I think it does make more sense than him running from his Papa, in Manhattan but at the same time, I still don’t buy Neal ran from Emma in Tallahassee because he was afraid for himself. I guess we’ll have to see more, but August says he has to stay away and that he is in the way of her breaking the curse and the writers have talked about it in that way as a sacrifice on his part. At the same time he did cause Emma pain (as did Snow and Grumpy, to their respective loves), so it was not a clear cut “sacrifice” on his part alone. He just lost more than he gained with that decision, but it seems Emma lost even more. I say seems since she went to jail, but he then was buried in all the guilt with no money, no car as he gave her everything, trying to be there with her in spirit because he was told he couldn’t actually be there, with her pain and his on his mind. The writers stated he didn’t leave because he fell out of love with her. Now its up to them if they want to show that on screen somehow in a more direct way.
So if the reason he couldn’t actually be with her was Pan would find her and kill her or something, then that would make the logic easier to understand of why he couldn’t have stayed, why his leaving demonstrated his love for her even if it didn’t seem that way to her or part of the audience. It might even explain why he left so fast but this is up to the writers. We’re way out on reading between the lines here, when we start to imagine the details.
As fans it is tempting to put 2 and 2 together, but what we need to remember is there’s always a box. That mystery box could have anything in it. It could be -8 for all we know, and suddenly 2 + 2 isn’t 4 at all even if it looks like it now, it’s this -4 and it makes no sense, until we get more story to explain.
Neal’s experience with Pan could explain more as well some of why he didn’t come back when he got the postcard. Pan had a good understanding I’d imagine of how to push certain buttons with Neal through Tamara, get to him in a way that while not magical or taking away his free will there, definitely exploiting the knowledge of the pain he carried. Sort of how they got to Greg from this sweet little boy just looking for his dad to this zealot monster willing to do anything to even good people to stop the danger of magic. Now we know Neal wasn’t in on the hate-magic club, not to that extent, but it reminds me of August’s sort of odd question to Tamara about “Are you here to steal the magic” thinking she WAS working with Neal. We know he wasn’t working with her, but was her victim now. Of course, we realize she and Greg were Pan’s victims too, misled all along (but they all did make their choices too).
I know the writers can change and peel back things so if they want they can shift meaning at any point. So we go from S1 Regina has a hole and cannot love Henry to oh just kidding, with the curse broken she can! So much for a void she could never fill. So maybe Pan manipulated Neal through August, and it wasn’t true that he had to leave. Perhaps it was just a cruel ploy that Neal fell for, because he’s the sort who does things like makes a deal with a shadow to take him instead, not realizing the shadow will come back anyway for the rest of the kids.
I hope the writers don’t trash what they had planned for Neal to make him suddenly into this sniveling, cowardly jerk of a villain, especially if that’s how they build up Hook as a hero, but so far I am not worried. Neal is being written as the street smart man with a good heart that suffered but is not corrupted by all that loss. He still has that sense of doing the right thing, the right way, and why it is important. He might bend a few rules and take a few shortcuts, but he’s not a stone cold killer type. He cares about who gets hurt. The thing is, he’s apt to get some “plot stupidity” that is, as opposed to plot armor, things don’t go his way. He trusts people when he shouldn’t or doesn’t trust when he could and as a result things get worse for him no matter what. He’s always behind the 8 ball even with mostly good intentions. I say mostly because he’s not written as a saint, he does have his foibles.
“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?” -- Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass