Neal has by now made his peace with the fact that, when Henry is excited and he starts talking at lightspeed like that, he might as well make himself comfortable, because the only thing that he’s going to contribute to the conversation with are a couple of smiles and noises of awe and appreciation.
He doesn’t really mind: the kid’s been in school all morning, and he spent the afternoon at Matt’s house, so it’s been way too many hours since when he’s given him a proper headache, Neal has kind of missed it.
Henry is sitting on a chair, his legs hanging as he sways them in excitement, whereas he’s busy cooking some dinner, making sure to turn around every now and then to show that he’s still paying attention.
“Matt won, so he picked the movie,” Henry is explaining, pouting a little. “It was Peter Pan, so—”
Neal turns around sharply, dropping the spoon in his hand by reflex. It lands in the pot in front of him, which results in boiling water being splashed on his shirt. That makes him turn back towards the kitchen, as he flinches back and mutters: “Shit.”
The string of curses in his head is much more creative than that.
Alright, alright. Deep breath. It could have been worse. At least he wasn’t holding anything that got spilled all over the floor.
“Dad?” Henry calls, concerned.
“It’s fine,” he immediately clarifies, turning around to offer a thumbs up and a small smile that he hopes comes off as reassuring rather than shell-shocked. “Just hot water, it’s alright.”
Henry seems reassured, so that’s something.
“Uh, what were you saying you watched?” Neal asks then. Is there any chance that he got that wrong?
“Peter Pan!” Henry repeats, excitedly.
Yeah, of course he didn’t get that wrong. Shit.
Neal mutters noncommittally, right before realizing that that’s probably a shitty reaction. He clears his throat. “Did you, uh, like it?” he ends up asking, perhaps a bit awkwardly. Henry doesn’t seem to notice.
“Yes!” he beams, and that was probably the wrong question to ask, because he starts going on about the wonderful Neverland and the incredible Peter Pan, and the more his eyes sparkle the more Neal’s stomach sinks.
Neal has seen that—that thing, back when Henry was too little to do anything but crying and squirming all the time and most days he was so overwhelmed by guilt for not running back to Emma that he could hardly breathe. He watched all the Disney movies, looking at the characters and half-heartedly hoping that they’d at least treat Emma better than he did – she got enough crap from the world, the last thing she deserved was a betrayal from him too, he just hopes that she can find her parents and be happy –, and he almost skipped Peter Pan, but eventually he was won over by morbid curiosity and an unhealthy dose of masochism.
It’s a wonder that he managed to sit through all that Wendy and Pan crap without throwing up, but at least he got to laugh at Hook’s ridiculously inaccurate portrayal.
Still, he might have seen it, but there was no way he was letting Henry watch it. He wasn’t about to let him think for a second that a creepy shadow flying through his window would be a good thing.
And then of course his best pal Matt had to be a fan and ruin everything. Fantastic.
“Uh, hey, buddy,” Neal interrupts, while Henry is still busy recounting how wonderful the whole thing is. He gets it: the kid had never seen the movie before and he gets excited when he gets to tell him a new story, but it still rubs him the wrong way. “You, uh—” How the hell does he put this? “You know that—that the ‘don’t go anywhere with any strangers ever’ rule applies to—to Peter Pan by the window at night too, right?”
Henry frowns a little.
“I mean, it’s a cool movie,” Neal quickly says. “But, uh, not a good example, alright?”
Henry hums in agreement, although it’s clear as day that he doesn’t get what all the fuss is about.
“I’d be a good Lost Boy,” he comments, lightly.
Neal feels a rush of panic, which is a big part of his life as a parent, actually, but this time he’s pretty damn sure that there’s a good cause for concern.
“Lost Boys are sad,” he points out, trying not to make it sound like he’s one step away from taking his son and locking him in a closet until he’s old enough to vote.
“Because they don’t have a mom,” Henry argues, grinning the way he does when he’s proud of how smart he’s being. “I don’t have a mom already, I’m not sad!”
Can this conversation get any worse, at this point?
Neal decides to turn around and be very busy with his dinner, just in case his façade of calm starts cracking.
“They don’t have any parents at all, buddy,” he says, evenly. “That’s why they are sad, it’s not the mom specifically.”
There are a few moments of silence, and he turns around to take a pick and make sure that he didn’t just crush his spirit or something, but all he finds is that Henry is staring at him, pursing his lips thoughtfully.
“You can come too!” he finally announces, breaking into a grin. “You can be the—the Lost Dad!”
Yeah, no, thanks, he’ll have to pass. One time was one too many.
“Alright, how about this then—” he says, though, hoping that this will at least give him some peace of mind. “—Peter Pan comes for you, you come to me, alright? We go together.” Or better yet, he grabs Henry and hides in a closet or something. He should make another one of those traps for the Shadow. Just in case.
“Okay!” Henry immediately agrees, enthusiastic at the idea. Of course he would be. Stupid movie.
“Promise?” he insists.
That’s something, at least.
That night, Neal has an hard time falling asleep.
Mostly because he keeps his ears wide open, carefully registering every sound around him, and every time he starts drifting off he notices a new noise and his heart promptly jumps in his throat, his eyes shooting open. Could that be a window opening in the kid’s room? Henry talking to someone?
He promised he’d come and get him if Pan ever came knocking, but he’s a kid, he’s emotional and impulsive, Neal is fully aware that if that did ever happen there’s a good chance that Henry would be too excited to remember what he promised, not until it was too late and he was stranded alone on an island with no way out but trying to blend in with the other kids, slowing forgetting that he has a family out there when he realizes that no one is coming for—
Yeah, alright, this isn’t going to work.
He pushes himself up on a sitting position with a sigh of frustration, and even then he takes a moment to listen in, make sure that there’s no suspicious noise coming from Henry’s room.
He isn’t going to get any more sleep ever in his life, is he?
He gets up, walking to Henry’s room trying not to make any noise, and he draws a sigh of relief, his shoulders dropping, when he steps inside only to see that the window is closed and his son is very much sleep, buried under the covers and without a care in the world.
He’s fine, he hasn’t gone anywhere.
He stands still for a few more seconds, long enough to breathe in some more and try to convince his body that there’s no more panic necessary here, his hand gripping the doorframe as he leans into it.
Okay, now what? He can’t stand there all night.
He briefly contemplates just sitting by the door, it’s not like he’s going to get much sleep anyway, but he decides to keep that more as a last resort, since it’d be a little difficult to explain to his kid why he was sleeping on the floor by his bedroom, resolving to check that the window is properly closed instead and trying to draw some comfort from it so that he can maybe sleep.
What he didn’t account for was the mess that Henry promised to clean up ‘tomorrow’, so he ends up stepping over he doesn’t even know what, but whatever toy that is it makes a very loud stretching noise that immediately wakes Henry up.
“Dad?” he calls, confused and a little startled, sitting up on his bed.
“Hey,” Neal replies, and— he’s got no decent excuse for this. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you.” If you’d cleaned the damn room like I asked— “I was just— checking the window. Thought I hadn’t closed it.”
Fortunately, Henry doesn’t seem to be very interested in explanations, lame or otherwise, because he yawns, rubbing his eyes and nodding before he sinks back into his bed.
“Hey,” Neal impulsively calls. “How about you sleep in my bed tonight?”
He has no good excuse for that either, but Henry loves sleeping with him, what are the chances that he’s going to have any strong objections?
“Okay,” the kid replies, in fact, his voice heavy with sleep. “Why?”
“Just cause,” Neal shrugs, walking up to him.
“Okay,” Henry yawns, promptly wrapping his arms around his neck when Neal bends over to scoop him up. He holds him up with one arm, using the other one to grab Henry’s bed-mates: two teddy bears and one stuffed crocodile.
The kid is probably already half-way asleep, his hold on his neck very loose and his cheek pressed against his shoulder. Neal smiles a little, feeling the knot in his stomach easing up.
He eases Henry down on his bed, then placing himself between him and the window just in case and fixing up the stuffed animals around him the way the kid usually does it before going to sleep, even though he’s already too far gone to appreciate it.
Neal lays down, and when Henry rolls in his direction to curl up against his chest he tugs him closer, breathing him in and revelling in the certainty that everything is fine for tonight and nobody is taking his kid anywhere, if not over his dead body.