say I'm with her a hundred and ten percent."

"Can't wait to see you turn into a bird."

"Whatever's necessary." Peter responded solemnly. Neal studied him carefully, a touch surprised at the determination he found, yet at the same time realizing he'd always known, deep inside, that Peter would do exactly what he promised. Flood, drought, mountains or cities, Peter would follow. Peter would find him. Peter would bring him home. "Your report on 'Proof' is here?"

"It is. El and I had a great talk."

"I'm glad. Wow, the one on 'Pinocchio', too. Great. You'll get your grades in a few days."

"Thanks. You know, we should set up a system. Enough A's and I get a treat."

"Such as?"

"A museum trip, a dinner out with you and El… ice cream."

Peter laughed.

"I can probably manage that. Flavor?"

"Rocky Road."

"Appropriate."

"In more ways than one." Neal replied cryptically, rising, gathering his book and exiting before Peter could question him further.

TBC…