It takes a day to get to Rumplestiltskin’s palace. As it turns out, it’s one of the safe havens the Merry Men use, and the one the rest of their little gang of outlaws currently resides in. Neal is the one who’d made the suggestion, and they’d all quickly jumped on board upon his revelation of how much magic was hidden there.
He’d spent the trek walking beside the warrior woman, Mulan, his attempts to reel her into conversation struck down by stern silence, but he can recognise well enough another person in love, and he’s watched her gaze stray to the Princess Aurora enough times to understand the woman. Of course, when he’d offered the woman his flask he’d been met with an affronted brow furrow and a quickening pace to her steps, so apparently his way of dealing with a lost love met her disapproval.
They stake the place out, setting guards around the perimeter, closing up drapes and locking up doors, and as they bed down Hook is witness to possibly the worst moment thus far, for most of his group.
As Robin is bidding them all a good night, the doors to the great room open and a little boy darts in, tiny legs taking him on a direct course for the leader of the Merry Men.
"Papa!" he cries as he leaps into Robin’s arms, his shrill little giggle echoing as he’s spun around and set back down.
Regina looks stricken as she stares at the boy, mop of dark hair and cute little button nose and all, and without a word storms off, out of the hall.
Charming and Snow are more subtle in their grief, but they excuse themselves all the same, David’s hand resting on the small of his wife’s back.
Neal’s smile is a sad one as he lowers himself to the boys height. “Hey little man. You remember me?”
The boy nods even as he wraps an arm around his father’s leg, face disappearing behind the man’s boot.
"It’s off to bed with you, young lad," Robin says sternly, bending to pick his son up again, and Hook and Neal watch them go, standing silently as the closing doors echo behind him.
Finally, Hook swallows back the lump in his throat, and Neal seems to snap out of his daze.
"Right. Uh… Night, Hook."
He nods, lost in thought, and Neal is almost out the door when Hook speaks. “Baelf- Neal.”
He stops, turns his body half towards Hook, avoiding eye contact.
"I am… truly sorry. I knew it’s hardly the same, but I’ve felt loss before, and to lose a son…"
Neal lets out a snort of self deprecating laughter. “I was barely a father to him. Hell, you were more of a father to me in Neverland than I ever got to be to Henry.”
He tries not to let the words sink in, but they pack a wallop. Neal turns, fully now, and takes a few tentative steps forward. “You got any of that awful rum on you?”
Hook feels the small grin turn the corners of his mouth upwards as he reaches behind to grab the flask.
It’s possible that he is drunk. The flask had gone quickly, but Neal, already feeling it a bit, had broken into the basement and procured two full bottles of liquor much stronger than the rum had been.
They’re out beneath the stars, both leaning heavily against the balustrade, the second, near empty bottle between them.
"What would you have done, if I’d never found that drawing of my mother?"
He doesn’t hesitate. “I’d have spent every last breath in my body to keep you away from Pan.”
Neal’s laugh is a broken one, and the silence lingers for a while.
"It’s funny. You know? Here we are, three hundred years later. Your crocodile is dead, and I’m home - I’m in my father’s home. But you’re dangling by a thread, my friend, and I…" He coughs to hide the crack in his voice. "In a week I lost my fiancee, my father, my son, and the mother of my son. You think - you think you’ll get used to it, get used to the pain. But you don’t. It just eats away at you, until there’s nothing left but… emptiness."
Hook had been content, for the most part, to sit and listen - his head feels light and his words heavy, his tongue awkward in his mouth, and he knows he’s drunk when he responds with ease to Neal’s next query.
"What did you say to her? To Emma? When she left?"
"I told her not a day would go by I didn’t think of her."
His snorted response makes Hook shoot a withering glare his way, but Neal is looking up at the sky and misses it completely. Hook takes another long pull off the bottle.
"Ah, she would have picked you, in the end. All we had left between us was a lot of hurt and a really great kid. You and your eternal love and your pretty turns of phrase… man I was fighting a losing battle."
"I was never fighting you for her heart."
Neal takes that moment to shoot him a look and they both have to fight off a laugh, remembering Dark Hollow.
"Perhaps for a moment, then."
"She’s a hell of a woman. If I had to fight you for one, it’d be her."
"I hope like hell we’re both drunk enough not to remember this, come morning," Hook tells him.
"Hey, it’s not so bad. Being friendly. Maybe you could work some magic and get me brownie points with David."
Hook chuckles. “What makes you think my word means anything to the king?”
"Oh, I dunno, maybe your little bromance?" Sometimes Hook despairs for the state of the human language. "He called you ‘mate’ the other day. And not jokingly."
Hook brushes it off, not in the mood to discuss his strange friendship with the father of the woman of his affections.
"We’re down to the end, my friend," he says instead, waving the bottle between them. Neal catches it by the neck, raising it into the air.
"To forging ahead." He takes a drink, hands the bottle off to Hook, who raises his own toast.