He has a lot of women in his life at the moment, and all of them seem to have an idea of what he should do about his father. On one hand, Rumplestiltskin is obviously better, walking around and getting back to his shop, so Neal shouldn't feel guilty about staying at the inn with Tamara.
Nope, not at all. Not one bit.
Tamara reminds him that his father has a wonderful wife who worries enough for the both of them. Also Henry has taken an interest in "Grandpa Gold" so Emma drops by every now and then.
So Tamara is all for the hands off, let him come to you approach.
A small voice in Neal's head points out that Rumplestiltkin already had come to him in New York, and Neal had gone out of a window, then met his son, and then there was the whole got-stabbed-by-a-pirate thing. So the voice says it's Neal's move. Neal tells the voice to shut up.
Belle, surprisingly, has thrown in the towel, at least for the moment. She's nagged her husband and prodded her stepson and now she's worn out. (Actually, she's just worn out, period, and Neal and Rumplestiltskin are civil in her presence, for fear of shattering the small amount of strength she managed to find after the mines.)
But it's Emma's exasperated "Just suck it up and go ask him to grab a beer with you" that gets him out the door. That, and the hard shove that accompanied the words.
Emma had never been subtle.
So that's how Neal finds himself barging into his father's shop, ready to blurt out the first thing that comes to his mind so he doesn't have the chance to change his mind.
He freezes in the doorway.
Belle is standing in flats, stretched on her tiptoes, head tilted back. Her arms are resting on Rumplestiltskin's shoulders, fingers twined in his hair, eyes are closed as she kisses him.
Neal tries to swallow the words he wanted to blurt out a few seconds ago and winds up choking on his spit instead. Smooth.
Rumplestiltskin doesn't look the least bit embarrassed. Just happy, and the smallest bit awed.
"Bae," he says in happy surprise.
"Uh," Neal manages. Belle hides her face in Rumplestiltskin's shoulder. Oh God there should be a handbook to consult for these moments. He's never been in this situation. Why had he come in here? He should leave. No, wait. "Drinks!"
Rumplestiltskin blinks. "Drinks?"
"Yeah. Yes. You and me. And a bar." He stops, thinks. "There is a bar around here, right?"
"The Rabbit Hole," Belle answers. They both look at her. She gives her husband A Look. "Ruby."
She smiles at Neal, then discreetly tries to slip into the back room. Neal likes Belle, he really does. She understands when to push, when to back away, and Henry was right, she's the nicest person ever. Part of him wants to ask her along, but between Henry and Tamara, Neal hasn't had a lot of time for much else.
Though Tamara's learned a lot in just two days, and wanted to explore on her own today, get her bearings.
And he and his father Have To Talk.
"The Rabbit Hole, then, around eight?"
Rumplestiltskin smiles. It's a small, timid smile, and hope explodes in his eyes, but he nods calmly. "Eight," he says, and Neal pretends not to hear the catch in his voice.
And steadily ignores the catch in his own when he tells his father he'll see him then.
Rumplestiltskin has millions of apologies, and Neal listens to nearly all of them, because none of them are followed by 'but' or excuses. He says sorry, and he hopes one day they'll be able to be a family again, if only for Henry's sake.
"We'll start with drinks and go from there." Neal takes a long pull of his pint. "So, a pawnbroker."
Rumplestiltskin knows a change of topic when he hears one, but rolls with it.
"And a lawyer, and a landlord, though that's pretty much done away with for now."
Many of the people had wondered about Mr. Gold and the rent, but with the memories restored and so many people moving in with someone else, or away from another, it's hard to keep up. Besides, Rumplestiltskin says, it's not as if he needs the money.
"Though Belle needs several new books."
"You're also a husband."
"And you're a father."
"You're a grandfather."
They both look at each other for a minute, then finish off their drinks and signal for more.
"Your fiance seems..."
Neal waits, sipping at his beer. "Seems?" he prompts.
"Hard to get a read on her. I've only met her the once. She's taking it all well?"
"Yeah, well, I mean, well enough. She had to make a list of who was who."
The subtle probing is to be expected, and Neal misses the sharp look in the low light.
"I thought she was going to storm out when I started talking about magic," Neal admits. "She's not one for making a scene, but asking someone to believe that is a lot to suddenly expect of someone. But she drove all the way here just for me, and she always asks how you're doing. She wants to meet Belle, and she's okay with Emma."
He sees the wince, understood by males everywhere, and touches his glass to Rumplestiltskin's.
"The misses and the ex becoming friends. Every man's nightmare," he toasts. "Speaking of exes, what are they gonna do with Cora?"
The background chatter is loud enough that he nearly misses the quiet response. He leans in closer, and he suddenly sees how tired Rumplestiltskin looks. Weary in the eyes, grim around the mouth, and almost his age.
He's never seen his father look so... worn before.
"I've sealed her magic," he says briskly. "She'll never be able to undo it. Only I can do that, and I never shall. Once she crosses the town line tomorrow, the seal will remove all her memories of Storybrooke, and the people in it. She'll have a new life far away, and will think that's how it's always been."
It's a just punishment, but Neal would be lying if he said he wasn't surprised. He expected Cora to be dead, or locked away in chains. Part of him wanted her to be.
But she loved his father once. And she had torn the poison out of him, saving his life and walking away. Her heart was back where it belonged. Maybe it would make a difference.
"Regina is going with her," Rumplestiltskin says now.
Neal scrubs a hand over his face. "Yeah, Henry mentioned that. They're saying goodbye."
"She'll be back eventually. She's going to help her mother settle in, and then she's off to 'discover herself', she says. She's willingly given up magic."
Neal gives him a flat look. "Yeah," he scoffs. "Until she thinks we're taking Henry from her and she decides to sneak in and level the town."
His father snorts. "No, no, she's already got the necklace on. Same symbol as her mother's, and neither of them can be removed by anyone other than me."
Neal had seen the seal, some kind of ancient symbol that just looked like a bunch of scribbles to him. Cora's was on her skin, a symbol of safety for Storybrooke, a tattoo for the rest of the world. And once she crossed the town line, her memories would be gone forever. Not even the Blue Fairy would be bringing those back.
Maybe that would help Regina, her mother being gone.
"Snow does hope so." Rumplestiltkin signals for another round.
"What horrible thing did you do to Regina after finding out she had Belle?" Neal wants to know, because he knows his father, and he had to have done something.
Rumplestiltskin's answer surprises him. "I lived, happy and in love with my life. She's a very lonely soul, and it's punishment enough for her to see me content." He stares into his beer, then sheepishly admits, "I did consider sending a wraith after her when she brought magic here."
That answer doesn't surprise him. "But you didn't."
"No, I didn't."
"So you're a landlord who doesn't collect rent anymore, a lawyer who never has any cases, and a pawnbroker who pretends not to know his wife gives people back their things." They both grin. "What have you been doing since the curse broke?"
"Finding a way to cross the town line," he says simply, as if it were obvious. "I lived in my basement for nearly a week trying to find you." He pauses, considering. "A few things went on in town I wasn't a part of. A crowd went after Ruby for being a werewolf, but after we locked up King George it calmed down significantly. I don't really know much else- I had more important things to do."
Neal feels the words hit him almost like a physical blow, the chatter of the bar fading far into the background. His father really looked for him. Searched hard, made all kinds of deals for hundreds of years just to say he was sorry. And he found him. Neal's right here, at the bar, having a drink with his father.
His father who is so different than he remembers.
"You came back for me," Neal says softly.
"I would say I always will, but that would imply I'll be leaving you again." He meets Neal's eyes. "And I will never be making that mistake ever again."
It's the truth, so Neal believes him.
Rumplestiltskin waves his hand and changes the subject. "So, how did you and Tamara meet?"
Neal chuckles, remembering. And tells him.
Tamara isn't in the room when he stumbles in (the floor keeps moving on him, just to mess with him, honest), and Neal has a minute to wonder where she is before he flops onto the bed, and is out.
"Here, drink this."
Neal groans and buries his head under the pillow. The sunlight streams merrily through the crack the curtain doesn't cover, just low enough for him to know it's way too early to be awake.
Tamara pats his shoulder.
"It's water and aspirin," she says, swatting him once when he doesn't move.
"There is a God." Neal takes both the offerings under the covers with him. He remembers his father dropping him off at the front desk- and he'd been stone cold sober, the bastard- and flopping into bed, but not much before that. "Where were you last night? You weren't- oh god why." He clutches the pillow more firmly over his head when Tamara opens the curtains all the way.
"I was here," she says. "You almost ran into me when you staggered in, after midnight, trying to keep your balance."
Neal doesn't remember, but now he knows trying to keep up with the Dark One while drinking isn't a good idea. Lesson learned. He stays in bed and waits for the aspirin to kick in.
It's only as Tamara leaves for her morning run that he remembers he was home at ten-thirty.
He spots Emma heading into the Sheriff's Office, and darts in after her.
"You still have that human lie detector deal going for you, right?"
Emma peers at him with narrowed eyes over her scarf. "Hello to you too." She unwinds the scarf from her neck, throwing it at him when she gets it off. He hits her with the ends of it, but hangs it up.
"Yeah," she says. "Why?"
He shouldn't be doing this, but there are things to consider. The safety of the town, of the people in it. Henry. Emma. Belle. His father. Magic in Storybrooke, and though Cora and Regina left this morning, the town isn't safe until Rumplestiltskin can get the barrier lifted and magic gone for good.
And the more he thinks about it, the more things just don't add up.
He'd never told Tamara the town's name was Storybrooke, but she'd called from the road, already on her way.
And she hadn't been in the room last night, he was positive. If she had, she would have known he'd been back and asleep at ten-thirty.
"Come grab lunch with Tamara and me."
Rumplestiltskin listens to them both carefully. He doesn't interrupt once, simply lets them talk, both hands folded over his cane. He's tired, it's been a long day, and he'd been just about to eat dinner with Belle when they'd knocked.
But he stands now, face grim.
"I thought as much."
Even Belle throws a confused glance his way.
"August Booth. Or Pinocchio, whatever he's called. He came to me for help with his... condition."
Neal raises a brow, wondering what August has got to do with his fiance telling lies. "And you said no."
"Oh no, he's quite human now. Simple spell to reverse the Blue Fairy's, and humanize him, for a small price."
"A price, of course." His stomach bottoms out, and Neal feels his fists clench when his nails bite into his palms. "What price was that?" he grits out. It's always deals and prices and always about what the Dark One can gain-
"He had to talk to his father, tell him who he was."
Belle, perched on the arm of the chair Rumplestiltskin vacated, rests her chin on his forearm and beams at him. "That was good of you."
"Yes, well, Marco came to me some time ago asking about his son. I owed him for that clock you love so much."
Belle's smile grows, and Rumplestiltskin drops his gaze, smiling himself.
He reunited father and son, and asked for nothing in return. Neal feels like the wind was just knocked out of him.
"What does August have to do with anything?" Emma wants to know, folding her arms.
"It seems though he's met Tamara before." A weight settles across Rumplestiltskin's shoulders as he crosses the room. He stands before his son, eyes sad. "I'm sorry, son. Your fiance isn't who she seems to be."
"Neal, Neal, no please! Listen to me! You know me, you know everything about me! I love you-"
Emma has Tamara handcuffed and locked in a cell. She looks very pleased with herself. Rumplestiltskin waves a hand over the bars, brow furrowed in concentration. Neal focuses on the purple sheen of magic engulfing the prison.
Belle's head on his shoulder, her comforting arm around his back. She's leaning on him, calm as you please, holding his elbow, rubbing soothing circles on his jacket... it's the only thing keeping him together right now.
His father is explaining about the truth serum, how it should be working in less than a minute, and Neal wants to feel sorry for Tamara, looking alone and afraid, locked up and chained up.
But he just feels angry.
At her, at himself, at these people who came into this world, his world, and that was the only reason Tamara had pretended to love him. And she had been pretending. Why else would she take an interest in him? Why else would she be so interested in his past, so intent on meeting his father?
He wants to be mad at Rumplestiltskin, because that anger is easy. It's familiar. Crushing disappointment would be a welcome relief instead of the burning anger that flares through him now.
Neal looks up, locks gazes with his father.
"What do you want to know?" he asks. "She'll tell you anything."
Everything. He wants to know everything. At the same time, none of it matters, and he wishes he didn't care. But damn if it doesn't sting.
"Did you ever love me?"
The silence in the room is heavy. No one so much as breathes as they wait for an answer. Belle's hand clenches at his elbow.
And Tamara, steady as ever, steady as she's always been for missed deadlines and fights and every crisis he's ever had, steady and calm, answers: "No."
Rumplestiltskin is the one to find him by the docks, head in his hands, parked on a bench.
"I don't want to talk, least of all to you." Neal wants to laugh, because it's funny, but it's not. He wants to cry, because it hurts. "It's all you- it's always you. Everything is about you!" he yells, surging to his feet. "All my life I was the coward's son, and then everyone was afraid because of you. And now the woman I was going to spend my life with?" He does laugh, but it's humorless and the smile hurts. "She just wanted to find magic- find you."
Rumplestiltskin says nothing.
"I can't be Neal, or Baelfire, or anybody, because of you!" He's shouting now, the birds around them flying off in terror. "What am I supposed to do now, huh? Just go back to being fourteen? Or disappear, start all over again to try and get away from you? I can't, Papa, I can't get away from you- everyone who meets me, who knows me, they know my father first, and that's who I am to them! Not Baelfire, not Neal, just your son, and that's all I am to them."
Rumplestiltskin takes a single step forward.
He's still listening.
Neal just breaks.
Hundreds and hundreds of years, enough that he's nearly lost count, but his father's arms around him are still exactly the same.
"What do I do now, Papa?"
"I don't know, son. Only you know what's best for yourself. But for now, you come back to the house, let Belle smother you and feed you too much for a few days. It's hard to feel sorry for yourself when she has a plate of cookies under your nose."
Neal chokes out a laugh, through his tears but keeps his head on his papa's shoulder, his fists clenched in his jacket.
"The barrier will stay for now, and no one not from our world will be able to get in. She had a partner, and he's supposed to bring Hook back, but we'll stop them. We'll fix it," his papa says, and he's not talking about magic or curses now. "Somehow, we'll fix everything."
Fixing everything is impossible. Even if it all could be fixed, something else, somewhere down the line, would break. Something always breaks, something always shatters, and there's not always someone there to pick up the pieces.
But now there is. Or would be, if Neal would let him.
He thinks he's ready to.
"We'd better head back before Belle drags us back," Neal says after a while, lifting his head.
Neal turns, and is promptly tackled around the middle by Henry. He only doesn't land in the mud thanks to Emma grabbing his arm and yanking him forward, and Belle getting her fingers through Henry's belt loops.
"Hi," he says, ruffling his son's hair.
"Mom says we're all going to get dinner," Henry announces. "And that I'm supposed to keep talking. She doesn't usually say that."
Neal begins to smile. "No?"
Henry shakes his head. "Nope. Usually she says the opposite."
Emma is off to the side with Rumplestiltskin, talking in hushed tones. She taps her temple, and he nods. Tamara won't be keeping her memories either, and nothing outside of Storybrooke will be able to fix that. Neal wants that to hurt, but the ache is dull and his son is hanging off his side, and they're all going to dinner. The ache turns into a dull pang, and he takes Belle's arm in his.
"What's for dinner?" he asks.
Emma looks at her watch. "Granny's, probably. Not much else is open."
"Are you coming Grandpa Gold?"
Rumplestiltskin's gaze slides to his son. "Ah, I-"
"Yeah, he's coming." Neal doesn't have another hand to grab with, so his tone is firm and final.
Emma nudges Belle with her elbow. "Let's go then."
"I'm coming too?" For some reason Belle is surprised by this.
"You're sure as hell not leaving me alone with three generations of Rumplestiltskin," Emma informs her.
All three generations take offense to that. "Hey!" they exclaim in unison, wearing identical expressions of affront.
Belle and Emma exchange a single glance and make it three seconds before they burst out laughing.
They will stumble, falter, and fall. There will be hurts and anger and probably a lot of shouting, several eye rolls, and sarcasm as they stagger towards being a family, but they will do it together.
They'll start with dinner, for now, but the momentum is already sending them careening in the correct direction: forward.